After the never-ending drama of the first three weeks of January, the weather’s been much quieter of late in the Alps. There was a little snow in the south-western quarter of the region on Friday night, but the for the most part it’s been mild and sunny.
In fact, conditions have been spring-like. Today, the freezing point has been up to the lofty altitude of 3,000m in the French Alps, 2,800m in the Tirol, and 3,000m in the Italian Dolomites. You wouldn’t normally expect to see such a high freezing point until the second half of February: but this has been a very mild winter so far.
As result, the snow on almost every slope has been going through a daytime cycle of melting and refreezing. On piste, that means hard-packed snow first thing in the morning, that’ll soften as the day warms up. Off-piste you should expect icy conditions on high, north-facing slopes, and (if you know where to look, or hire guide) corn snow for a time lower down, before the cover melts in the sun. Avalanche safety reporters were describing these conditions in both France and the Tirol in Austria today.
It’s also worth stressing that despite the gargantuan amounts of snow that fell at altitude in January, there’s very little soft powder around. Please don’t go looking for it, and expect some very skittery conditions out of the sun.
At least the exceptionally mild weather has allowed the snowpack to settle and the avalanche risk is at 2/5 in most places.
It’ll stay warm in France for another day, but start to cool in Austria, and then on Wednesday night the weather changes. More snow is on the way, and this time it’s being carried on much colder air, so it’s likely to settle at lower elevations than it did in the last big storm. Here’s Friday’s snow forecast to give you an idea of its extent.
This means there won’t be any rain in the lower resorts. However, the cold snow is also likely to produce dangerous conditions off-piste – because of poor bonding between the hard crust on the existing snow and the lighter, colder stuff on top. So please be super-cautious if you’re tempted to ski away from the safety of the waymarked trails.