First of all: Merry Christmas, Snowfiends! May the next few days by happy, hearty and filled to the brim with mince pies and brussel sprouts…
Second of all: spare a thought for ski resorts of the Alps, which have been dealt a dismal hand for a second Christmas in a row. It’s not a complete disaster: the Three Valleys and the Espace Killy in France both have more than 50% of their pistes open, and Les Arcs 49% of its pistes. In the Italian Dolomites the Dolomiti Superski collective of resorts is offering over 700km of pistes despite the fact that almost all of them are ribbons of white against the grass.
But all the same, it’s a long way short of perfect. In particular, the lower resorts in the western Alps have suffered because they’ve found it hard to run their snow cannons in the mild weather, and a few have no lifts open today. Meanwhile, higher up, the combination of dense man-made snow, increasing human traffic, and a 24-hour cycle of daytime melting and overnight refreezing means that almost all the pistes are hard-packed, and unnerving for less confident skiers.
There’s very little chance of fresh snow over the next week, either.
Third of all: have you seen how much of the white stuff they’ve been getting in the western US? In both California and Utah resorts have had more than a metre of snow since Sunday night – with more to come.
If you’re looking for contrasts, check out the difference between the Milky Way in Italy, and Utah in the US.
First of all, let’s start of with the good news. This was Park City, in Utah, yesterday. The resort has had 107cm of snow since Monday.
And here’s Sestriere in the Milky Way, which had six pistes and four lifts open today.
In the Alps, the Snow Drought Continues
The only significant snowfall the Alps have seen so far this winter was at the end of November, and even then it only affected the northern half of the region. Otherwise the theme has been one of sunshine and unseasonably mild temperatures, with only the occasional sprinkling of snow up high, and rain on lower slopes. The last of these sprinkles was on Monday.
Some resorts still look pretty wintry, even if the cover off-piste is very thin. Here, for example, is Tignes in France this morning.
Meanwhile, pictured below St Anton in the Austrian Arlberg. There was 15cm of snow at the top of the ski area here last Wednesday, (although a British skier told me he saw lorries bringing in snow last week to make one of the valley runs skiable).
Most pistes are heavily dependent on man-made snow, and heavy Christmas traffic combined with a daily freeze-thaw cycle means the surface on steeper pistes is hard-packed and unnerving for many intermediates. There are also reports of an increased number of accidents. It’s time to make sure your edges are sharp, tackle an easier grade of piste than normal, and drop your speed.
Elsewhere, the only snow comes courtesy of the snow cannons. Pictured above is Kronplatz in the Italian Dolomites: part of the Dolomiti Superski area, which is emerging as one of the stars of this snow-starved start to the season. Despite barely a flake of snow this winter, this collective of resorts (which is not completely interconnected, but includes Selva, Canazei, Moena and Cortina d’Ampezzo), now has over 700km of pistes open and the feedback about the quality of the snow is generally good.
In some areas, on lower slopes it hasn’t been possible to run snow cannons recently. This is the bottom of the ski area in Morzine at lunchtime today. There is skiing higher up here – 62 of 318 pistes were open across the Portes du Soleil today. But on the lower slopes, not so much…
Looking ahead, there’s no immediate sign of relief. The coming six days will be dominated by sunshine and mild temperatures. Today, it’s a little cooler than it has been: but at the weekend the daytime freezing point will be nudging 3000m again. Next Tuesday/Wednesday there’s the chance of light snowfall in the Pyrenees and the western Alps, but at the moment the best hope for a decisive shift in weather patterns is w/c January 4. But it’s much too soon to be sure of that.
Meanwhile in North America
You want to ski deep snow? Then head across the Atlantic.
Here’s how it was looking in Snowbird yesterday. The resort’s had 104cm of snow since Monday. It’s been a while since Utah has had a proper dump like this. And now, look.
In California, there’s been a big, rather warm storm which has dumped 104cm on the highest slopes in Heavenly, and a similar amount in Squaw Valley. A colder, more powdery storm is expected to add another 30cm in the final hours before Christmas.
Here’s how one example of the effect, from Squaw Valley.
And here they are trying to dig out the picnic tables in Heavenly.
Here’s how it looked in Steamboat yesterday.
Jeez. Just occasionally, I wish I lived in America…
North of the border it’s cold. Whistler’s in good shape right now, with a mid-mountain base nearly two metres deep, and 80cm of fresh snow in the last week. Top temperature on the mountain tomorrow will be -9C. In Banff National Park, Lake Louise is expecting a high today of -13C. There, the mid-mountain snowpack is more modest, at 76cm deep.
France: piste-skiing on hard-packed snow is the theme of Christmas 2015 in France. Overcrowding in some of the higher resorts will be an issue, too, as the skiing community migrates uphill, but generally, the numbers of skiers on the slopes this week will be down because of the “no snow” publicity. Local skiers from Geneva, Grenoble and Lyon are likely to stay away.
Still, at least there is skiable snow: although you will need to make sure your edges are sharpened, and drop your speed. The best conditions are in the high-altitude resorts of the Tarentaise, where Tignes, has 29-65cm of settled cover, on-piste and Val Thorens has 45-90cm. Forget skiing off-piste, unless you go ski touring with a very knowledgeable local guide.
Switzerland: conditions across the northern and western resorts of Switzerland are quite similar to the northern resorts of France: the higher resorts look almost wintry, although the cover off-piste is generally too thin to be skiable and the pistes are firm. In the south-east the cover is thinner, although there are a few pistes open in St Moritz. The best snow will be up on the glaciers, in resorts such as Saas Fee and Zermatt. Currently, Zermatt reports 125cm of cover at 2900m.|
Austria: the best snow in Austria is to be found on the glaciers at the moment, although the Arlberg in the west is in reasonable shape too. Amazingly, low-lying ski areas in Austria have also managed to open a fair number of pistes: in the Skiwelt for example 133km of pistes are currently skiable. The glacier ski areas include Hintertux, the Molltal, the Pitztal, the Kaunertal, the Stubai, the Rettenbach, above Solden, the Kitzsteinhorn and the Dachstein.|
Italy: most Italian resorts are still waiting for the their first significant snowstorm. However, brilliant work by the snow-making and grooming teams have ensured that pistes have opened with little help from Mother Nature – especially in the Dolomites. Decent skiing is also to be found in high-alitude areas such as Cervinia, the Presena glacier above Passo Tonale.|
Andorra: in common with much of the Pyrenees, Andorra’s ski resorts were walloped by snow four weeks ago. But it’s been sunny and mild since then. In the Grandvalira ski area, Pas de la Casa has up to 50cm of snow packed down, on-piste. 148km of pistes are open across the ski area, which is a remarkable achievement given the unhelpful weather so far this month.|
Western USA: see our main report. The resorts of California, Utah and Colorado are in great shape at the moment, with more snow to come. Currently, in Colorado, Breckenridge reports 114cm of mid-mountain snow, in Utah Snowbird has 140cm, and Heavenly 132cm.|
Western Canada: Whistler’s is in for a decent Christmas. The last big storm was at the weekend, but it’s been cold since then and there are a few sprinklings of snow in the forecast. The mid-mountain base is a meaty 190cm. Meanwhile, in Sun Peaks, the mid-mountain snowpack is 123cm deep.|