March 2006

Weather > Snow Avalanche Conditions > March 2006

30th March 2006: 20:00

Yesterday saw a brief respite in the poor weather and warm conditions we have been suffering since last week. The zero isotherm dipped to around 1500 meters and there was around 30cm of fresh snow above 2200 meters in the Alps. We even found some fresh powder on the plateau of the Chartreuse after the weather cleared late yesterday evening. Today it has been a return to normal with the zero isotherm around 2700 meters and 12-15mm of rain (or snow at 3000 meters) accompanied by strong westerly winds. Yesterday skiing was acceptable above 1500 meters, a bit of fresh snow on a humid base, lower down the snow was practically unskiable with very little snow remaining below 1400 meters except on cold north facing slopes. The zero isotherm is expected to drop to 2200 meters on Friday with fresh snow above 2000 meters. The risk is high over the Northern Alps tomorrow with the risk of wet snow avalanches below 2300 meters and slabs higher up, particuarly on North to East slopes. The risk will descrease slightly at lower altitudes with the natural purge of new snow but take care on any slopes that see the sun.

28th March 2006: 20:00

The zero isotherm has been around 1700-1800 meters today in the Isère with 16mm of rain, or around 15-20cm of snow above 2000m. There will be some continuing snowfall down to 900-1300 meters on Wednesday with better weather in the afternoon. This will be accompanied by some strong wind gusts from the west to north-west. Skiers should expect to find powder snow above 1600 meters with some humid snow lower down sitting on a very wet base. The snow pack will humidify during the day to 2000 meters, higher on sunny slopes.

A number of aspects have already purged during the recent hot weather but there will be some continued natural avalanche activity, especially during the course of the day with the appearance of the sun and given that some slopes have not yet purged. Keep well clear of such slopes as slides could be considerable in size.

The passage of a single skier, snowboarder or snowshoer could cause a surface slide that might then take the whole depth of snow. All altitudes and aspects are potentially dangerous especially above 2200 where there are some old slabs particularly on north-west to east sectors. The wind may form some new slabs on north to eastern aspects at altitude.

27th March 2006: 15:00

The Warm spell is continuing, 23C at valley level and 10C at 1800 meters giving a zero isotherm around 3300 meters. Almost all the slopes from the office window (south, west and north facing) have purged to some extent between 2200 - 1800 m with some significant slides. On Saturday an off-piste skier in l’Alpe d’Huez was rescued after being buried 1 meter under wet snow. On Sunday there was a lot of activity although we have not heard of any serious incidents:

A slab avalanche triggered by the passage of 4 skiers on the north face of the Pic de la Saume in the Chamsaur another slab of about 20-30cm depth that took most of the NW face of the Rocher Blanc in the Belledonne triggered by skiers. Wet snow avalanches observed on the Le Rochail and Rocher de l’Armet. A wet snow avalanche on the col de Lances that crossed a few meters in front of a ski mountaineer a soft slab avalanche under the Point des Sarrasins at Valfréjus in the Maurienne. A ski tourer was caught by a wet snow slide on the south-west slopes of the Albaron but escaped without injury and ski tourers in the Lauziere massif triggered a slab avalanche on the north facing Faux Villan couloir.

26th March 2006: 19:00

Today was the hottest day so far this year with almost summer temperatures - it tipped 25C. In the valleys the temperature dropped from 19C yesterday to 8C overnight promising a good refreeze but the mountains thought differently. At 8am temperatures were around 13C at 1300 meters, 9C at 2300 at 11am (measured in the Belledonne). It was even 3C at la Meije (3100 meters) in the Ecrins and 2C at the Bellecote/la Plagne at 3000m. We reckoned the zero isotherm was around 3600 meters by 4pm. The refreeze was almost non-existant below 2000 meters with an isothermic snow pack, ideal conditions for wet snow slides. There were some better conditions higher up but it is like May skiing on unstable snow, to be taken with moderation.

temperatures march

French Alps - Scorchio

25th March 2006: 10:00

The monsoon like conditions continue. It was 17C in the alpine valleys yesterday with the zero isotherm around 2600 meters. There has been a great deal of rain below 2000m. The automatic weather station in the Vercors has lost 40cm of snow depth in a week but a bit higher up, at 2200 meters in the Belledonne mountains there was 20cm of fresh snow overnight and 30cm at 3000 m at la Plagne. All this means that the risk is 3/5 in every single mountain area of France, from Corsica to the Pyrenees to the Alps.

The big danger as we switch from winter to spring is purges of snow below 2000 meter level in any area with significant accumulations left from the winter. These will be large and dense slides, the kind of avalanche that claimed three skiers in the Bauges last March. The lack of overnight refreeze means that climbing on skis will be hard work and knees and tendons could suffer if you are off-piste and make an error. Higher up the fresh snow has been accompanied by winds from the south and west which have formed new snow slabs on north to east facing slopes. Take care on convex roll-overs or near other potential trigger points (rocks etc). The fresh snow is poorly bonded to the crusty old snow. Warming temperatures and sun could also start some natural activity during the course of the day and this is liable to increase on Sunday with continuing warm weather.

