Snow and Avalanche Report: Week 47-2004

The conditions remain good in the Pyrénées where several ski resorts will open their doors early this weekend. The picture in the Alps is one of lack of snow, although a small weather system will bring up to 30cm of fresh snow in the north over the course of today.

mont blanc, november 2004
Mont-Blanc on Thursday ([url=][/url])

Northern Alps

There was a distinctly autumnal feel to the mountains yesterday but a weather system sweeping in from the north-west is expected to bring around 30cm of fresh snow to the pre-alps down to around 10cm to the south and east as the front weakens. This should fall down to 800 meters in the Haute-Savoie rising to 1500 meters further south at midday. Below 2800 meters this snow will fall directly on the ground. At altitude the fresh snow and strong north-west wind (up to 100km/h) will create a number of slabs on ridges and cols. This process will continue over the weekend. Care should be taken, particularly on north-east to south-east slopes. Saturday promises to be cold but sunny, seemingly ideal conditions. The zero isotherm will rise to 2500 meters over the weekend which will humidify the snow on southern slopes.

ski trips compared

The general poor conditions are illustrated by the graph. This compares the number of outings made by ski tourers over the last month (blue) compared to the same period in 2003 (red).

Snow levels climb rapidly above 3000 meters. There is between 120 to 140 cm at 3500 meters. Take care on glaciers where crevasses are still poorly bridged. Winds gusting to more than 120 km/h from the north and north-east over last weekend have compacted the surface of the snow stabilizing the snow-pack but leaving a lot of wind crust. The Bellecôte/La Plagne monitoring station shows 40cm of snow and the Meije (la Grave) station shows 70cm. Both are situated at 3000 meters.

Val Thorens will open on the 20th of November until the 8th of May. The following lifts will be running:

Detachable chairlift 2 Lacs
Detachable chairliftCascades
Detachable chairlift Portette
Retour draglift

For the opening weekend the lift pass costs: 18 € for a full day or 12 € a half day.

Chamonix / Grand Montets is also scheduled to open, weather permitting. Both resorts expect around 15cm of fresh snow today.

Southern Alps

It is possible to ski in certain areas such as the Pelvoux and Champsaur from 2300/2500 meters environ. The best snow can be found on the border with Italy thanks to fresh snow on the 11th of November. The snow is currently hard with a freeze/thaw crust and is relatively stable. Some faceted snow has formed at altitude under the action of cold clear nights. There will be some very light snowfall in the north-west of the mountains accompanied by a strong north-west wind. Some small but relatively fragile slabs may form in these areas.

Further south the snow cover is very irregular and no fresh snow is expected before next week.


Despite the mild weather the snow cover is very good for the time of year.  On the Maniccia situated at 2350 meters the monitoring station is currently recording 55cm of snow. A weak freeze/thaw cycle has considerably humidified the snow over the previous days. The previous snow fall was accompanied by strong east winds and there are considerably depths of snow on western slopes. No fresh snow is expected but colder weather over the weekend should help to consolidate the snow pack.


The overall conditions are good to excellent for the start of the winter.

In the eastern Pyrénées snow can be found from 1400 meters. At the Cortalets refuge situated at 2150m there is around 20cm of snow. Strong north-west to north-east winds have removed much of the snow on ridges. Ski touring is possibly towards Puymorens/Andorra. Strong winds from the north-east to north-west are expected today and these will move snow around. Avalanches are possible where there is already snow on the ground.

In the Ariège and the Haute-Garonne snow depths are of the order of 100cm at 2000 meters altitude. Snow can be found from 600meters on northern aspects and it is possible to ski from 1000 meters on certain slopes. The mild weather over the previous days has created a sun crust which transforms to spring snow around midday. Powder can be found on northern slopes which were sheltered from last weekend’s strong winds. Otherwise there is wind crust. Around 5 to 10cm of fresh snow is expected on Friday above 1800 meters. This will be accompanied by strong north-west winds at altitude. Watch out for slabs on slopes in the sector east to south. The weekend promises to be warm and sunny with the zero isotherm at 2200 meters. Expect sluffs on slopes exposed to the sun. At lower altitudes rain will humidify the snow pack and may cause wet-snow avalanches. As ever take care on ridge-lines and convex roll-overs.

Towards the Atlantic the snow cover is good. It is possible to ski from around 1200 meters on certain slopes. It is considerably milder compared to the central pyrennes. Snow is expected down to 2100 meters and the zero isotherm will climb to 3000 meters over the weekend.

The following resorts are scheduled to open this weekend:
Pas de la Case / Andorra – but only a limited opening, check before travel.
Ax les Thermes
les Angles

This report is based on information from Météo France, [url=][/url], and other local observations.

Posted by davidof on Friday, 19 November, 2004 at 12:11 PM

The little Pyrenean resort of Monts d’Olmes is less happy with the weekend. Everything was ready to go on Saturday morning with superb pistes. However the Ariège security commission were not prepared to budge their inspection from the 24th of November so the resort did not receive its authorisation to open. This at least gives an insight into the hurdles to be jumped in order to open a station early. It is a shame for a small resort as the opening would have been good publicity.

Posted by davidof on  Sunday, 21 November, 2004  at 12:13 PM
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