A strange season

Finally, fresh snow in the Alps!

Finally, fresh snow in the Alps!

It’s been a funny old season so far in Europe, and not in the laugh out loud sense of the word. Loads of early snow in November got people excited about the prospect of another great snow season, but other than a dump over Christmas and New Year, conditions have been pretty spring-like on the whole.

Forecasts for fresh snow have kept coming, only to be pushed back or diminish in substance. Things were starting to get pretty desperate but fortunately the Alps received a big dump of snow on Monday night, which has revived not only the slopes but spirits too.

Dan Tignes Jan 14 rockThe mister is out in Tignes at the moment and the fresh snow has quickly turned his grumbles into gloating. Not sure what’s worse! I am, of course, just jealous as it looks amazing, and certainly a far cry from the footage of sketchy conditions that he was sending me a few days ago, which was infinitely more bearable.

However, it’s not all good news. Unfortunately this cycle of snow followed by prolonged periods of thaw that we’ve experienced so far this season, combined with a weak layer of hoar frost that formed in November, has resulted in an extremely unstable snowpack and one of the highest avalanche risks in years. There have already been at least 20 fatalities and as many injured in avalanches throughout the Alps and we’re only a matter of weeks into the season.

Dan Tignes Jan 14

Today in Tignes

There has been much debate over whether or not people should be venturing off piste at all this season, and while it may seem a little extreme and premature to be making such sweeping statements, there’s absolutely no doubt that any forays off piste should be treated with extreme caution.

Until yesterday, with such little fresh snow around, the off piste hasn’t really looked all that enticing anyway, but it’s when fresh snow comes to snow starved slopes, not to mention snow starved riders, that the real danger arises. The temptation is to hit the fresh pow hard to make up for lost time, but it’s easy to forget that under that fresh stuff is a layer of bullet proof snow, and lurking further below that is particularly unstable layer that’s already been responsible for an inordinate number of deaths. As avalanche expert Robert Bolognesi described it: “It is as if there are ball bearings under the more recent snow. The layers have not adhered to each other”. For more info on this check out Peter Hardy’s article in the Telegraph.

Breck Jan 14

Current conditions in Breckenridge. Yeah, whatever.

The overriding message is be very careful out there. If you’re determined to venture off piste, make sure you know what you’re doing; are with people who also know what they’re doing; and that you’re all properly equipped. And there’s no point just carrying a transceiver – you need to know how to use it! Lecture over.

Of course, on the other side of the pond they’ve got the opposite “problem” of extremely low temperatures and shed loads of snow. Great if you’re in the mountains, but possibly not so much if you’re trying to go about your daily business in New York.

And Scotland’s actually not looking too bad either. It’s the resorts on the west that are faring the best (that bit closer to North America, I guess!) and there are some stunning pictures emerging from Nevis Range. The Scottish mountains are no stranger to strong winds but recently they’ve taken a real beating. Storms have caused damage, prevented uplift and blown away precious snow in the ski areas, but fortunately it seems to have calmed down now and is looking pretty good.

Nevis Range Jan 14

Nevis Range looking awesome

I’m planning to get up there soon, but in the meantime the relatively mild weather in the lowlands has meant that I’m managing to get in plenty of mountain biking, which is helping to curb my cravings to shred.

The next trip is to Bansko in Bulgaria in a couple of weeks, where I’ve been invited by British run chalet company, Snomads. Unfortunately they’ve also been cursed by a slow start to the season so I’m crossing fingers for a miraculous turnaround in the next fortnight! Who says it’s all about powder anyway? 😉

Over to you…

How’s your season been so far? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

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