VHS BLOG

Espace Killy Backcountry Report 15th February

Some periods of settled conditions have allowed us to escape the driving snow and wind which has dominated this week and brought large amounts of snowfall to all areas of the Espace Killy.

I’ve been limited my skiing to the great tree runs around Les Boisses and Fornet during the past week, due to the time it has taken to open the upper lifts, strong winds and heavy snowfalls creating potential hazards higher up in the ski area.

The tree runs have held some dry blower fresh powder in many areas, with constant filling in due to heavy snowfall. These runs have become super playful with all this fresh snow with many natural features providing great airtime.

There have been brief periods of settled conditions that has given some great visibility even on the upper slopes, these have allowed many skiers to get into many of the larger face routes around the Espace Killy, but please be aware that the avalanche danger is still extremely high with all the fresh snow and wind transported snow.

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Where there has been good visibility, we’ve had some chances to get in and slash the untouched, dry and fresh powder higher up in the resort which has been brilliant! I managed to find some great untracked snow around the Laisinant Chairlift area today (Saturday 13th) in a brief pause from the stormy weather, with an absolutely empty mountain – thank you transfer day!

With the heavy snowfalls that we are currently receiving (~30cm fell today) and with it being transfer day, there has been huge tailbacks on the road up to Tignes / Val d’Isere all the way back from Bourg. Please bear this in mind when thinking about driving to resort – snow chains are mandatory whilst travelling up the road.

The Tignes / Val d’Isere link has also been shut frequently throughout the week, due to high winds. The link may be open early in the morning / afternoon, but please be aware that it may suddenly shut due to a change in the weather conditions not permitting the upper lifts to run.

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We are currently seeing lots of snow being shifted by the wind – particularly on higher elevations, be aware that this will create large amounts of wind slab on N – NE facing slopes, especially above 2500m. When the weather does clear in the week, remind yourself that there will be instabilities of this windslab sitting around the resort and will not take much weight to release this instability.
There is also quite obviously lots of fresh snow falling, this will create large amounts of soft slabs to form in more sheltered locations (such as trees and couloirs) – consider the danger of releasing small surface avalanches in these locations where the top layer of snow is not well bonded and will ‘sluff’ off as a skier/boarder passes over it – enough to take you knock you off your feet & over a nasty cliff!


Espace Killy Backcountry Report 14th January 2016

The snow just keeps falling in huge quantities over the Espace Killy with over a metre recorded to have fallen over the past 6 days and another 20cm in the forecast for today (Thursday) creating some fantastic skiing conditions.

..But also some dangerous avalanche conditions – play safe out there!

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The Tignes pistes are in fantastic conditions with frequent snowfalls and constant grooming overnight leading to perfect pistes being set up in the morning. Please still be aware that many of the higher lifts will be slow to open after large snowfalls as the Ski Patrol teams mitigate the avalanche danger around the pistes.

As has been reported in previous backcountry reports, we have had consistently large amounts of snowfall on a day by day basis in the Espace Killy, this fresh snow has sat on very old melt-freeze snow from the long drought period before and throughout the Christmas period.

Because such a large slab is sitting on such a weak layer below it, we are witnessing a very dangerous snowpack with large slab avalanches being released both naturally and skier triggered on a variety of aspects and elevations – be very aware of this if you’re even thinking of heading off the pistes and don’t even consider doing so without the correct equipment, knowledge and a guide if you feel like you are not suitably experienced to judge the danger of a slope.

Due to all of the above, I have once again stuck to mellow slopes lower down in the valley below the tree-line as we’re starting to find large quantities of windslab following very high winds higher up in the Alpine which to stress once again – this windslab is sitting on an extremely weak layer below.

Tree lines down towards Les Boisses have been fantastic and if you don’t fancy heading off the side of the pistes then you will still find great visibility down towards Les Boisses as the pistes wind their way through the Boisses forests, creating much improved visibility than that of the Alpine.

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After Today’s (Thusday) snowfall, there looks to be a break in the weather with only a smattering of snow falling from Friday – Sunday with the temperatures dropping again with this clear spell over the weekend.

The visibility looks set to improve from Saturday through to Monday which is going to create some great skiing conditions combined with the huge amounts of snow that we’ve received over the past 2 weeks, but please always remember that all the untracked powder is sitting on a dangerously weak layer.

