Snow and Avalanche Report: Week 11-2005

It has been a very warm end to winter with temperatures above 20C in the alpine valleys and the zero isotherm around 3000 meters. This has meant that a number of unstable slopes have been purged and that there is a good freeze-thaw cycle, at least between 2000 and 3000 meters.

snowboarder babe
At least she is wearing gloves! - © Freestyles

After seven fatalities in avalanches over last weekend and a couple of deaths due to crevasse falls in Chamonix and a lucky escape at la Grave the principal dangers remain wet snow avalanches in the afternoon, crevasse falls due to weak snow bridges and falls on icy slopes in the morning.

full depth slides
Slides on west and south facing slopes

This last danger is also valid for ski pistes. Our local rescue helicopter has been flying almost non-stop over the week ferrying a variety of strains and fractures to the local hospital. Skiers should check their binding adjustments, make sure the edges of their skis are sharp and ski well within their ability. A helmet can also help prevent head injuries. Despite the warm weather t-shirt and shorts, as one of our colleagues witnessed the other day, are not suitable ski wear.

Northern Alps

The conditions are still excellent for mid-March although the snowline has visibly risen day by day. It is possible to ski to around 800 to 1000 meters on shaded slopes. The best conditions are in the Chablais, Bauges, Chartreuse, Belledonne and Vercors mountains. The wind is light and from the North-East to North. There is still some powder on shaded slopes otherwise the snow is frozen in the morning but turns to spring snow with sunlight and becomes slush quite rapidly. Early starts - 6am for longer routes, are the order of the day.

There have been a number of wet snow avalanches, some full depth over the last few days. The natural activity starts on east slopes then south and west during the course of the day. With the quantity of snow over the winter some of these slides can reach what could be thought of as relatively save zones as the Bauges avalanche demonstrated. A rare fatal avalanche also occurred on steep slopes in the Vosges where weak cornices are also a risk. With the high temperatures their have been some slides on north sector slopes as well. On grassy slopes in mid-mountain areas full-depth avalanches are a concern. After a cold and rain free winter the underlying snowpack is also fragile, especially on North sector slopes in the Savoie and Isère and could lead to some large avalanches.

As the Mont Thabor avalanche has illustrated there are still some localized slabs particularly at altitude where the snow pack is thinner and weaker and has been blown by strong winds from the North and recently South.

glacier travel
Glacier Travel

Crevasse travel remains tricky. Anyone moving around on crevasses should consider roping up in suspect zones. There has been limited snow in the autumn and winter at altitude and many crevasses are poorly bridged and these have been weakened by the recent warm weather.

The weekend will remain warm and sunny with little change to the avalanche risk. The weather will cool slightly from Tuesday with the prospect of some snow above 2500 meters. Let’s hope it is lower.

Southern]]Southern Alps[/url]


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.

SkiTour conditions database, Camp2Camp and Bivouak have trip reports with observations of the snow 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.

Les Sybelles Tourist office also has an English translation of the Savoie area avalanche bulletin.

Posted by davidof on Friday, 18 March, 2005 at 12:12 PM

A skier at la Grave has been killed after falling into a crevasse in the Col du Lac sector of la Grave at around 3,000 meters altitude.

Posted by davidof on  Saturday, 19 March, 2005  at 10:05 PM
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