Snow and Avalanche: High Risk in Pyrénées

Last Sunday we were ski touring in our T-shirts in Andorra under sunny skies and on spring snow.  Since then the weather has turned considerably colder with a smattering of snow across most of the French mountains.

The Halfpipe at Porté-Puymorens

It is now exactly a month since the last fatal avalanche in France.  Given that the winter holiday period is now in full swing this is more a reflection on the stability of the snow conditions at present.  An anticyclone has governed the recent weather with only small snowfalls earlier in the week and on Thursday.  Backcountry users still need to exercise prudence.  The snow conditions are very icy in some places.  This week a British snowboarder was killed in Méribel falling from cliffs and a Frenchman and his dog spent a cold night on the pistes of Chamrousse after getting lost in poor visibility.

In the Pyrénées the greatest risk is towards the center and western mountains (high[4/5]) with a number of slabs forming on north facing slopes under the action of a southerly wind.  These slabs are on very unstable snow and could be triggered by the passage of a single boarder or skier.  The fresh snow over the last 24 hours, down to around 800 meters and especially towards the Spanish frontier has given the mountains a wintery feel.  However it is still only possible to ski to 1500 to 1800 meters depending on the slope.

The Southern Alps have good snow depths in all areas except towards the Mediterranean coast.  It is possible to ski to around 1100 meters on north facing slopes and around 1500 meters on southern slopes except in the Alps Maritimes where the limit is around 2000 meters.  Some ridges and summits have little snow due to the strong wind.  There has been between 5 to 20cm of fresh snow yesterday, particularly towards the Italian border.

The best off-piste conditions are in sheltered North facing valleys where sugar snow can often be found; higher up the snow is frequently very hard.  Spring snow, tending towards crust can be found on South facing slopes.

Although the risk is low care is needed above 2200 meters on cols and exposed ridges.

The situation is similar to the North. On Thursday there was between 5 – 15cm of snow above 400 meters.  It is possible to ski to 800 meters on north facing slopes, 1200-1400 meters on southern slopes.  A strong wind from Italy has formed some slabs on North and West aspects.  Although these are not large they can be trigged by the passage of a single skier or boarder.  Even a small slide can have serious consequences if it carries the victim over cliffs.

Corsica has also seen around 10 to 25cm of fresh accompanied by strong south-east winds.  Ski tourists should exercise care, the risk varies between moderate [2/5] and considerable [3/5] . It is possible to ski to around 1500 to 1800 meters depending on the range.

Meteo France publish daily avalanche bulletins throughout the winter season.

Posted by davidof on Friday, 20 February, 2004 at 12:35 PM

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