Off Piste Snow Report : 16th – 20th January 2016

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Avalanche in Tignes triggered by a skier on a slope above 30°, very close to the piste. Fortunately not fatal. Photo @Guidemimi   By Henry's Avalanche Talk

 (For N. French Alps) Sunny 'bluebird' days and very cold temperatures ahead. Beware of a 'powder frenzy' as soon as the visibility improves, and don't get caught out. Off-piste conditions are still mega-unstable out there!

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Off Piste Snow Conditions

Winter is certainly here! We're finding some beautiful quality off-piste snow, but taking care to stick to low slope angles of 30° or less off-piste (steepness of a steep red to black run) because the instability is lethal out there! This will become even more worrying when the visibility improves from Saturday onwards, when there will be a strong temptation to ski all that fresh powder, once we can actually see where we're going!
We're finding are all sorts of off-piste conditions from wind-hardened snow, deep snowdrifts where snow has been blown and accumulated, to dry, light powdery snow. In other areas it's been densified and very tricky to ski.

Snow Stability

In the last 2 weeks we've received close to 2 m of fresh snow in many parts of the the N French Alps, and a lot more in some places. These huge quantities of fresh snow, lying on top of that weak layer of cohesionless 'sugar snow' which we've been talking about since mid-December, combined with very high winds (gusting over 120 km/hr) have led to a extremely dangerous level of instability. A huge amount of avalanche activity has been observed over the last 2 weeks (set off 'accidentally' by people, naturally occurring, and set off deliberately by the pisteurs to secure the marked/open runs). Among others, there was a terrible avalanche in Les Deux Alpes in the Isere region on Wednesday when several people were killed by an avalanche on a closed piste.
If you combine all this instability with the vastly improved visibility over the next few days (clear, bluebird weather) and epic powder snow it's a very worrying situation indeed. It's so easy to get carried away and be tempted onto the steep slopes to sample that powder now that we can actually see our way .... a recipe for a very costly disaster! Please don't get carried away by the powder frenzy. Take your time and think about slope gradients, carry the right equipment and know how to use it, and ski with people you feel comfortable with who won't push you into doing things you feel uncomfortable with.
The avalanche danger rating has been up to 4, meaning that it's possible to trigger avalanches at a distance. With so much instability around, we'll continue to treat every slope with a lot of caution even as the danger rating goes down (but that will not mean that it's more stable!!). See our HAT advice for what all the danger ratings mean: http://www.henrysavalanchetalk.com/avalanche-forecasts-danger-rating.
There's still been very little 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, or the visibility has been too bad for people to attempt them. 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
Tip of the Week
Our advice remains the same as last week. Have fun by all means, but caution must be the order of the day:
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
Ride Hard !! Ride Safe everybody