Snow and Avalanche Report - The Ice Saints Cometh
It seems that the traditional Ice Saints (Les Saints de Glace) period is well named this year. The best known of the Ice Saints are St Mamertus, St Pancras and St Servatius and their feast days fall on the 11, 12 and 13th of May. The Ice Saints are days after Easter when a sudden cold snap results in a frost. Potentially disastrous for a vineyard and of great interest to backcountry travellers.
After a warm spell between the 20 and 25 of April where temperatures were positive even at 3000 meters a series of depressions over eastern Europe have dragged cold air down from the Artic giving the weather a distinctly icy feel. The depression has been accompanied by weather fronts that have brought snow down to 800 meters in the Pyrénées, Massif Central and Jura and 1000 meters in the Northern Alps. A quick tour of the Metéo France automatic monitoring stations gives the following readings
Bellecote (la Plagne – 3000 meters) 230cm snow depth, 40cm new snow accompanied by moderate winds around 40km/h
Ecrins (les Deux Alpes / la Grave – 2940 meters), 160cm snow depth, 20cm new snow with light winds
Restefond (Isola/Auron – 2550 m), 120cm snow depth, 10cm new snow, strong winds (80 km/h)
Pyrénées (Soum Couy – 2150 meters), 240cm snow depth, 20cm of new snow, strong winds (60km/h)
Pyrénées (Canigou - 2160 meters), 180cm snow depth, 40 cm of new snow, light wind
Over the weekend ski mountaineers reported being able to ski to around 1850 meters in the Southern Alps, 1650 meters in the Aravis (Northern Alps), 1800 meters in the Vanoise, between 1700 to 2000 meters in the central Pyrénées and 1600 meters in the Belledonne. Last Sunday conditions were excellent where there had been an overnight freeze (little or no cloud cover) with some crust at lower altitudes.
The fresh snow should improve conditions, especially at altitude but probably won’t affect the snow line a great deal. There has been a further episode of snow mixed with sand blown from Africa in the south and this may form a sliding surface for fresh snow. Backcountry travellers should take care where there has been substantial new snow (over 20cm) especially when wind speeds are over 40km/h as this can lead to the formation of slabs that can potentially be triggered by the passage of a single skier or snowboarder. As usual backcountry travellers should take care on northern slopes at altitude especially close to ridges and on other lee slopes. Where there is continuing overnight cloud cover the refreezing of the snow pack will be limited to non-existent at lower altitudes which could lead to full depth avalanches especially in view the loading of fresh snow.
Posted by davidof
on Wednesday, 05 May, 2004 at 05:27 PM
The PisteHors team is currently skiing in the Vanoise. They climbed 800 metres yesterday night (7th May) in a snow storm to the refuge where they are staying.
When they woke up today they found 40 cm of fresh snow which fell at 2500 metres altitude and which is not adhering to the surface below. There have been strong winds from south to south east.
Wind slabs on north facing slopes are expected. These north facing slopes are very heavily loaded with snow.South facing slopes should purge with any exposure to the sun. The team saw a large powder avalanche at 11 am when they came out of the refuge.
Backcountry skiers in the Vanoise should take extreme care.
Posted by on Saturday, 08 May, 2004 at 09:12 PM
After beating a retreat from the Vanoise bad weather, there was a further 15cm of snow on Saturday night with some very strong winds we found ourselves in Bourg d’Oisans. Today we climbed the 3022 meter Rochail on skis and snowboard. We hit snow around 1650 meters, this had refrozen overnight. Between 2500 - 2650 meters there was a zone of light wind crust. A snowpit dug at 2735 meters showed 35cm of fresh snow sitting on a 2cm crust mixed with sand (this must be from the third sand episode we mentioned in the last snow report). The total snowdepth was 3m20. The steep faces had purged their fresh snow on Sunday. We didn’t see any other signs of instability apart from a small slab under the summit. However with the amount of fresh snow it is worth being cautious.
Posted by davidof
on Monday, 10 May, 2004 at 07:36 PM
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