Avalanche reports: what is the risk in the Alps this week?
Staying safe when skiing or snowboarding in the mountains is crucial – an important part of that is being aware of the risk of avalanche where you are, being prepared when heading off piste, and knowing what to do should an avalanche happen.
The Telegraph Ski & Snowboard has teamed up with Henry Schneiwind from Henry’s Avalanche Talk, to provide up-to-date avalanche safety reports from the Savoie region of the French Alps, which includes popular resorts such as Courchevel, Méribel, Val Thorens and Les Menuires in the Trois Vallées as well as Val d’Isère, Tignes, La Plagne, Les Arcs, La Rosière and La Tania.
What is the current avalanche risk in the Northern French Alps/Savoie
Henry Schniewind: It’s been a very difficult time for weather forecasters and piste patrol services in keeping roads and pistes safe in the Alps. Plenty of these have had to be closed to the public, especially in warmer afternoons, for fear of glide cracks or other avalanches coming down. Avalanche danger ratings have been set at 3, rising to 4 at times, indicating the problem these potentially large avalanches present to the authorities.
What does this mean for off-piste skiers and snowboarders?
HS: Normally at this time of year we’re enjoying regular melt-freeze cycles, which bring nice smooth spring snow skiing. This year, however, we’re still in transition between cold dry winter snow and humid to wet spring snow. When we eventually receive these repeated cycles of melting and freezing, the snowpack will become much more solid and stable. The real challenge at the moment is how long this transitional period is going to last.
Mild temperatures and windy weather look set to continue into next week, with no really significant overnight refreezes or really bluebird sunny days.
Areas near the French/Italian border could be in for quite a bit more snowfall. This fresh snow is likely to be very humid and wind-affected. There will also be a lot of windslab forming, especially on North-facing slopes at high altitude. This could be triggered by a skier passing by, or even release naturally on very steep slopes.
Where is most at risk at the moment?
HS: At lower altitudes, direct heat from the sun will rapidly humidify the snowpack. More big and wet snow avalanches will be coming down. Some big avalanches came down last week, especially on South-facing slopes in the late afternoon. Of course, we’d avoid skiing those sort of slopes at that time of day at this time of year, anyway. It didn’t freeze for three or four days in a row, so the snowpack became unconsolidated and avalanches occurred.
What is the likely avalanche activity this week?
HS: The snow that’s forecast over the next week, along with the minimal refreezing or above freezing temperatures at 2,000m will increase avalanche activity in Northern French Alps and surrounding areas like Pila and Aosta in Italy, especially when the sun hits the new snow. Now, and over the next week or two, is a good time to be paying serious attention to wet-snow avalanches coming from slopes above.
How does the forecast look for the coming week?
Thursday 12 April
A wild windy day, with gusts up to 100 km/hr. Most areas of Savoie will just be cloudy, but places near the French/Italian border may see snowfall, possibly 15 to 20cm at 2,100 m, landing on top of around 20cm which fell overnight. 0°C at 2,000 m, -10°C at 3,000m. Strong E/SE winds, 30 to 80 km/hr at 2,100m.
Friday 13 April
A brighter morning, clouding over again later. A few snowflakes falling near the French/Italian border in the evening. 0°C at between 1,600m to 2,000m. Foehn wind, 40-50 km/hr.
Saturday 14 April
Cloudy near the French/Italian border, but brighter elsewhere. 0°C at 2,400m. SE wind with Foehn and Lombarde, 40 to 60 km/hr.
Sunday 15 and Monday 16 April
A mixture of sunshine and showers (possibly snowfall at around 1,800 m). Mild temperatures.
Tuesday 17 and Wednesday 18 April
Bright spells and a risk of showers in the afternoons. Remaining mild.
Tip of the week
Watch out if it doesn’t freeze at night, along with prolonged warming trends (especially above 2,000m where there’s still a lot of winter snow around). That, combined with any new snowfall, wind and radiation from the sun, could lead to some very big avalanches occurring.