A weather system has moved across France today bringing snow at 1100 meters to the Northern Alps with the snowline dropping to below 1000 meters at the end of the episode. There was a lot of wind from the East to West on New Year’s Eve
which meant snow conditions were variable (according to my spies on the ground), pockets of powder, crust and transformed snow on the sunniest slopes but also some hard, icy snow on shaded slopes. There is also a 10cm layer of consolidated snow sitting on an uncohesive layer in parts of the Belledonne range and the strong winds would have formed new slabs. These will now be buried and loaded by the fresh snow. Around 15cm was expected in the Isere and Savoie, 30cm in the Haute-Savoie. This is reflected by the avalanche risk, 2 in the Isere and Savoie, 3 in the Haute-Savoie. As ever complemented this with your observations on the ground but expect small slabs near cols and ridges.
Snow cover at low altitudes (800-1400 meters) is better than in 2010 but not as good as last year. December has seen a number of weather systems but one of the warmest Christmas periods for the last 30 years. In the French Alps snow depths are 50 to 100% more than on average depending on the range with snow cover from 1000 meters in the Isere, 800 meters in the Savoies on north sector slopes. It deepens rapidly with altitude, reaching a meter at 1500 metes and 2 meters at 2000 meters. There is slightly less snow in the Southern Alps. The snowline was frequenlty around 1500 meters during December.
Snow cover in the Central and Western Pyrenees is about average from 1800 meters with less snow in the east. For example there is 70cm of snow at the Lac d’Ardiden at 2400 meters, slightly below average. Snow cover starts from around 1000 meters in the Vosges, Jura and Massif Central.
The snow’s quite variable below 2000m here. But, in a lot of places it’s really very good. There has been a lot of wind transport and some slopes were down to a few cm while other slopes have a fairly hard icy crust. Yesterday we had a group on a small local peak and the ascent covered a lot of changeable snow, mostly ascending on trail I set a few days back with another group but in places my trail had totally blown out but hugely easier than the epic trail-breaking I had to do to make the track originally. For a descent we bobbed in and out of some abandoned ski runs and found loads of light, cold powder and had some great fun before finding the snow line at around 1000m which is a seasonal norm for that area.
This morning there’s about 10cm of fresh snow in the village and it’s a nice day. Although today is my day off I might go for a (uphill) ski later.
Here is the result today of that wind transport on the 31st. This slope on the lee side of the photos above
Some new slabs have formed with the fresh snow yesterday and under the influence of the N to NE wind. The sub layers are relatively stable but a risk of windslab on ridges, cols, summits.
Chamonix PGHM rescued two climbers from a crevasse on the Grans Montets late yesterday and also recovered 9 skiers blocked on the Pas de Chèvre above the Mer de Glace. Not sure if this was route finding or just the icy conditions. Certainly the exit is not obvious.
A ski tourer also survived an avalanche on the Pas de la Mine on the Taillefer mountain to the SE of Grenoble. The 22 year old student was carried 150 meters over cliffs and was probably saved from serious injuries by his helmet. He was taken to Grenoble University hospital by the PGHM based in Alpe d’Huez for the winter season.
Some update on snow conditions. Avalanche risk down around 2 in the Northern French Alps and Hautes Alps. 1 in the Savoie and Hautes Alpes below 1800 / 2200 meters. The principal risk has moved onto North sector slopes although in the Savoie and East Isere they are expected a north wind (the famous Bise) to form slabs on south sector slopes during the day on Saturday. It is always little anomalies like that which catch my eye. I assume that most of what is going to purge on sunny slopes has now gone and with the overnight refreeze these slopes are now more stable.
Thursday saw quite a bit of avalanche activity on many slope aspects. Small slabs and purges. There is around 10-20cm of recent snow in the Nothern Alps, more locally due to wind transport. This is not enough to hide the underlying hard snow and the fresh snow is frequently poorly bonded. Indeed a layer of facets seems to be forming at the base of the fresh snow and the old base and this has caused the recent slab activity. With the current anticyclone the snow will continue to transform into facets and there is surface hoar forming on shaded slopes. It could be complicated when we see more snow.
An 8 year old has fallen seven meters into a sciallet/lapiaz (pot hole) this afternoon skiing off piste at St Pierre en Chartreuse. He was taken to the CHU in Grenoble by the PGHM but appears to have sustained only light injuries. The “crevasses” of St Pierre are something extreme ski pioneer was familiar with: http://pistehors.com/backcountry/wiki/Bio/Patrick-Vallencant
Before the snow mid-week conditions were pretty icy with high altitude rain then a refreeze as a 21 year old snow shoer found out to his cost on Monday 31st December. He wanted to return to his holiday home in St Andeol from Gresse en Vercors via the Pas de la Ville and then the eastern Vercors ridge with a descent via the Pas de la Balme (see photo). A route he’d done in the summer. Equipped with moon-boots and snow shoes more suited for forest trails it seems he lost his footing near the Malaval and fell over cliffs. His body was found on New Year’s day after a long search by the Civil Security helicopter during the night.
