In December 2008, an intense avalanche cycle occurred in the eastern part of the southern French Alps. Southerly atmospheric fluxes that progressively evolved into an easterly return caused important snowfalls with return periods up to 10 years. Cold temperatures and drifting snow had important aggravating effects. The return period for the number of avalanches was above 50 years in two massifs and some of the avalanche had very long runouts that exceeded historical limits recorded in the French avalanche atlas. Using this case study, this paper illustrates and discusses how avalanche reports, snow and weather data and results from numerical modelling of the snow cover call be combined to analyse abnormal temporal clusters of snow avalanches. For instance, it is shown how statistical techniques developed in other fields can be used to test the significance of different explanatory factors, extract spatio-temporal patterns, compare them with previous cycles and quantify the magnitude/frequency relationship at different scales. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.