Following both large accumulations of snow in the Northern Austrian Alps and a change of weather in the French Alps, Henry Schniewind from snow safety company HAT (Henry’s Avalanche Talk) explains the current situation for anyone considering skiing or snowboarding off-piste during the next week.
We must stress that this report is purely aimed at off-piste skiers and snowboarders. The current overall situation in the Alps for holiday makers is positive – there’s good snow conditions in the northern and western Alps with weather set to stabilise during the next few days. When resorts open their lifts and runs, then they consider them to be safe to ski on – the vast majority of ski resorts are operating as normal, with only some higher lifts closed in some areas.
Skiers and snowboarders must pay attention to local avalanche warnings if they are considering venturing off the marked runs and into off-piste terrain. As Henry explains, the situation currently is complex and is different in France than in Austria, with both destinations posing potential hazard off-piste.
About current off-piste conditions in the Northern French Alps, Schniewind said: “Recently we have experienced some very cold weather, around -20C and colder at 2000 metres and above. This has rotted the old snow and created a very weak layer of faceted grains.”
In many places there’s a weak layer sitting on top of a hard layer now with fresh snow on it. This is characterised as a textbook example of the most susceptible type of scenario for triggering big slabs – the slabs that go will be facilitated by this hard layer which forms a sliding plane. The sliding plane provides a secondary magnifying effect albeit significant in the current situation.
“In the past 24 hours we have seen between 20 cm and 1 metre of new snow in different parts of the Northern French Alps due to snowfall and wind. This is now very unstable and the avalanche danger has been increased to danger rating of 4. The reason it is a danger rating of 4 is that there is a real risk of remote triggering.
“Remote triggering means you can be on a low angle slope of 20 degrees or less and trigger an avalanche on steeper slopes that are 50m 100m or 300m above you. Professionals all over the region have confirmed that this weak layer exists. Remote triggering is now a real danger that is being emphasised by Meteo France. So be very careful where you go as the weather improves. If you don’t understand this or don’t know how to judge it, then only go of off-piste with someone who does.
“This situation is different to the one in Austria, where large accumulations of snow alone have increased the danger of avalanches off-piste triggered by skiers and snowboarders.”