22nd March 2006: 15:00 The unsettled and cloudy weather continues in the Alps. Yesterday around 10-15cm of snow fell above 2200 meters with none-existance refreeze below this level this morning rendering ski touring impractical except for the most dedicated. Beware of routes overhung by cornices at the moment as these may break away with the rain and warm temperatures.

19th March 2006: 23:00 There was a poor overnight refreeze this morning and with a moderate SW wind the zero isotherm is currently around 1800m. This will humidify the snowpack and lead to an increase in large full-depth avalanches below 2200m. Attention tomorrow in the Northern Alps particuarly the Isère department. The snow pack remains fragile in the Hautes-Alps despite the warmer temperatures.

18th March 2006: 23:00

We were back in the Vercors range today which is once again having a good season. There was snow from 950m on the east facing slopes we climbed and some fresh snow falling above 1100m. The cloud cover kept the snow from turning into corn snow bu the skiing was pretty good, we even found some old powder sheltered in a north-east facing couloir.

17th March 2006: 19:00

We are very much into spring like conditions with a much more stable snowpack in the Northern Alps and Pyrenees but the risk is still Considerable in some parts of the Savoie, Haute-Savoie, Southern Alps and Corsica. Don't be fooled by the sunny weather. Early on the slopes are well frozen with east facing slopes have spring skiing conditions by 9-10am but these aspects should be avoided in the afternoon. Tomorrow weather will degrade during the day which may stop south and west facing slopes from transforming. The generally cold conditions out of the sun means there is till powder snow on north sector slopes.

15th March 2006: 19:00

We took advantage of last nights full-moon to climbe to the Moucherotte above Grenoble. It is a pretty sublime experiences, climbing and skiing down by the light of the full moon. The snow was pretty good too, we even found some untouched powder fields. Four hours sleep and we were up again in the Belledonne for the tour of the Pas de Pin. A big contrast in conditions. Early morning the snow is crusty on any slope that has either been swept by last weekend's gale force winds or had significant sun exposure. That means pretty much anywhere in the east-south-west sector except for sheltered couloirs. East slopes see spring conditions around 10am (remember the Sun has been on some of these slopes for a good 3 hours) and you would do well to be off such aspects by noon. South slopes were great by midday, again to be avoided after 2am and West slopes are skiable in the afternoon. A lot of natural purges were visible and there are still some slabs in place on slopes that have not yet been skied much. Take care.

14th March 2006: 16:00

We have been out a bit in the last couple of days but on low angled wooded routes. There have been a number impressive purges on sunny aspects, which is good if you are not underneath when they happen. In the Northern French Alps the weather has been sunny but it has stayed relatively cold since Sunday with light winds from the North. This has helped preserve the snow although some crust has formed on sunny slopes around 30 degrees which will have felt the full force of the sun over the last few days. As we move into more spring like weather this week off-piste skiers will have to watch out for natural avalanches on sunny slopes in the afternoon. There is still the risk of isolate slabs especially on shaded slopes close to cols or ridelines where the wind has transported a lot of snow. Safe travel procedures and good route planning are prerequisites.

The situation in the Southern Alps, a guide was killed yesterday in Serre Chevalier off-piste at 2550 meters, is more dangerous with a number of slabs in place on north facing slopes above 2100 meters (lower down the warmer temperatures have stabilized the snow to some extent.

In the central Pyrenees the risk is also High. Here it seems that the very warm days (zero isotherm at 2700m) will destabilise the bonds between some large slabs and the underlying snow. The risk should drop later in the week. Corsica also has High risk, the problem is weak bonds between snow slabs formed during last weekend and the base.

12th March 2006: 09:00

There is some of the season's best off-piste skiing in the French mountains at the moment as long as you remember to avoid avalanche prone faces and not to go too high into the mountains. Principally forest and low angled terrain is safest. It should be noted that the risk is currently HIGH over much of the area (a piste patroller was killed in the resort of Bernex yesterday so the risk is there and hard to judge even for professionals. We were in the Chartreuse yesterday skiing above the resort of the col de Marcieu. We still managed to trigger a superficial soft slab - a reminder that the risk of Considerable (it has since been raised with the strong Northerly winds and fresh snow) is accurate.

10th March 2006: 18:00 The avalanche risk is back up to High across much of the French Alps, Pyrennees and Corsica tomorrow with Extreme risk in the Western Pyrenees close to the Atlantic. The reason is a weather front that is crossing the region giving a lot of fresh snow. The western Pyrenees are expecting 100cm in places and as the avalanche bulletin puts it "the most stupid will be able to ski to 1000m altitude on all slope aspects".

