Slabs releasing everywhere. Photo by Jean-Christophe Souillac.
Off Piste Snow Conditions
Conditions are very unstable indeed. That said, winter is certainly back, and there has been a lot of high quality powder snow above 1500 m. Unfortunately, the high winds on the forecast will probably have a hugely detrimental effect on the quality of the snow. So far, we've been having a lot of fun in this amazing snow, but taking care to stick to safe slopes, 30° and below - steep part of a red run to black run steepness.
With all these episodes of fresh snowfall on top of the very weak layer of cohesionless 'sugar snow' (see all our reports, webinars, tweets, posts.. since mid December) conditions have been, and will continue to be, very unstable indeed. Because of this widespread weak layer and so much fresh snowfall along with the forecast for high winds, we may well be seeing much larger avalanches than we'd normally anticipate.
As we predicted last week, it's an extremely dangerous time at the moment. Large amounts of snow are continuing to fall, which are due to be accompanied by high winds. There's already been a lot of avalanche activity and accidents throughout Savoie and the Northern French Alps, and this will continue into next week. We've already seen two serious avalanches, with a fatality, in Val d'Isere on a 4 out of 5 danger rating time, another in St Colomban des Villards near St Jean de Maurienne, and one last Sunday in the Grands Montets area of Chamonix. If temperatures get milder, as is predicted up to Saturday 9th, maybe with rainfall occurring too, we could see some very large slides of heavy snow on slopes facing all directions (possibly taking the whole snowpack with it). This may not be a bad thing though, as it will also take away some of that weak layer (that developed because of thin snowpack and cold temperatures) as the slopes purge themselves.
The avalanche danger rating will be at around 3, and up to 4 or maybe more with every episode of fresh snowfall. An avalanche danger rating of 4 means that it is possible to trigger avalanches at a distance. With so much instability around, we'll certainly be treating every slope with a lot of caution, especially when the visibility is poor. See our HAT advice for what all the danger ratings mean: http://www.henrysavalanchetalk.com/avalanche-forecasts-danger-rating.
Here in Val d'Isere, we've been seeing slabs being either triggered all over the place, either by skiers, or releasing naturally. These have been occurring on slopes facing all directions (see our photo, taken by Chris Souillac of Alpine Experience).
Added to this, there has not been much skier compaction on many of the normally well-travelled routes because the snow hasn't been good enough for these slopes to be skied anything like as much as they are in a 'normal' season. There are some exceptions to this, but a lot of these classic routes will continue to be a lot more delicate than we're normally used to by this time of season.
Lastly, even with all this fresh snowfall, there are also still plenty of rocks around that we need to look out for, making it especially tricky in flat light conditions.
Tip of the Week
Our advice remains the same as last week:
- Stay away from steep slopes of 30° or more, unless you are absolutely sure what you're doing. We will certainly be keeping well away from them!
- Watch our new on-line 'Off-piste Essentials' talk: vimeo.com/ondemand/henrysavalanchetalk
- Check the daily avalanche bulletins on this link: http://www.meteofrance.com/previsions-meteo-montagne/bulletin-avalanches, entering the mountain area of your choice.
We'll be updating our blog as much as possible if conditions start to look unstable, or if we have some nice photos from a great ski on www.henrysavalanchetalk.com/blog also on Twitter @HenryOff_Piste and Google+ and Facebook