Snow and Avalanche Report: Week 49-2004

Two weather patterns have dominated over the last 7 days. On Sunday and Monday a low pressure moved along the Italian coast. This picked up moisture over the Mediterranean Sea and east winds deposited this as snow on the Italian side of the Alps and in the border areas. This brought up to 50cm of fresh snow in areas close to Italy such as Val d’Isère but the monitoring station on the nearby la Plagne – Bellecôte recorded only 15cm of fresh snow with even less further to the east.

french weather 3/dec/2004

Currently there are two low pressure systems dominating France. An Iberian low is sweeping winds and moisture from the South. These foehn winds are bringing warm weather and some precipitation to the mountains in the south. Yesterday it was 13C in the Alpine town of Grenoble. There is another low pressure situated over France. This is bringing cooler air from the north down to the western Pyrenees and Massif Central and variable winds over the Jura, Vosges and Haute Savoie. A weak front is crossing France from the north-west which should bring a little more snow at the end of the weekend.

Northern Alps

The situation for the Haute Savoie remains poor with the first skiable snow at only around 2500/2700 meters. There was only 10cm of fresh snow at the start of the week. The situation in the Savoie close to the Italian border is better with 50cm at 2000m and close to a meter at 2700 m. This drops rapidly as you move westwards with only 20cm of snow at 2000m in the rest of the department. The recent fresh snow was accompanied by east to south-east winds and is not well bonded to the old layer. Skiers should take care in eastern sectors of the Maurienne and Tarentaise.

In the Isère very little of the recent snow is left below 2500 meters. The automatic monitoring station Ecrins – la Grave recorded 30cm of fresh snow but most of this has melted under the action of a warm southerly wind. Variable winds over the last few days, gusting to 60km/h will have moved the fresh snow around and there could be some weak slabs in high mountain areas / glaciated terrain on all slopes.

With the southerly warm foehn wind currently dominating, conditions will deteriorate with the snow pack becoming quite humid at lower altitudes. The foehn will form some new slabs on northern slopes.

The following resorts will open some of their runs on Saturday morning:  Chamrousse in the Isère, l’Alpe-d’Huez which currently claims 25cm of snow at the bottom of the pistes and Courchevel. PisteHors had a report from Marcel Péres who is in Alpe d’Huez at the moment, he describes the conditions as poor despite the wintry look, except on slopes served by artificial snow. Other reports from ski tourers in the Belledonne suggest taking “rock skis”.

Southern]]Southern Alps[/url]

The fresh snow earlier in the week has improved conditions a bit in the Southern Alps. The mountains certainly look white although the snow cover is very thin to around 2400 to 3000 meters depending on aspect. Above this level the recent snow fell on a base and conditions improve very quickly with altitude. There was around 30cm of fresh snow, with close to 50cm on the border with Italy. The influence of the warm south, south-easterly wind, although not particularly strong at the moment, will increase the risk of snow sluffs and some slabs are already present on northern slopes at higher altitudes. This risk will increase over the weekend with a small amount of fresh snow.

The situation in the Alpes Maritimes is better with 60cm of fresh snow at 2000 meters. Recent rainfall to around 2000 meters has humidified the snow-pack and snow remains heavy to some 2500 meters.

The resorts of Risoul 1850, Vars and Les Orres open on Saturday and Montgènevre will open more of its pistes thanks to the recent snow.


Corsica has benefited from recent snowfall and the snow cover is quite good for the time of your. There is some 50cm of snow on the Rotondo at 2,300 meters. However the warm southerly winds there will be some melting. The snowline is currently around 1600 meters with humid snow to 2000 meters. With cooler weather over the weekend expect this snow to refreeze with an icy surface.


The majority of recent snow is to be found to the west of the range. The automatic monitoring stations at Soum Couy and Luz Ardiden (2445m) have recorded around 20cm of fresh snow with total snow depths of of around 70cm at Luz. Conditions are normal for the season. It is possible to ski to around 1200 meters in some sectors such as the Vignemale on grassy slopes., otherwise 1500 meters is more reasonable. Winds have gusted to some 80km/h and this has moved a lot of snow around. The snowpack is variable with wind crust in places. The fresh snow is poorly bonded to a freeze-crust found on Southern slopes and Northern aspects below 2100 meters recent snow on northern slopes above 2100 meters is not particularly stable and could form a weak layer. The wind will have formed some snow slabs.

Towards the Mediterranean skiing is just possible in well sheltered couloirs.

The ski resort of Gourette opened on Saturday with about 80% of the 7000 skiers crossing the border from Spain for their Immaculada holiday. Gourette is undergoing a major redevelopment at the cost of 21 million Euros. The resort claims this is an environmentally sensitive development with 100 less pylons but 20% more pistes. The old drag and fixed chairs have been replaced with cabins and high speed chairs. There are now 13 lifts compared with 26 three years ago. The station reported 50cm of snow at the top of the pistes, 10cm lower down. It wasn’t all fun for the Spanish, 1500 cars were blocked at the tunnel d’Aragnouet in Hautes-Pyrénées due to black ice.

Météo France issues daily avalanche bulletins for France.  You should ideally consult at least the previous 5 days bulletins prior to your trip.

Henry’s Avalanche Talk publishes a daily translation of the Météo France bulletin for the Savoie area.

Posted by davidof on Friday, 03 December, 2004 at 12:54 PM

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