Fresh snow, sun and critical avalanche danger

By meteomorris on 15 January 2019 · 5

It has been snowing almost continuously in large parts of Austria since December 29th. Substantial amounts of fresh snow also came down in Switzerland and the French northern Alps last weekend. The sun comes out everywhere today and will also be there on Wednesday. A lot of fresh snow and two sunny days, it is the recipe for many avalanche accidents. Fortunately, the holidays are over and we have the weekend behind us. In this forecast:

Lots of fresh snow

There was a lot of snow in large parts of the northern Alps last weekend. An average of 30-100 cm of fresh snow came down with local peaks towards the 150 cm between Saturday evening and Monday evening. It snowed heavily especially in the east of Switzerland, Vorarlberg and the west of Tyrol, but in the French northern Alps a lot of snow came down as well.

Snowfall Switzerland last 72 hours
Snowfall Switzerland last 72 hours

Snowfall Tyrol last 72 hours
Snowfall Tyrol last 72 hours

Snowfall French northern Alps last 72 hours
Snowfall French northern Alps last 72 hours

The snow line temporarily rose considerably during the snowfall. It was first around 600 meters, around 1300 meters and even higher in the northern French Alps later in the northwest. In addition, wet snow came down up to 1500 or even 2000 meters. The snow line dropped rapidly towards the 700 meters or lower after the passage of the cold front. Because there was still a lot of warm air in the valleys (and because of that a lot of moisture), a lot of fresh, but also lighter snow came down on Monday.

source: meteo suisse
source: meteo suisse

Two sunny days

It will be sunny today and Wednesday after the snowfall of the past few days. A powerful high pressure area keeps precipitation at a distance, so we are dealing with bluebird and fresh snow in the northwest and north of the Alps.

It is relatively cool today (Tuesday), but we are dealing with an inversion situation on Wednesday. Cold air is then in the valleys, but the upper air is clearly warmer. As a result, it still freezes in the valleys in many places while the temperature at 2000 meters goes up to the positive digits.

Critical avalanche danger

Everyone was alert on Monday when there was an EXTREME avalanche danger in large parts of Austria and Switzerland. Fortunately, many areas were (largely) closed. The avalanche danger in these regions has 'dropped' to HIGH today. Everyone was alert in the French northern Alps as well, because of HIGH avalanche danger. The avalanche danger in most of these regions has dropped to CONSIDERABLE today.

The fact that the avalanche danger is a bit lower causes many people to reduce alertness and sharpness. That is NOT the way it should be. I even think that the next 48 hours will be even more dangerous for us freeriders than the last few hours. In the event of an EXTREME avalanche danger, large parts of ski areas, but even roads and villages are closed. This is not the case when the avalanche danger is CONSIDERABLE or HIGH. Slopes and lifts open again and social life is not disturbed by closed roads and villages.

Avalanche danger CONSIDERABLE (3 on a scale of 5) is estimated by many as 'average' and gives a false sense of security. But anyone who dives deeper into the avalanche danger scale (click-click) immediately sees what it really means. There is a significant avalanche danger when the rating is CONSIDERABLE. The snow cover is then moderately to weak on many slopes that are steeper than 30 degrees. Spontaneous avalanches of medium size are possible. The weight on the snow cover by a single skier or snowboarder may be sufficient to cause an avalanche. That sounds a lot heavier than 3 on a scale of 5, doesn't it?

TIP: check out the article 'Avalanche danger rating 3: more dangerous than you think!"

Over the next 48 hours, the avalanche danger is critical because:

  • The avalanche danger is going to drop and we think psychologically that the biggest pressure is off
  • Almost all lifts and pistes are open and we can dive into the backcountry in more places. Also above the tree line.
  • More terrain means more options means more hotspots that you can hit
  • The sun is going to shine and we are inclined to take more risks when the visibility is good
  • When there is a good visibility, there is a tendency to dive into the terrain above the tree line
  • The avalanche danger around and above the tree line is often higher
  • There's a very dangerous old snow-covered layer slightly deeper in the snow cover in the northwest of the Alps (France and Switzerland)
  • Heavy snow has fallen on top of colder snow which is capped with cold snow on Monday
  • Wednesday quickly becomes warmer due to a warm layer of air that enters the Alps. That warm-up will once again make the situation more critical.

