Snow and Avalanche Report

Last weekend saw a return to winter with the road blocked and electricity supplied cut in the Vosges and Jura. A group of walkers were surprised by the snowstorm in the Chartreuse mountains close to Grenoble and had to seek shelter over the weekend in a refuge at 1700 meters.

The Pistehors team were ski touring in the Vanoise, guests of the National Park. Friday evening saw an 800 meter climb from the parking at Pralognan in a snowstorm and a bitter southeasterly winds to arrive at the refuge just as night was falling. The snow abated on Saturday morning letting us climb to the shoulder of the Réchasse but the weather soon deteriorated. Around 60cm of snow fell in the area over the weekend and tests showed that this was poorly consolidated with the base. We witnessed a number of large avalanches as the steeper slopes purged fresh snow.

On Monday we tackled the Rochail in the Ecrins mountains between Grenoble and Briançon. We were expecting unstable conditions but the overnight refreeze meant that the snowpack was frozen to about 10cm depth below 2600 meters. A snowpit dug at 2700 meters on a north facing slope revealed about 35cm of fresh snow sitting on a crust mixed with Saharan sand (mentioned in the previous report). This layer was not visible further north in the Vanoise. A stability test revealed that the fresh snow was not well bonded to this layer but there were no other signs of instability.

It is currently possible to ski to around 1650 to 1900 meters in the Ecrins. 1450 meters on North faces in the Aravis and Belledonne. 1900 meters in the Alpes Maritimes where skiers reported fresh powder on north facing slopes. In the Pyrénéés snow can be found at around 1800 meters depending on slope aspects with reports that the ridge lines still have some slabs and large corniches.

Avalanche at the Bec de l’Homme

With the fresh snow and southerly winds backcountry travellers should take care at altitude close to ridgelines and cols on slopes with a northern exposure. Luc Thollet, the webmaster of [url=][/url] triggered a large avalanche close to the Bec de l’Homme in the Ecrins at the weekend. Fortunately no-one was hurt in the incident.

Posted by davidof on Tuesday, 11 May, 2004 at 07:47 PM

The Chamonix guide that died, Alain Géloen, was a genuinely lovely bloke. I was looking foward to skiing with him again next week and am desperately sad for his family. His passion for the mountains would rub off on his clients and no piste skier could fail to be converted after a day with Alain.
Chamonix has lost one of its most enthusiastic mountain men.

Posted by  on  Sunday, 29 February, 2004  at 12:16 PM

This weekend two Dutch snowboarders were killed accidentely jumping of a 150m high cliff in Alpe d´Huez.

Posted by  on  Monday, 01 March, 2004  at 02:56 PM

Thank you for the information about the Chamonix guide Andy, it is very sad.

Neils’ comment, and other incidents this year show that anyone going off piste needs to know the terrain well.

Over the last three days we were ski touring in the Aravis, an area we don’t know that well.  There was around 10-15cm of French snow on Saturday night and this was accompanied by some quite strong winds from the North which will have loaded south faces.  Sunday night was very cold and there was a good 5cm of surface hoar on Monday morning.  We observed a few spontaneous avalanche and the fresh snow slid easily on the very hard layer beneath.

Posted by davidof on  Tuesday, 02 March, 2004  at 12:31 PM
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