The visibility will also allow you to check the slope above you prior to skiing your line – ensure that nobody is skiing a potentially dangerous slope above you.


Espace Killy Backcountry Report 11th January 2016

The end of the week has given way to some more unsettled conditions in the Espace Killy, dumping another load off snow on the snowpack, topping up things nicely, but please don’t forget that the avalanche danger is still high at all levels.

The Espace Killy pistes have obviously had a nice top up overnight and have set up nicely ready for morning groomer. The pistes are again beginning to become bumpy and tracked out by the end of the day, so be aware of this in the flat light. With the forecast high winds for the week ahead, please also be aware that the Grand Mottes may not be able to open.

The Espace Killy Ski Patrol team have begun to get lifts open earlier after the later openings in the mornings following the heavy snowfall earlier in the week. But please be aware that with all the fresh snow that’s forecast to fall early this week that the lift system will be slow to get started – particularly the higher lifts as the Ski Patrol team blast the dangerous slopes around the runs.

Avalanche forecast is high with all this fresh snow

Similar to the start of last week, I have yet again been sticking to the fantastic tree runs around the Espace Killy, in La Dialle, Fornet and Les Breviere due to the avalanche conditions and poor visibility higher up.

The tree runs have been set up perfectly in the morning with some fantastic fresh to be found after overnight snowfalls. Later in the day, the recent mild temperatures have began to turn the cold, dry snow into warm and wet porridge which has been slow to slide on. Don’t worry though, as from Monday (11th) onwards, there is forecast to be a sharp drop in the temperatures and with all the fresh that’s forecast in the week, these tree runs should be running great all day!

La Dialle Trees 8th January

With huge amounts of snow in the forecast at the start of this week, please make sure that you and your ski / board partners are well equipped and well trained in avalanche safety before you even plan on heading off-piste.

Be well prepared to change your plans based on the avalanche conditions off-piste and if you are not experienced in travelling through avalanche prone terrain or would like like to learn more about avalanche terrain and improve your off-piste skiing technique then please do consider hiring a guide to not only keep you safe, but let them show you all the secret powder stashes!

Another way to enjoy all this fresh snow is to join us for a Heliski trip departing from your chalet in Tignes or Val d’Isere, flying over to Italy to grab some guaranteed freshies with the safety of your fully certified IFMGA Mountain Guide. With the recent avalanche conditions, we’re keeping our backcountry skiing to the mellow slopes 30 degrees and below but still finding some fantastic fresh!


Espace Killy Backcountry Report 8th January 2016

The past week has given the Espace Killy over a metre of snow which has given some fantastic powder all over the mountain. There is also another metre or more of snow in the week long forecast which is going to continue give us fresh tracks all week!

All this fresh snow has created an extremely dangerous snowpack, as the fresh snow has sat on a weak layer of snow with a buried surface hoar hiding within the North facing slopes and a melt-freeze layer buried beneath all the fresh snow within the South facing slopes.

This extremely dangerous snowpack has sadly already taken the lives of two skiers in the Espace Killy, both of them were skiing in Val d’Isere. These two skiers could not resist the temptation of skiing untracked snow so soon after a big dump of snow, they were sadly not wearing the recommended equipment of a Transceiver, Shovel and Probe whilst travelling off-piste.

 

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Please make sure you are adequately equipped what travelling off-piste and most importantly, have the knowledge of how to use this equipment effectively and select the terrain you’re descending based on the current avalanche danger rating – which will stay high for the rest of the week.

The Espace Killy off-piste has given some fantastic thigh deep snow after the recent storms. I have been sticking to many of the tree runs around La Dialle, Fornet and ‘Super S’ which all have an more than adequate snow base to run these lines.

Temperatures increased quite suddenly yesterday whilst in the Fornet trees which let to very water saturated snow underfoot, this snow was extremely heavy and slow to move on. However, there doesn’t look to be another spike in the forecast so that looks to be the worst of it over!

