As much as 57cm of snow is predicted for Val d’Isere by the end of today, with up to another metre forecast by Tuesday of next week. We like bouncing through fresh powder off-piste as much as anyone, but early-season avalanches always remind us that it’s best to err on the side of caution if you’re considering a trip off the marked trails. If you’re concerned, stick to the safe, snow-sure pistes – after all, there are hundreds of kilometres of well-looked-after runs to enjoy.

Image courtesy of Andreas Bjärlestam on Flickr under a Creative Commons License

Val d’Isere has seen some 40cm of fresh snow since Saturday, and skiers have been understandably excited. However, the recent dump saw avalanche warnings at the high end of the scale and travel into un-marked terrain strongly discouraged.

On Tuesday, two separate groups skiing off-piste triggered avalanches and were buried in over a metre of snow. Two of the skiers tragically lost their lives, and a third was seriously injured. Avalanche warnings for the area were high due to the unstable snowpack and severe winds.

It can be easy to forget the danger of avalanche when you’re a keen skier staring at fields of fresh powder. The best defence is to always plan ahead: check the conditions, be mindful of your skill level and carefully judge the risk. Many experienced skiers will tell you, when snow dumps down and the avalanche warning jumps to 3 or 4 on the EAD Scale, it’s best to avoid most off-piste areas until that fresh layer settles. If in doubt, just enjoy the fresh snow on groomed trails.  

If you do choose to head off-piste, be sure to take proper safety precautions: pack essential safety equipment, including a transceiver, probe and shovel, always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return and consider hiring a qualified guide. For a comprehensive rundown of off-piste safety, including other key pieces of equipment, take a look at our full mountain safety guide here.

For snow conditions and avalanche alerts, there are some  great online resources and smartphone apps that put the latest information within easy reach. You can view a list of top smartphone apps by clicking here, and the website provides regular avalanche bulletins – the site is in French, but you can see the numbered warning level illustrated for the different regions (see Haute-Tarentaise for Val d'Isere).

Henry’s Avalanche Talk is a highly recommended resource for off-piste snow reports and important safety advice.