Hi All - the avalanche risk reporting thing is frustrating for me as an avalanche/mountain professional (I'm an International Mountain Leader who trains people in avalanche safety) rather than anything much to do with the chalet business - although I'm getting slightly frustrated reassuring clients that they are going to be OK on their ski holiday despite what they've read in the Telegraph.
Avalanche risk changes rapidly. It would be entirely normal for the risk level to go from level 1 ("Low") to 4 ("High") and back to, say, 2 ("Moderate") within 3 or 4 days as new snow arrives and then settles. So a hysterical newspaper article (which is probably 2 or 3 days out of date by the time it's written) talking about "dangerous avalanche conditions" is almost entirely useless in deciding whether or not conditions are going to be safe for your ski holiday in 2 weeks time.
"Most Deadly Start to the Season in the Swiss Alps in a gazillion years" - well, maybe. But how do you define the start of the season? Why is the grouping of incidents to the "Swiss Alps" relevant? (The Swiss Alps is a huge area and avalanche conditions may well be wildly different from one area to another). If there were no avalanche deaths in Italy, France and Austria, then maybe for the Alps as a whole it's actually the safest start to the season in a gazillion years (not suggesting this is the case!) yet this headline makes people think it's a really bad situation. From memory (haven't fact-checked) the start of last season almost certainly saw more deaths in the French Alps than this year. The worst season for avalanche deaths in a long time was 2010-2011 (which was actually a very poor snow year).
The widely-reported "weak layer" in the snowpack is actually a pretty normal early-season phenomenon - it's caused by a thin snowpack and cold weather, which is pretty-much what you'd expect to find in December. The effect was, admittedly, quite pronounced this year because we had a lot of snow in November, then cold, dry weather in December. Nevertheless, it's pretty normal for the time of year. This type of weak layer (depth hoar) does normally remain in the snowpack for a long time and could therefore be expected to remain a worry throughout the season. In fact, though, some un-seasonably mild weather and a decent amount of snowfall finally arriving seem to have reduced the risk quicker than expected. The avalanche risk in my local area (Tarentaise Valley / Savoie) is currently level 2 - 3. The "3" at altitude is due to windslab created by strongish winds over the last day or so. The early-season depth-hoar layer is considered to have stabilised for the most part, although it's still worth taking account of when making decisions.
This, of course, is my opinion and is based on my interpretation of the local avalanche forecasting, plus my own observation of the snow and weather conditions when I'm out in the mountains every day.
Make your own decisions - don't base your judgement on some weeks-old article you read in a newspaper or on a website. Don't base it on what I'm telling you either, I could well be wrong!
The best source of information is the local avalanche forecast, usually updated every 24 hours at least (anything older than that is pretty-much useless). You can find avalanche forecasts (and other info) for most places in Europe at http://www.avalanches.org
EDIT: Interestingly, having just checked some statistics at http://www.anena.org (French avalanche reporting/training body), 2010-2011 actually came out as quite a "safe" year in terms of number of deaths in the end. I remember it as being really bad because of a number of widely-reported accidents in my local area where several people were killed in single avalanche incidents. So I guess I'm as vulnerable to over-blown reporting as anyone!