 

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If you do not know where to travel to find the best and safest snow, then please consider hiring a local guide or instructor who will have the knowledge and experience to select the best routes to descend based on your ability and the current snow conditions.
The pistes around the Espace Killy have been set up absolutely perfectly in the morning with the early risers sampling some freshly groomed soft snow. Later in the day, the pistes are becoming quite bumped out with all the soft snow being thrown about, get down into the lower pistes such as Les Boisses, Les Breviere & La Dialle where the trees will give you a little more contrast in this flat light and allow you to see the bumps.
The forecast
 for the rest of the week looks to be much of the same, with fresh snow falling Friday, Saturday and Sunday so expect flat light and lots more fresh. The avalanche warning will remain high (4/5) with the addition of more fresh snow on the weak layer below. Please be patient in the morning whilst waiting for the Pisteurs to blast the dangerous slopes before getting the lifts open.

 

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Heliskiing conditions have taken a sharp turn for the better with all this fresh snow, book onto a Heliski trip departing from Tignes this week with Val Heliski and enjoy the peace of mind whilst our guides select the best slopes for your group based on the current avalanche forecast.


Espace Killy Backcountry Report 4th January 2016

The New Year began with some fine, dry and settled conditions but the weather pattern swiftly changed from the 2nd January onwards which has led to the Espace Killy (the whole Alps for that matter) gaining some much needed snow!

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Over 60cm has already fallen through the period 2nd January – 4th January and there’s heaps more in the forecast for the week and the long term forecast.

The pistes in Tignes have obviously been topped up very nicely from the recent snowfall, with all the pistes that had been hit hard by the recent mild weather and were previously showing rocks have now been groomed to perfection ready for the morning sliding.

Please be aware that with all th
is new snow that has fallen onto a weak layer below, the Tignes Ski Patrol team need to spend more time in the morning to get the runs safe enough to be able to run many of the lifts, please expect large queues in the morning with only a couple lifts running whilst the Ski Patrol team are blasting the steep slopes to make it safe to open the resort.

Also, many pistes that were previously open before the big snowfall are now closed, for example, the pistes that allow you to ski from Tignes to Val d’Isere were shut due to avalanche control that was taking place around them.

Off-piste runs have also been topped up very nicely with the recent dump of snow. However, extreme care must be taken when heading off-piste due to the large volumes of snow sitting on a layer of weak snow that it will not bond well with at all.
Niall Chardonnet

The current avalanche conditions are category 4 (High) on all elevations and all aspects so please bear this in mind when heading off piste and carry the minimum requirement when travelling off piste – a Transceiver, Shovel and Probe which the knowledge and partners with the knowledge to rescue a potential victim of an avalanche.

It is highly recommended to hire a guide if you would like to head off piste in these conditions as they will know the best slopes that they can take you on to keep your party safe in this extremely weak snowpack.

The roads up to Tignes have been an absolute nightmare, with fresh snow looking to be falling all week please make sure that your car is equipped with winter tyres and snow chains in the boot, there have been many cars getting stuck on the road up to Tignes over the weekend!

The weather forecast for the week ahead is showing another approximately 100cm in the forecast with the potential for that number to be even higher. This is obviously going to be fantastic for the resort conditions, covering many of the rocks that had not been previously covered by the recent snowfall.

Heliskiing is very much open at Val Heliski with many of our drop zones holding some fantastic powder, there hasn’t been a better time to escape the crowds and jump onto a heliskiing trip departing from Tignes to find untouched powder!


Espace Killy Backcountry Report 27th December 2015

Christmas week has seen another week of calm and clear conditions with no extra snowfall to top up the pistes that have survived surprisingly well with the recent mild conditions – the Espace Killy looks to be fairing much better than many of the lower elevation European resorts.

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Snow conditions on the pistes have been firm for the whole week, with temperatures recently dropping, which has led to some excellent fresh groomers being set up in the morning but has sadly led to the soft stuff being scraped away by the end of the day. But with pistes running down to both Les Breviere and Les

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The weather for the start of the week through to midweek looks to continue with the clear and calm theme. However, from the 31st December there looks to (finally!) be a change in the weather pattern which is going to bring some fairly significant snowfall for the rest of the week which should top up both the on and off-piste conditions very nicely.

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Please be aware that all the fresh snow that is forecast to fall in the middle of the week is not going to be falling onto a stable layer beneath it – it will not bond well with the current snowpack and will therefore create a potentially dangerous slab that is waiting for a skier or snowboarder to wander onto it and force it down the slope.

