A Taste of Winter

In the valleys it is still autumn. The forests have turned a rich golden brown and the cooler temperatures have brought misty mornings. But at altitude the seasons are a couple of months in advance and storms from the south left the Alps looking decidedly wintry after the weekend enabling ski mountaineering to make a start to their winter campaign.

Ski tourers taking advantage of early snow on the Glandon

We met up with Ronan and Romain who had just completed the the 550 meter ascent of the Ouillon. A favourite with autumn skiers as it is usually possible to drive to the start at the Col du Glandon car-park. Those making the effort over the weekend were not disappointed, even if the weather was a little bit doubtful at times.

The Belledonne on Sunday

It has snowed down to 1200 meters but little remained below 1600. At 2000 meters there was 30cm but without a base. Not that much of a problem on the Ouillon as it is largely grass underneath. The wind had also moved snow up on the lee side of the ridge giving close to half a meter of fresh, but slightly heavy, powder. Hearing this some people will be worried about wind transport and avalanche formation. Météo France start their avalanche bulletins at the end of the month but out of season avalanches are still a possibility but most likely at high altitude with permanent snow cover at this time of year. We were worried when we saw the Red Civil Security rescue helicopter fly overhead but it was just fetching a man who had been attacked by a dog on the Belledonne, not one of the famous wolves we have been hearing so much about lately. That said, a thin early season snowpack and cold weather will create strong temperature gradients can lead to the rapid formation of depth hoar. Thin snowpacks are also weaker, requiring less force to trigger a slide. If the current snow hangs around then there could be problems when it next snows above 2000 meters.

Not everyone was happy with the snow

Down in the Rivier d’Allemont French officials had turned out to honour wartime commander Trafford Leigh-Mallory (brother of George LM of Everest fame) whose plane had crashed nearly 60 years earlier on the 14th of November. At that time the valley was blanketed in 2 meters of snow and although villagers heard the crash the plane was not found until the 7th of June, 1945. Leigh-Mallory was on his way to take up command of British forces in South-East Asia.

We had some free time which enabled us to pop in to the ANENA offices. This is the French Snow and Avalanche Research Institute based in Grenoble. We had a warm welcome from the Director François Sivardière and Frederick Jarry who compiles their avalanche statistics. The ANENA plays a major role in avalanche education in France and are holding an Avalanche Day in November and a weekend aimed at freeriders in La Grave on the 15th-16th of January. We were told that on average around 30% of people involved in avalanche accidents in France are not French. A worrying figure and we recommend everyone to bear this in mind before venturing into the mountains.

Take advantage of the conditions while they last. Metéo France has promised a warm spell this week which should melt most of the snow below 2,500 meters. It is, after all, just a taste of winter.

Posted by davidof on Tuesday, 19 October, 2004 at 07:32 PM

For the first time in six years no sunspots have been visible on the surface of the sun. This happened twice in October on the 11th & 12th.

The link between the sun’s activity and the earth’s weather is well documented but also disputed so fingers crossed! For more information search on google for Solar Minimum.

Posted by  on  Saturday, 23 October, 2004  at 05:03 PM

That’s interesting. There is a paper by French climatologist Eduard Bard called “The Variable Sun” which talk about this subject and I’ve just found an article on Sunspots and climate change published by Nasa.

Well let’s hope it is a good one, still a bit early to tell and it is very warm at the mo. in the French Alps.

Posted by davidof on  Saturday, 23 October, 2004  at 08:42 PM
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