Off Piste Snow Report : 23rd – 27th January 2016

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Current avalanche danger rating is 3 above 2200 m. Explanation from ORTOVOX Safety Academy. By Henry's Avalanche Talk  

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Off Piste Snow Conditions

Snow depths are now about what we'd normally expect for this time of season. We've been finding some lovely cold light snow, up to 40 cm deep, in areas sheltered from the wind. Over the last couple of weeks we've been spoiled by so many top-ups of fresh snow. This is going to change though, and no doubt we'll have to start using our touring skis and skins to reach the good snow this coming week.

Snow Stability

The snowpack is slowly settling down and becoming a little more cohesive. However, there are quite a few unstable areas of surface windslab around, caused by recent strong W to NW winds. A few small slides and slabs could release naturally. There's also still a chance of avalanches releasing naturally on steep couloirs which have not yet purged. We could see some full-depth avalanches where recent cracks have formed in the snowpack.
The main risk is of overloading the slope by the weight of a skier/s passing by, particularly above 2200 m. Our current avalanche danger rating is at 3 at this altitude and above in the Savoie region of France (and much of the N French Alps). As the Ortovox diagram, above, shows, in a avalanche danger rating of 3 it is possible for one person to trigger an avalanche in areas specified in the bulletin. See Henry's previous blog on our website, too, for more about what the danger ratings mean.
The weight of a group of skiers could be enough to trigger a thicker slab in areas where there is less snow depth, or they could trigger a slide of the loose layer of 'sugar snow' that formed at the beginning of the season. Be particularly wary of all east-ish and north facing slopes, which were sheltered from the recent strong W winds. Unfortunately, of course, those slopes are where the best light snow is... (we're sticking mostly to slopes below 30° in these areas).
Most of the time, even if the slope is unstable, we're not going to trigger it. When those tragic avalanches happened a couple of weeks ago, hundreds of people had skied similar slopes to the ones where the accidents occurred but nothing happened. But just because no slide was triggered that doesn't mean the slope was safe - a logical, but false, deduction that it would be easy to make. We still need to approach all slopes with caution, especially those the avalanche bulletin warns us about. This doesn't mean we shouldn't ski them, but we always need to be on our guard.
There's still been a lot less skier compaction on many of the normally well-travelled routes. Be aware that many of the classic routes we normally feel so comfortable on by this time of year are, therefore, still very delicate in places.
Tip of the Week
  • Stay on your guard. Even though the snowpack has stabilised a lot, there's still a weak layer lurking in there, and there are some localised parts of slopes that could release.
  • Don't push your luck by putting more than one person in an exposed area at a time:
    • Go one at a time, keeping your distances between each other
    • Use 'islands of safety', and
    • Keep your eyes on the person skiing until they reach safety
  • Watch our new on-line 'Off-piste Essentials' talk: vimeo.com/ondemand/henrysavalanchetalk
Check the daily avalanche bulletins on this link: http://www.meteofrance.com/previsions-meteo-montagne/bulletin-avalanches, entering the mountain area you're in. See our HAT advice for what all the danger ratings mean: http://www.henrysavalanchetalk.com/avalanche-forecasts-danger-rating.
We'll be updating our blog as much as possible if conditions start to look unstable, or if we have some nice photos from a great ski on www.henrysavalanchetalk.com/blog also on Twitter @HenryOff_Piste and Google+ and Facebook
Ride Hard !! Ride Safe everybody

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