The current avalanche danger for the beginning of the week remains at category 1, but expect this to rise significantly with the new snowfall. The current biggest hazard within the snowpack is the abundance of rocks lurking at the surface of just below the surface of the snowpack, keep an eye out for these rocks when heading off-piste.

Again, my top tip for this week will be to hire a local guide in order to get the best out of your time in the Espace Killy as a guide will be able to show you all the best spots to find powder within resort and beyond the resort barriers  – there is still powder out there! After the midweek snowfall, a guide will be able to keep you safe with the predicted increase in avalanche danger and find the safest places to ride in accordance to this danger.

With the calm and clear conditions still prevailing until midweek, it’s still a great time to book onto a Heli Scenic Tour with Val Heliski and get some stunning views of Mont Blanc, departing from both Tignes and Val d’Isere altiports!

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Espace Killy Backcountry Report 13th December 2015

After another week of calm, settled conditions and amazing sunshine all day has continued to consolidate the snowpack further. The pistes around the Espace Killy are still in great condition thanks to the snowmaking facilities, however the off-piste conditions have been hit hard by the recent mild conditions with many hazards continuing to poke through the snowpack with the increasingly warm conditions affecting the snowpack.

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Petit Chadonnet Couloir (North Facing)

I have been sticking to many of the north – east facing slopes which are still holding fantastic snow, whilst the southerly facing slopes are being hit hard by high south westerly winds and the recent mild conditions. Chardonnet bowl, Mickey’s Ears and the east facing slopes from the Col de Fresse have given some fantastic off piste riding on un-tracked fresh snow.

Today (Sunday 13th December) saw many new lifts opening in the Espace Killy with the Aguille Pércée section of the hill now being open which opens up the pistes Cyclamen and Corniche, not only this but the whole freeride south face of Aguille Pércée is open to those who are willing to hike for their turns – be aware though, as this is a south facing slope much of the snowpack has now thawed away leaving many rocky sections, think about heading down this face when we get another large snowfall to avoid hitting a rock on the way down.

Skiers are also now able to ski down to La Boisses (great lunch spot) to then get the Boisses lift back up and around to Le Lac, opening up the whole Sache side of the resort – if you’re looking for quiet pistes then head this way, or if you’re an avid off-piste skier, the Vallon De La Sache will give a very rewarding journey all the way down to Le Brevieres. The opening of these lifts also saves you a bus journey all the way back up the valley to Le Lac from both La Boisses (via Boisses gondola) and from Le Brevieres (via Sache gondola).

The start of this week’s weather looks to continue with the settled theme through to Monday and Tuesday, with Tuesday night bringing a little snow over night. The settled theme then looks to continue through the rest of the week with clear and calm conditions expected which will give some fantastic visibility and firm piste riding – keep doing those snow dances!

SouthFacing Conditions
Aguille Pércée Conditions (South Facing)

Avalanche conditions remain at category 1 at both 1500m and 3000m elevations but please keep in mind that at higher elevations (above 2000m), windslab could still be present, particularly within the north – north easterly aspects. As the snowpack continues to consolidate, be aware that rocks will continue to be an ever present danger to off-piste skiers. Snow depths are currently 30m at 1500m and 50m at 3000m.

Heliski operations are starting on the 20th December. With the current off-piste conditions the way they are right now, it’s becoming increasingly more evident that the best way to find fresh snow is to either hire a guide and ski-tour to some of the fresh snow or save all the effort and book onto a heliski trip – we’re always able to find some fantastic conditions in any one of our 32 drop zones!

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Petit Chadonnet Couloir (North Facing)

Top tip: Head for some of the more sheltered north facing couloirs that have managed to stay out of the sun and have not been stripped by the high winds that we’ve recently had. These couloirs are still holding some cold & dry fresh in them – however you will have to hike slightly to find them as all the couloirs in a close proximity to the lift system are heavily tracked out. If you’re of a suitable ability level, consider hiring a pair of touring skis or a Splitboard and a guide to venture out of the resort slightly to find some of the untracked fresh – it’s still out there, you just have to work for it!