The body of a fireman and trail running enthusiast missing since New Year’s eve in the Vercors was found this morning by two walkers in the combe de Veyranche sector. It appears the victim had lost his footing in snow and fallen 200 meters over cliffs. Rescue workers from the Isere and Drome had carried out an extensive search for the victim.
Nice conditions, and Happy New Year to you. I wondered what you were up to at the moment. Looks really fantastic.
We are all good here, currently spending more time rando-race training than anything else - but that’s just filling time whilst the kids do the ski-club thing.
That little trip went very well, it’s only half an hour from the house and I had never been up there. We got to the parking at 10.30! There was no space, so we had to be creative, I feared the worst for the ascent, we headed off in the same direction as everyone else, you get to the turn-off for Uble after 200m, I could not believe it, no tracks. Everyone had gone for Chalune. It makes you wonder what they know that you don’t. We broke trail all the way to the summit to see the 30-40 on Chalune! In the end 9 followed us up. I guess Chalune is a bit of a longer day and a little more “involved” so a better objective for a day out - Uble is only a 3 hr round trip. Given the choice though (and the skiing is similar on both of them) I’d go for the fresh tracks.
On the conditions front. I was out again yesterday, very warm indeed, everything in the sun is transforming and in the shade (below 2000m) it’s getting a crust. Plus the forecast is for sun, sun and more sun.
Around 60cm of fresh snow is expected in the pre-alps over the next 48 hours. It will be nice to get a top up as conditions were getting either thin or pretty icy in places. The fresh snow will fall on some weak layers in some areas and the risk is going up to 3 in the Northern Alps today. Take care.
Snow falls were around the 35-55cm range bringing the risk up to 3 or 4 in the Alps.
On the 10th a 25 year old female British skier had a serious fall in the couloir des Canadiens on the north face of the Bellecôte after losing a ski. The victim slid arond 300 meters and suffered fractures to her leg and head as well as other facial injuries. She was wearing a helmet. A friend in a state of severe shock also had to be rescued by the PGHM.
Shaping up for snowmageddon in the Western and Central Pyrenees. Over the last 24 hours there has been 50cm of snow at the Lac d’Ardiden in the Bigorre. 60cm at l’Hospitalet below Andorra. 90cm at Maupas in the Luchonnais and 110cm in the Port d’Aula in the Couserans.
As a consequence risk 5 tomorrow in the Ariege, Haute Garonne, Pyrenees Atlantiques and the Hautes Pyrenees. Only the far east of the mountain range escapes.
In the Northern Alps, risk 3 in the Isere on all slope aspects and above 1800/2200 meters in the Savoie and Haute Savoie which have ‘escaped’ the snow over the last couple of days but will see 10-15cm tomorrow (Tuesday). Hautes-Alpes is risk 3 above 2300 meters with just a dusting getting over the Col du Lauteret tomorrow.
Still risk 5 in the Western and Central Pyrenees. Risk 3 in the Isere on all slope aspects. It has snowed at valley level today, about 15cm, more at altitude. Conditions are more complex in the Savoie with highest risk on N and S slopes above 2000m, less on E and W.
The avalanche risk is finally dropping in the Pyrenees, down from 5 to 4.
We had an interesting situation in the Belledonne/Chartreuse today. The risk was announced as 3 yesterday but we had about another 10cm of snow overnight. This morning Meteo France issued a new bulletin upping the risk to 4. This was probably a bit high for the Chartreuse. There are some weak layers in the 50 -> 100cm range on north facing slopes so there is a risk of a big slide and they probably have the death at the Petit Som early in the season in mind. Tomorrow there will be a bit more snow but, more importantly, a north wind that will transport snow. Again the risk seems to be in the more open North facing bowls and slopes above the tree line. The Belledonne is another matter, a range of high summits (3000m.) and wide, open valleys.
The snow that has fallen in the Chartreuse is very light, and there is a lot of it, below 1100m there isn’t a great deal of depth.
I was in the Bérard valley near Chamonix today and I thought the avalanche risk was slightly understated ( 3, north quadrant above 2400m) there was clearly more snow fallen than had been forecast. All I saw was the bulletin when I left just after 7am so I don’t know if it was revised.
Quite excellent conditions though. Cold but not too excessive, lots of cold fresh powder. Very nice.