Stay safe off-piste after heavy snow in the Alps
Most skiers and snowboarders remain on the controlled, marked, pistes which have been made safe by the resort before they are opened. But many decide to venture off-piste, into terrain that isn't controlled and therefore potentially poses the danger of avalanches being triggered. With the heavy snowfall experienced in the Alps – especially the Northern and Western Alps, during the past week, the avalanche threat rises considerably.
Current situation – area focus: Northern French Alps / Savoie
There's now about 160cm of snow on north facing slopes above 2500m in the Val d'Isère area and more is forecast. Along with the rapid, heavy snowfall, temperatures then rose to above zero degrees centigrade at 1800m. There were numerous natural slides and avalanches on steep slopes. Despite causing initial instability, the warming trend has gone some way towards helping to stabilise the snowpack. Although areas above 2300m, where temperatures stayed colder, remain in the same conditions as they were previously.
The fundamental instability in the snowpack is the weak layer that developed during two weeks of very cold temperatures at the end of November/beginning of December. Those cold temperatures transformed the then thin snowpack into a 'sugary' in-cohesive layer of 'facets' or 'depth hoar'. That weak layer is still there, particularly at higher altitudes and on northish facing slopes, with lots of more recent snow lying on the top of it. This has created a high avalanche danger rating in the region that's currently at level 4.
Click Here -> for Henry's Facebook Live post : Friday December 15
Key information and facts regarding skiing off-piste and staying safe
- If heading off-piste, stick to slopes with angles below 30 degrees (anything above this could be prone to avalanche at level 3 and above).
- The vast majority of avalanche accidents happen during December, January and February in the Northern Hemisphere. They happen mostly on northish facing slopes – this goes against a strong perception that south facing slopes is where more accidents happen.
- A warming trend (when temperatures go close to or above zero degrees centigrade) during December has an initial destabilising effect on the snowpack but if the temperatures go back down well below zero degrees centigrade, the net result over 12-24 hours means the snowpack will stabilise more after the warming period.
- Never follow skier's tracks if you do not know where they lead to.
- Remember that most of the time nothing actually happens – there are no avalanches, therefore it's very easy to become comfortable with the environment, even when the danger is high.
- Don't base your decisions on intuition if heading onto slopes of more the 30 degrees angle – know the facts and evidence before deciding where to ski.
- Have fun and stay safe out there.
Henry's avalanche talks is about helping people to have fun off-piste and is really passionate about enjoying the mountains.
Henry wrote:"It's great conditions out there right now and there's more snow forecast before Christmas, so we all want to get out there and have fun, but stay safe at the same time when we are skiing or snowboarding off-piste".