So here we are, sitting out the start of the ski season. And as if to mock us, Mother Nature is getting winter off to a spectacular – if sometimes scary – start.
The weekend has seen snowfall over much of the Alps, and it has been unusually heavy in the south-east. The Austrian Tirol, the Osttirol and the Italian Dolomites have all been walloped by the stuff. In Cortina d’Ampezzo for example they reckon on two metres of snow at altitude since Friday. Similar quantities have fallen in the Osttirol, and the region had a nail-biting day on Sunday as the avalanche risk rose to 5/5. Roads were closed and electricity supplies cut off as snow-burdened trees collapsed onto power cables.
Here’s how it was looking this morning in the remote village of Innervillgraten in the Osttirol.
The risk is now subsiding, slightly – in part because the snow was followed by a milder spell, which allowed the new cover to settle and firm up. But it still stands at 4/5, and another heavy fall is expected in the region on Tuesday.
Here’s the latest snow forecast from Meteoblue for the 24hrs to 9am on Wednesday.
As you can see, it’s probably the Italian Dolomites that will received the heaviest snow, with more than a metre expected in some places. But once again the white stuff will be widespread.
With the ski seasons on hold in France, Italy, Austrian and Germany until early January, it’s frustrating to say the least. But we were reminded this weekend of the dangers of opening resorts during during a pandemic, when Verbier in Switzerland was overwhelmed by tightly-packed queues at its Medran lift station on Saturday. (The Swiss Cantons are allowing their resorts to open in defiance of pressure from neighbouring EU governments.)
The “optics” of such overcrowding are of course terrible: and serve as a warning to all skiers and ski areas until populations are vaccinated. Yes, we’re all desperate to get to the slopes: banging our heads on our desks every time we look at the webcams. But if we do get the chance to ski, then we have to behave responsibly – not just for the sake of everyone around us, but the industry as a whole. Otherwise the perception will harden that skiing is fundamentally not Covid-secure, and the season will never get properly underway.
It’s been snowing in the Highlands too
For anyone English, Welsh or Irish out there the frustration has been intensified by fresh snow in the Scottish Highlands. The Cairngorms have done particularly well, and there was more than enough snow to go touring at the weekend. Here’s a photo posted yesterday by Cairngorm Adventure Guides – who run ski touring courses on its big, empty mountains.
The forecast looks cold and snowy this week as well: and we could see the first Scottish ski lifts opening up on December 12 and 13 (although officially they’re aiming for December 19). Problem is: we can’t join in the fun, because travel into Scotland for pleasure as opposed to business is prohibited (as it is for Scots in high-risk areas). Only Scots living in Tier 1 or Tier 2 areas will be able to take advantage of the snow.
Given what happened in Verbier this weekend, perhaps that’s a good thing. But it’s a particularly heart-breaking situation for ski tourers. For a Brit there are few bigger thrills than being out on touring skis in your own back yard…
Meanwhile, in the Tatras Mountains…
The ambitious resort of Jasna in Slovakia opened on December 5. Currently, Brits are able to enter the country if they present proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test result, taken within 72hrs of arrival. It’s another possible skiing option to put alongside the likes of Switzerland and Sweden if you’re considering taking advantage of the UK government’s Test to Release programme, due to launch on December 15. (If you are considering it, check out our recent article on ski insurance.)