Espace Killy Backcountry Report 9th December 2015

Backcountry Report 1

 

We’ve had another period of calm and settled conditions over the past week with a little snow (5cm) on Friday night which topped things up nicely. I’ve been out doing much less ski-touring over the week and much more lift served side country skiing as the off piste conditions from the lifts have been so great.

If you’re interested in the conditions of the famous Mickey’s Ears couloirs then read on as I’ve had two great runs down them in the past week and conditions on the North / North East facing slopes are still fantastic even after the recent mild temperatures.

On Friday 4th December (the day after my last report was written) I headed up Mickey’s Ears to see how early season conditions were faring after the recent mild temperatures. These are reached by skiing North from the summit of Toviere lift stations (down ‘Cretes’ piste) to then reach a very obvious ridge in front of you when the piste forces you to make a left or right turn.

Backcountry Report 2

The initial walk up the ridge to reach the first couloir is extremely easy with mild temperatures beginning to strip the snow off the S/SW side of Mickey’s ears. After you pass the first couloir, conditions can potentially become quite icy especially so early in the morning when the sun hasn’t had a chance to soften the snow of the S/SW face. I would recommend for snowboarders in soft boots and skiers with plastic alpine soles to purchase a pair of Cat Tracks to improve safety and security when traversing the ridge to reach the skiers left couloirs (beyond the large pinnacle where the radio antennas used to sit). Otherwise, there is currently large steps kicked out in the snow making a fairly straight forward traverse of the face.

Once the large pinnacle has been traversed, you can take a left or right boot-pack to reach the same couloir (both offer similar entrances to each other) with the left hand entrance being the more popular choice between riders and so this option is slightly more tracked out that the right hand entrance.

Both left and right entrances have an extremely easy slide in with a short steep section to negotiate  which then leads to the excellent, wide and open bowl allowing you to open out your turns and let your skis/board rip back down to the bowl of the face – there’s some great wall to wall snow coverage in the wide couloir. Once you’re lower down and out of the couloir, be aware of rocks (as usual this early in the season) that are beginning to poke through the snowpack.

Backcountry Report 3

Getting back to the lifts is straightforward, I’ve been heading skiers right out of the bowl following the now tracked out traverse to join the pistes that head down to La Daille – just make sure you keep an eye out for a bridge that crosses a gorge on your right to cross over to access the piste. Alternatively, you can ignore the bridge and piste and keep the gorge on your right hand side to follow The Hidden Valley down through the trees which will then lead to the Daille bubble lift, this descent is now seeing an extremely low snowpack though so be aware for any dangers lurking under the snow if your choose this route.

Backcountry Report 4

Saturday 5th and Monday 7th December, saw me mainly skiing the pistes which have great coverage thanks to the snow cannons and even better grooming with more and more pistes and lifts opening each week. There’s also some great off-piste accessed minutes away from the pistes if you’re not looking to hike as far as the Mickey’s Ears descents and with such quiet slopes, many of these runs are not getting tracked out at all, all you have to do is hike 1-3 minutes off the piste to reach them.

A particular favourite of mine is the face on your right as you are heading up Borsat chair, ski down to the Col de Fresse and hike the ridge for 1 – 5 minutes to drop into any of the lines on your right hand side which all have great coverage on their North to Easterly aspect.

Backcountry Report 6

Tuesday 8th December saw me heading back up to Mickey’s Ears with some friends who hadn’t skied any of the couloirs this season. Conditions on the ridge were similar to the 4th December with a little more of the scree showing through the snowpack. We were keen to head down the first couloir that you reach after following the ridge, with a wide open entrance that quickly narrows and steepens into a nice wee chute. Please be aware that before you head down a couloir this early in the season that you have had a look up it or climbed up it prior to dropping in – we foolishly hadn’t done this prior to dropping in.

Thus, after I dropped into the couloir I soon realised that it wasn’t actually complete as I got around halfway down towards the steep and narrow chute – please make sure you know what you are skiing this early in the season as not all the lines are complete and require another big dump to bring them fully into condition. After I hiked back out of the couloir, we headed for the safe option of the couloir I skied on the 4th December to give a much more straightforward ski compared to the one I’d just attempted.

