In the Alps the weather has been – for the most part – dry, sunny and cold for a week.
Now, the outlook is for dry, sunny and increasingly mild weather. Across much of the region the daytime freezing point is likely to be nudging 3000m by the Wednesday or Thursday, which is above the top lift station in most resorts.
That’s a shame. At altitude in the western Alps, and from top-bottom in the south-west, some resorts already have abundant natural snow cover – thanks to the storms of November 6-11 and November 21-25. But elsewhere – in the east especially – the natural cover is thin or non-existent, and the snow cannons have been working flat out to make up the shortfall.
In many places, they’ve done a cracking job. In Italy’s vast Dolomiti Superski area, for example, 400km of pistes were open at the weekend, in a region which has had little natural snowfall so far this winter. Meanwhile, in the Tirol, the lowish Skiwelt area opened this weekend with 81km of skiable pistes.
Here’s evidence of some top-notch snow-making, in the Buffaure area above Canazei in the Dolomites earlier today.
Nevertheless, this mild spell will slow the piste-building process down, and it’ll thin the cover on the pistes that are already open. We’ll be glad to see the back of it, which hopefully will be next Monday at the latest. We’d also love to see another dose of heavy snow across the region, to match the storm of early November; but I’m afraid there’s no sign of one coming just yet.
So if you’re looking for a quick pre-Christmas break, I’d still stick to the classic high-altitude resorts, which have plenty of skiing in the 2200-3000m range – places like Val Thorens, Tignes, Val d’Isere, Cervinia and Obergurgl. As a rule of thumb, the snow is deeper the further west you go.
Above Cervinia, for example, there’s already 30-160cm of snow packed down, on-piste. Here’s how its high mountain bowl looked, this afternoon: with Monte Cervino towering overhead.
Pictured below, was the scene yesterday morning in Obergurgl in the Tirol. Snow depths are thinner here than in the west, with up to 35cm of cover, on-piste: but over 90% of its waymarked runs are already open.
At the moment, I’d also aim high if you’re thinking of booking a last-minute Christmas or New Year trip. There’s still time for a significant change in the weather: in December it can change very suddenly. But you can’t bank on it at the moment.
Meanwhile, in North America…
There was heavy snow in parts of the Rockies last week – and there’s been more in the last two days
This morning, Jackson Hole, Wyoming reports 60cm of snow in 48 hours, and a settled mid-mountain snow depth of 88cm. Further north, in Fernie, Canada, there’s been 31cm of snow 48hrs. Lake Louise in Banff National Park has had 18cm in the same period.
Here’s how Jackson Hole looks this morning. Tasty.
Meanwhile in the the Pacific Northwest of America is off to a great start. Mount Baker in Washington state reported 45cm of new snow on Sunday and a settled base of two metres. Here’s how it looked on Sunday morning as the powder hounds got stuck in.
The clip also gives you an idea of how quickly the powder can be skied out in an American resort. You need to be quick if you want the good stuff…
In Colorado and Utah light to moderate snowfall is expected today and tomorrow, and should bring 10-30cm of cold, light powder, depending on the resort. More is expected later in the week. It’ll be very welcome, as resorts make up for time lost as a result of the mild November. In Vail, for example, they’ve only opened 25% of their terrain so far. In Breckenridge, that figure is less than 10%.
|France: there’s a striking contrast between the scene in the high altitude resorts, and lower down at the moment in France. Below about 2000m there’s almost no natural snow, except in southern resorts, such as Montgenevre (which opened on November 26). Up high, along the Italian border, and in the south, there’s masses of the stuff. Val d’Isere has around 150cm on its higher pistes, and Serre Chevalier 145cm. Meanwhile, above Chamonix, the top half of the Grands Montets will be opening to skiers on December 9, which is very early. Elsewhere, at least the weather has been good for snow-making: but preparations for Christmas are likely to slow down now, thanks to the coming thaw.|
|Switzerland: as is the case in France, there’s lots of snow up high in the western resorts, expecially those bordering Italy. Lower down, by contrast, the slopes are generally bare, except where the snow cannons have been at work. Aim high for the best skiing – in resorts such as Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Les Diablerets, Engelberg, Davos, Laax and Verbier. Currently, the snow on the Allalin glacier above Saas-Fee is 135cm deep.|
|Austria: there was lots of good snow making in Austria last week, thanks to the cold, dry weather. This week that work will slow down as the thaw sets in. As is the case everywhere, it’s best to stay high for now, until after the next big snowstorm. Among those resorts currently open are Ischgl, Obergurgl and , as well as the Hintertux, Pitztal, Molltaler, Stubai, Kitzsteinhorn and Kaunertal glaciers. In the Arlberg, St Anton and Lech-Zurs are now open, too.|
|Italy: there’s excellent skiing on offer in Cervinia, which boasts some of the best snow in the Alps at the moment. There’s deep snow up high elsewhere in the Aosta Valley, too – Pila, which opened at the weekend, has two metres of the stuff on its higher pistes. Above Alagna, in the Monterosa, there’s 220cm. Meanwhile, in the Brenta Dolomites, Madonna di Campiglio now has 22km of pistes open.|
|Andorra: the Grandvalira and Vallnord ski areas are now both open. The Grandvalira currently has 139km of skiable pistes and settled cover of 20-50cm.|
|Western USA: see our main report. In the Rocky Mountain resorts, winter is back on track, and the resorts are slowly coming to life. Currently, it’s the resorts of the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rockies (including Montana and Wyoming) which have the best snow.|
|Western Canada: every now and again, Whistler has a big November, and the 2016 edition was one of them, with over 3m of the white stuff falling in a month. Elsewhere in western Canada, there’s snow, too – although not in quite the same quantities. In Banff National Park, Lake Louise has had 191cm of snow so far, and on the the higher trails there’s 105cm of settled cover.|