Many areas in the Northern Alps have seen 30cm of fresh snow above 2000m especially closer to Italy and the Haute-Tarentaise has seen 60cm at 3000m. Another 30-50cm of fresh snow is expected to Saturday evening with the zero isotherm hovering around 1000m. The south-west wind which brought some very warm March temperatures yesterday (15C in the valleys) has swung around to the North-West and will move around to the North during the next 24 hours. Watch out for natural slides which could be substantial and could run to quite low altitudes (take care about slopes above your route) and watch out for slabs on lee slopes especially above 1800m.

7th March 2006: 09:00 We don't often talk abou the Vosges and Jura ski areas but these areas have been having a fantastic winter. The Météo France monitoring station at the Ballon d'Alsace is currently recording 3.1 meters of snow, beating the previous record dating from 1968. The ski resorts in the area have a meter of snow at the bottom of the slopes and between 2 to 3 meters at the summits. The snow has brought some difficult driving conditions and also some injuries as snow has avalanched from roofs. Remember that avalanches are not unheard of in these mountains. Last year a skier was killed off-piste in the Vosges and the risk should be considered as High at the moment.

The wind has swung from north-east round to west in anticipation of a weather front coming in from the Atlantic. This will bring rain to 11800-2000 m and around 30-40cm of snow higher up. The avalanche risk will increase.

6th March 2006: 09:00 Conditions have settled somewhat but the avalanche risk is still at High (4/5) over much of the Alps and Western Pyrenees. Some areas have seen over a meter of new snow. Overnight there was a very strong north to north-west wind with a return to cold temperatures at altitude. The wind will have formed some new slabs and accumulations particuarly above 1700-2000m. Lower down the rain on Saturday and cold temperatures have stablised the snowpack. The snow transport is evident from the Meije monitoring station where 60cm of snow was lost in 24 hours.

3rd March 2006: 15:00 - Extreme Avalanche Risk in Savoie The wind from the south-west to north-west has increased markedly over the last 24 hours. According to PisteHors weather station the snowline is currently around 1500 meters with 40 cm of fresh expected at altitude.

Backcountry travellers should take care at lower altitudes below the tree line where the snowpack has become saturated with rain which could cause some natural full depth avalanches. Particular care should be paid on north faces where there are some weak layers especially in clearings or steeper slopes.

In the Haute-Savoie and Savoie the avalanche risk is currently Extreme (5/5). Strong winds from the west have lead to accumulations of snow of over 1 meter depth with 50 to 80cm of fresh snow in the Beaufortin and Haute-Tarentaise areas. Some roads and buildings could be affected. Avalanches are possible on all slope aspects with the risk increasing in Saturday afternoon.

Backcountry travelers should stick to low angled routes (<25 to 30 degrees) and avoid any route threatened by an avalanche couloir or steeper slopes. Be careful climbing out of the treeline at 1800 meters where the risk can increase suddenly. Under no circumstances ski slopes closed by the ski patrol. The danger will persist over the weekend although colder temperatures on Sunday should start to stabilize lower altitudes.

2nd March 2006: 08:00 We have been touring the last couple of days. Yesterday there was around 30-40cm of fresh snow in the Belledonne mountains with snow falling to valley level. The pre-Alps (Aravis, Chablais, Bauges, Chartreuse etc) will see the most snow. The forest paths still lack a bit of snow so watch your ski or board bases. The new snow wasn't sticking very well to the older hard snow which lead us to do a U-turn at the base of a couloir we were going to climb. Remember that a small avalanches may be enough to trigger a bigger side where there are weak layers in the snowpack.

Overall the fresh snow has increased the avalanche risk to Considerable (3/5) over the Northern Alps with strong North-West winds giving accumulations of 40 to 80cm in places. Most of the slabs will be formed by the wind close to cols and ridgelines however there may also be some soft slab avalanches at various altitudes. In the Savoie the snow from the 19th of February is sitting on a fragile layer and this was the cause of the recent big avalanches one of which killed a ski instructor in les Arcs. The snowpack is interspersed with several crusts - in a pit we dug on a south face at 1600m we found a thick rain crust at 20cm depth although the snowpack was pretty well consolidate on this slope aspect. The cold will transform the fresh snow into weak, facetted crystals which will be a problem with the new snow expected over the coming days.

In the Southern Alps the avalanche risk also continues to be Considerable with recent snow sitting on an old weak layer (see previous reports and avalanche news). Corsica continues to have an excellent season but with some nasty snowslab particuarly on east facing slopes following the north-west wind. This is sitting on a weak layer. Conditions have stabilized somewhat in the Western Pyrenees. In central and eastern areas above 2000m there has been strong winds which have formed new slabs on many slopes and this process will continue over the next days. Take care on shaded slope aspects where the slabs are sitting on a weak layer - however the danger is more general as you move eastwards. Conditions are good for ski touring and off-piste skiing, it is possible to descend to around 1200m on north facing slopes.

<< April 2006 | Snow Avalanche Conditions | February 2006 >>