Always check your local avalanche forecast (here or on the destination pages on wePowder) and adapt your plans to them. Common sense and the right knowledge are the key to beautiful powder days. Avoid areas with mainly terrain above the tree line. Stay away around and above the tree line, it's still much too tricky! Ride powder lower on the mountain between the trees and avoid large open and steep sections. Even steep sections above a forest are dangerous because avalanches can reach far into the woods.

Don't forget to have fun, but keep thinking! Do not let powder panic take over, read avalanche forecasts, talk to experts and ride conservatively. When you have no idea what all of the above is about, please stay on the slopes now and invest in your knowledge. Mountain Academy is the ideal start of your search for the right knowledge. You can start right away here.

PowderAlert #9 is ON on Tuesday and Wednesday: where to go?

There is an enormous amount of snow in the north and northwest of the Alps. Basically dream conditions everywhere on the slopes. Outside the slopes, on the other hand, it is important to pay attention. For all the above reasons I would choose areas with many trees and substantial terrain between 1000 and 1900 meters. Ride infinite treeruns in deep powder, the conditions are right now. If you want to go above the tree line, avoid slopes that are steeper than 30 degrees. Also stay away on slopes below 30 degrees if there are steep slopes above you.

Alright, did you read all of the above and do you have the knowledge and the gear? You can ride powder in:

New storm coming in on Thursday

There's a new storm coming in on Thursday after the rise in temperature on Wednesday. Cold air comes into the northwest of the Alps from the northwest. This first of all results in snow in the French northern Alps and the west and northwest of Switzerland. Once the front crosses the Alps, Austria and northeastern Italy will find itself in a snow sandwich with finally snow for the northeast of Italy and the south of Austria. Below the snow forecast for the next 5 days. Details can still shift, but there will be snow on the menu again from Thursday.

As wePowder Pro you get access to the 14-day snow and weather maps and the 14-day forecast per resorts (we've got all the resorts in the Alps covered). You never have to miss a dump anymore. When you are wePowder Pro you also have access to 1000+ inspirational freeride routes in the most beautiful freeride areas of the Alps. Sign up as wePowder Pro today. It works great for your karma as well and you'll support the development of the wePowder platform! Thanks!

Stay stoked, Morris


  • tarekbayazid
    tarekbayazid op 15 January 2019 · 17:00
    Many thanks as always Morris. What’s your advice please for someone landing in Zurich this Friday night for a weekend? Am willing to drive 2 (maybe 2.5) hours. Was originallly thinking Engelberg but it gets tracked out really quickly (too many Swedes go there!).

    Please let me know what the Powder Jedi would do!!
  • Fluc
    Fluc op 15 January 2019 · 20:45

    Seems to be pretty difficult because of the next couple of sunny days coming in, many resorts will be tracked until friday.
    Perhaps you can have a look on some unknown, small resorts, which are not really skiresorts but have a gondola to go uphill.
    I think of resorts like „urnerboden“, „elm“ or „weissenberge“, they are located in canton of glarnerland in switzerland. It is about 1-1,5h from zurich. In fact that there are no official tracks you have to find a local or do some research on the maps. they are awesome for touring and have huuuge amounts of snow now.
    have a look at:

    *message edited by Fluc op 15 Jan 2019 20:49
    *Ride hard, stay easy*
  • manuski
    manuski op 15 January 2019 · 22:41
    Quelle bonne idée d'écrire en anglais. C'est surement bon pour les sponsors, mais du coup on ne comprend plus grand chose.
    Heureusement il reste la carte.
  • tarekbayazid
    tarekbayazid op 16 January 2019 · 17:10

    Thanks a lot! Chappeliberg looks super interesting. Thinking about it for Saturday.
  • funrise2000
    funrise2000 op 16 January 2019 · 18:18
    don't fly and ski


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