Staying safe when skiing or snowboarding in the mountains is crucial – an important part of that is being aware of the risk of avalanche where you are, being prepared when heading off piste, and knowing what to do should an avalanche happen.
The Telegraph Ski & Snowboard has teamed up with Henry Schneiwind from Henry’s Avalanche Talk, to provide up-to-date avalanche safety reports from the Savoie region of the French Alps, which includes popular resorts such as Courchevel, Méribel, Val Thorens and Les Menuires in the Trois Vallées as well as Val d'Isère, Tignes, La Plagne, Les Arcs, La Rosière and La Tania.
What is the current avalanche risk in the Northern French Alps/Savoie
Henry Schniewind: The current risk level for the Savoie region is rated at 3, considerable. Overall, the snowpack remains very solid. It will become a lot more predictable as spring conditions eventually draw in.
What does this mean for off-piste skiers and snowboarders?
HS: Snow depths remain remarkable for the time of year and there's still snow down to moderately low altitudes. The unexpectedly long transition into spring continues!
In high altitude resorts above 1,800 m, we’ve still not started to see any significant melt/freeze cycles that we normally experience at this time of year.
Copy of Avalanche safety | Risk scale
First thing in the morning there’s still some lovely wintry snow on high altitude slopes above 2,300m, especially on the more shaded north-facing ones. On more south-facing slopes, and at lower altitudes, some spring snow conditions are just starting to appear.
On high exposed slopes, the snow has often been wind-affected and hardened. There is also some crust lower down, where the snow has baked in the sun, melted and refrozen.
Where is most at risk at the moment?
HS: Off-piste conditions and risks change from day to day. Although conditions are generally stable, there are localised areas of instability. Info on specific risks to look out can be found in the daily avalanche bulletin for your area.
There are still plenty of glide cracks around – these are the initial fracture of an avalanche. These look frightening but are less threatening than they look. They are not triggered by skiers, they release spontaneously, so you are very unlikely to be in the path of the avalanche (don’t hang around though). Most of them will never release. However, when they do, they can release impressive volumes of snow. It is reasonable to pass quickly underneath them. (30 seconds to a minute is about the longest you’d want to do that for, keeping an eye on them as you go). If skiing near one, always make sure you have an escape route in mind and, as on steep slopes, keep an eye out for any terrain traps.
What is the likely avalanche activity this week?
HS: Any significant instability this week will be in form of direct action avalanches occurring in the first 12 to 24 hours after a snowstorm. That instability will be in the top layers of the snowpack. Following this initial short-term instability, things will become very stable again.
Avalanche safety: How to stay safe from avalanches when skiing
In the initial period after a snowstorm, watch out for terrain traps when you’re skiing on steep slopes of 30° and above. Terrain traps include things like bowls, gullies and cliffs, which you wouldn’t want to be swept into or over.
We’ll probably see some naturally occurring avalanches later in the day as the snow warms up, becoming humidified and heavy. With a few breezy days ahead, windslabs will also be forming, especially on leeward slopes near mountain ridges.
How does the forecast look for the coming week?
Thursday 29 March
A few possible snow/rain showers in the morning. It will clear up as the day goes on. Gusts of westerly and south-westerly wind, 30 to 50 km per hourr, above 2,500m. 3°C at 2,000m and -6°C at 3,000m.
Friday 30 March
Expect unsettled weather, when it will be very cloudy near the French-Italian border. These areas could see some fresh snow above 2,000m. Southernly wind, with strong gusts, possibly up to 80 km per hour. Snow showers will get heavier, and stormy in places, in the afternoon.
Essential guide | Off-piste skiing
Saturday 31 March
Cloudy with flat-light conditions on the pistes, followed by more snow showers in the afternoon. The rain/snow limit will sit around 1,000m. Temperatures will remain below the seasonal norms.
Sunday 1 and Monday 2 April
It will be cloudy again with the rain/snow limit fluctuating between 1,000m and 1,500m. By Monday there will be a mixture of cloud and bright spells and temperatures will be slightly warmer.
Tuesday 3 and Wednesday 4 March
The weather will turn stormy again with rain and snow showers.
Ski: the latest snow reports
Tip of the week
Pay attention to the warmth of the sun. The sun transforms the snowpack very quickly at this time of year. Shady north areas will still be powdery above 2,300m. Sun affected areas will be very variable.
You can have a fantastic time off piste and stay safe as long as you’re applying basic risk reduction measures. Use the Henry’s Avlanche Talks off-piste quick reference checklist and essentials videos available at henrysavalanchetalk.com to become familiar with the basics.
Keep an eye on our HAT Facebook updates for info on latest snow stability. See Henry's Avalanche Talks Facebook page here.