Backcountry Report 5

There looks to be another week of fine a dry conditions with a smattering of snow here and there, it’s currently very overcast in resort with a centimetre or two forecast to fall toady (Wednesday 9th December). Following this, the sun is set to return for the end of the week to give some more settled days. All this settled weather has continued to consolidate the snowpack, even on higher elevations – the current avalanche warning is Category 1 (low) both down in Le Lac and Le Grand Motte, but as ever please be aware that there are still localised patches of windslab particularly on N / NE facing slopes and with the shallow snowpack, hazards such as rocks are starting to poke through.


Espace Killy Backcountry Report 2nd December 2015

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Since the week’s worth of snowfall on the 20th November, we have been given some epic on and off piste skiing conditions.

The Val Heliski crew have been out ski touring in the L’Aguille Du Pércée, Aguille Du Chardonnet and Toviere regions of the hill before the resort opened which had given some fantastic conditions for those that were willing to work for their turns, before the lifts began running on the 28th November.

On the 30th November I headed up to L’Aguille Du Pércée and skied the south / south-westerly face from the summit of L’Aguille. Due to the aspect of this face, there are some rocks starting to poke back through the snowpack at the top section of the face where the snow is melted from the recent mild weather.

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However, once in the bowl itself and down from the top 50 metres, the snow is still in brilliant condition, giving us some excellent turns so early in the season – this was a great introduction into the Tignes off-piste for the season!

There is still an easy traverse back to either the Aguille Rouge or Marias chairlifts from the summit of L’Aguille, just cut back skiers left once you reach the bottom of the bowl and a little rock hopping will lead you to the pistes back to the chair.

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Since the lifts have started running, I’ve been lapping some of the classic Tignes / Val d’Isere off piste runs including the Chardonnet Couloir and Little Chardonnet Couloir (on the 2nd December) which gave some absolutely fantastic cold powder on the northernly aspect which has been kept out of the sun for most of the day.

Backcountry Report 02:12 4

The Chardonnet Couloir currently has an extremely easy entrance which allows for a simple slide in with some amazing fresh all the way down the couloir, although this might change over the next few days. As we came round to do our second lap in the Chardonnet bowl the snow was becoming slightly tracked out and heavy as the sun came round onto the face and more people were lapping it.

I also got a sneaky lap down towards La Daille in Val d’Isere by skiing from the Toviere bubble down ‘Familiale’ which has excellent snow coverage and then down ‘The Hidden Valley’ which has seen a lot of snow melt due to the recent mild conditions with rocks, branches and tree roots becoming a common sight from around 2000m. It is still offering a fantastic ski all the way back down to the La Daille bubble lift with a little hop over a stream at the bottom – early season conditions are looking great!

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Heliski operations at Val Heliski are beginning from the 6th December due to the great early conditions we are experiencing. If you’re interested in Heliskiing departing the Espace Killy region then send us a message from the above website to secure your seat.

After a massive dump of snow on the 20th November, the snowpack has slowly begun to settle and consolidate after a period of settled weather following the dump. However, recent high winds have led to a build up of windslab, particularly on north to east aspects, where you will notice much firmer feeling snow and will look like much more of a ‘flat’ white. After a period of warmer temperatures and no significant recent snowfall, there are some hazards within the snowpack – watch out for rocks that are still not fully covered.

The avalanche danger was reduced from category 3 to category 2 on 1st December but you still need to be aware of the possible dangers lurking in the snowpack. We are going to see more settlement and consolidation of the snowpack (due to fine and dry conditions in the forecast) particularly on lower elevations, but it’s also worth remembering that we may see some persistently weak layers lingering due to the lower temperatures higher up.


Winter Sports Insurance Choice

When you’re taking part in any of our backcountry experiences, it’s mandatory that you have adequate winter sports insurance that covers Heliskiing and Off-piste skiing with a mountain guide.

Being the backcountry specialists, we have heaps of experience in choosing the correct insurance for both our clients and our own backcountry ski or snowboard experiences.

Here’s a list of providers that we use;

http://www.skiclubinsurance.co.uk – The Ski Club of Great Britain offer fantastic insurance at competitive rates, it’s important to purchase ‘Activity Pack 1’ to cover you for all of our activities.

http://www.assurance-multi-sports.com – Impact Multi Sports is a French based company that offer extremely competitive rates, make sure that you go for the cover that includes Italy.