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Tuesday April 17, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

Ski tourers are being urged to be cautious if they plan to head out touring to take advantage of the huge levels of snow still across much of the Alps.



Many ski resorts in Europe have already closed or are about to shut down for the season - most have more snow remaining than they've seen for over 30 years.

There are huge amounts of snow in the mountains - much of it potentially very unstable.

All that snow can be accessed even when the lifts stop turning by anyone with touring bindings on their skis and some skins to stick to the bases.

Spring is usually the safest time to head to the backcountry as long as you choose your routes carefully.

It's why the French name for off-piste skiing was originally Ski Printemps - this season it's a little different.

The slopes are loaded with snow and it is set to come down.

The slides have already started.

Wet snow spring avalanchesWet snow spring avalanches















It's been cold, then warm.

There've been heavy snowfalls and then rain, and a lot of wind that has loaded slopes in unexpected places.

Many people though are heading up.

"The majority of people that die in avalanches are ski tourers who head away from the pistes to enjoy the mountains in a purer form and challenge themeselves and their abilities," said the PlanetSKI editor, James Cove.

"This year will be the best that many can remember for snow levels, but also perhaps the most dangerous."

James is currently in the Tirol on Austria and has seen the tourers heading up.

Kuhtai, Tirol, AustriaKuhtai, Tirol, Austria















Stubai, Tirol, AustriaStubai, Tirol, Austria


















Here is a PlanetSKI video shot in Stubai in Austria at the end of April as PlanetSKI travelled up the main lift.

The extreme and unusual weather this winter has continued right into April.

The freeze-melt cycle that people rely on to transform conditions and make the snowpack safer has been slow to happen.

There's been a series of massive avalanches, some spontaneous, some caused by skiers or snowboarders and some deliberately triggered by snow patrols.

And now, suddenly, it's got really warm, even at high altitude and overnight.

In the resort of Flaine in the Grand Massif ski area of France, there was persistent rain on Sunday night into Monday.

Even at the top, at 2,500 metres, it was clear that the precipitation had been sleety snow at best.

"The changes in temperature have enormous impact on the stability of the snowpack," one expert told us.

"Because the snow is so deep and the temperatures have risen, if it's going to slip, it's more likely to slip all the way to the ground."

And that means any avalanches that do happen could be enormous wet slab avalanches. They are slow moving but very, very heavy.

On Tuesday we went ski touring in Flaine and asked our guide, Yann Westercamp, who has spent most of his working life as an instructor in the resort, about the current conditions:

Flaine has had a massive 16 metres of snowfall this winter, the most since the 1980s.

We are told that depths at the top of the ski area are still almost four metres.

There's likely to be snow here until June.

FlaineA lot of snow in Flaine
















All alpine regions have their own specialists and issue regular avalanche bulletins so if you're going to venture out, you should always check with them first.

With ski touring increasing in popularity it's important, especially if you're new to it, to educate yourself on where it's safest to go and when.

Always take advice, carry a shovel, probe and avalanche transceiver and know how to use them, and ensure those with you are also equipped and trained.

Never go off-piste alone and, ideally, go out with a local mountain guide.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news

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