Conditions have turned a lot more spring like over much of France during the course of the week. The warmer weather even saw French civil servants out in force for a general strike on Thursday which meant that there were no avalanche bulletins for a number of departments. Despite the excellent powder skiing over the weekend we are now in March with longer warmer days. This means that conditions soon turn crusty on sunny slopes these should evolve to spring skiing conditions over the weekend at lower altitudes. It was still possible to find powder on northern aspects and in forests yesterday.
There was around half a meter of fresh snow over last weekend in the pre-Alps and the conditions remain excellent for the time of year with skiing from around 800 meters altitude in places. The recent snow was accompanied by south and easterly winds shifting to the north earlier in the week. These have moved a lot of snow around. On Saturday in the Chartreuse we noticed a number of soft slabs that were not bonded to a frozen base close to a summit on a west facing slope and slabs have been signalled by other skiers. These are generally fairly thin – around 30-40cm in thickness but have been triggered by single skiers or snowboarders in a number of mountain ranges, altitudes and slope aspects with the greatest danger above 2000 meters. Earlier this week we noticed that the strong winds over the last few days had stripped the snow from ridgelines and summits where there was actually some bare ground showing. This was on slopes we were powder skiing a few days earlier. There were significant accumulations of snow elsewhere. Yesterday much of the snow below 1500 meters was beginning to settle and melt in the warm conditions.
The weather has improved and warmed, there are freezing overnight temperatures at all altitudes with the zero isotherm rising to 1500 meters during the course of the day. This could cause some wet snow avalanches on south facing slopes later in the day. These could be full depth. The warmer weather will also weaken the bonding of some slabs on all aspects.
Conditions are calm but the wind will be turning to the north-west and strengthening during the day.
The snow last week has improved conditions in the Southern Alps a bit, with the Dévoluy area having the best conditions. Skiing is possible from 1200-1600 meters on certain northern slopes and around 2500 meters on southern slopes. Ridges and summits are generally bare after a number of episodes of strong north winds over the winter, there are large accumulations in some bowls and couloirs.
After a cold, dry spell the zero isotherm will rise to 2000m over the course of today with a strengthening southern wind. On Southern slopes there is breakable crust in the morning and the risk of snow sluffs in the afternoon.
The avalanche risk is highest above 2300 meters where the snow pack is still unstable. The Champsaur, Embrunais-Parpaillon and Ubaye have seen most snow recently, around 30cm and this was accompanied by strong north to north-east winds. Some slabs are present close to ridges and summits on sheltered slopes and these could be trigger by one or a group of backcountry travelers.
Corsica is enjoying spring weather with the zero isotherm around 1700 meters today coupled with a good overnight freeze. There is a light north to north-east breeze.
The snow cover is excellent. It is possible to ski from around 1000 meters. There is 2 meters of snow at 2000 meters altitude with deep powder still in forests and shaded slopes. The recent strong winds from the west have removed snow from exposed ridges, as a consequence there are a number of large cornices and accumulations on eastern slopes including some slabs that could be triggered by the passage of a single backcountry traveler. Skiers should also avoid getting too close to cornices.
The recent freeze-thaw cycle at lower altitudes is beginning to stabilize the snowpack. There is the possibility of wet snow avalanches on southern aspects during the course of the day, especially close to rock outcrops.
The snow cover is superb for the season. In the east of the Ariège department there is over 3.5 meters of snow at 1500 meters altitude. It is possible to ski from 600-700 meters with powder snow still to be found in forests and areas sheltered from the wind as well as northern slopes above 2200 meters. Southern slopes have a breakable crust in the morning. A lot of snow has been stripped from summits and ridges due to the wind leaving old, icy snow.
Météo France has advises that certain cornices are extremely unstable and nearby travel should be avoided. There is the risk of large avalanches on sunny aspects, south, east and west slopes during the course of the day.
The recent snow was accompanied by strong winds and there are fresh slabs, principally on north and east slopes. Normal safe backcountry travel and route planning should be applied.
This information is a summary of current conditions and is provided for information only. It is based on direct observations and information from the following sources.
Météo France issues daily avalanche bulletins for the French Alps, Corsica and Andorra. You should ideally consult at least the previous 5 days bulletins prior to your trip in order to have an idea of recent conditions.
Weather information is complemented by the USAF Public Weather Charts
Henry’s Avalanche Talk publishes a daily translation of the Météo France bulletin for the Savoie area.