Posted on: 2013-12-20 10:06:18 by davidof

December 2013 snow conditions in the French Mountains

Despite early season snow, conditions have been a bit poor in recent weeks outside of open ski runs where cold night weather has enabled some snowmaking. This is a quick round-up of current conditions based on information from ski touring websites and Meteo France weather stations. Executive summary: for touring go to the Pyrenees although things are improving in the Western Alps. Piste skiing should be fine over Christmas in main ski resorts.

The Northern Alps saw their first real snow in early to mid November although it had snowed at altitude during October. This enabled the alpine and ski touring season to get underway early. This was followed by an anticyclone lasting 3 weeks that has blocked any weather systems. Temperatures in the mountains have been warm and sunny. Cold, polluted air has stagnated in the valleys. A classic temperature inversion. The sunny period meant that snow cover on south facing slopes was patchy below 2000m. However the sun is very low at this time of year and little radiation reaches North aspects where snow can be found at 800 meters.

Conditions are below average for the range with the best conditions in the Vercors and Lauziere where ski touring has continued throughout the anticyclone. At 2000m the Belledonne has the best depths with 70cm. The Haute-Maurienne and Oisans are dry, with just 20-30cm at the same height. The current weather system has brought a further 30-40cm to the Belledonne but has had difficulty penetrating futher east. Strong foehn winds have stripped ridges at altitude and the entrances to north facing couloirs are frequently rocky for the first meters and have to be down climbed. The snowpack is a mix of hard, icy snow on wind exposed slopes, spring or crust on south facing slopes and sugar snow (facets) on shaded aspects.

The Southern Alps have poor snow cover with around 20-30cm at 2000 m on north sector slopes. This has not stopped some ski touring particularly on the high mountains bordering Italy. However the current storm cycle is expected to bring half a meter of snow to localized areas: Orcieres, Mercantour.

Corisca is about average with snow cover from 1400-1600 meters with 70cm of snow on north facing slopes at 2000m. The Vosges has snow from 700m on north facing slopes and there has been some ski touring in the Hohneck couloirs over recent days. There are similar conditions in the Jura. In the Massif Central you can find 20cm of snow at 1300m on North sector slopes. Enough to permit ski touring in the Sancy valleys and couloirs and in the Mezenc massive although many routes are dry.

The Pyrenees has seen excellent early season conditions with very good snow from mid-november that has not suffered too much in the recent warm, sunny weather. Cover is best in the Ariège (Ax-Trois-Domaines, Andorra, Porte Puymorens) and on the Mediterranean end of the range. There is 70cm of snow in the Ariège. Snow cover above 2000m is about normal for the time of year.