The Alpine ski industry heaved a collective sigh of relief over the weekend, as the weather finally cooled down in the Alps. There was light snowfall in places – notably in Austria and Switzerland – and a hard frost elsewhere, and the snow cannons have been working full pelt to make up for Mother Nature’s miserliness.
There’s likely to be more of the same over the next couple of days, before the weather warms up on Wednesday, and the freezing point rises to 1500m across much of the region. Our Snow Forecast is predicting more light snowfall in that time, and some forecasters – including those at Meteo Chamonix – think the western and southern Alps will see a proper dump above the 800m mark on Saturday. But I wouldn’t bank on that just yet: the prognosis at the moment is changing on a daily basis. (Tuesday December 9 update: and indeed the forecast has changed dramatically now for Saturday. Currently the outlook is for rising temperatures and a mild foehn wind in the northern Alps. But this too may change over the next couple of days.)
In the meantime, the one thing we can rely on are the snow cannons. While temperatures stay low, resorts will be able to build up reserves of dense, skiable snow to spread over their pistes, and will be better shape by the end of the week – especially those with lots of skiing above 1600m. Anyone in search of early-season powder will have to sit tight, though. Heavier snow may come on Saturday: but we’ll almost certainly need more than one dump to fill in the off-piste lines on the rockier slopes.
All the same, anyone planning to snap up a late-booking ski deal for Christmas, should play it safe by targeting high-altitude resorts, such as Tignes, Val Thorens, Cervinia, and Obergurgl, or ones which have already been lucky with snowfall on their upper slopes such as Madonna di Campiglio and Serre Chevalier. After all, there may yet be anther mild spell over the next couple of weeks, which will affect the snow quality at lower altitudes.
Here’s a selection of recent photos and webcam shots across the region to give you an idea of how it’s looking.
Pictured below is the scene in Obergurgl, Austria, where the top half of the ski area is in good shape, and the pistes lower down are starting to catch up. Here, there was light snowfall yesterday, and the on-piste cover is up to 95cm deep.
Meanwhile, these were the snow cannons working hard at the top of the Choralpe in Westendorf in the Skiwelt yesterday. The Skiwelt postponed its opening day last week, and hopes to get going on Thursday – weather permitting.
Pictured below is how it was looking in Lech in Austria this morning, after a 5cm dusting of snow at the weekend. Here too start of the ski season was postponed last week, but it’s hoped some pistes will be open this weekend.
Pictured below is Saas-Fee in Switzerland, which had heavy snow at the top of the ski area in mid-November. 12 pistes are currently open here.
Meanwhile, pictured below is the Fornet sector of Val d’Isere today, just below the Pissaillas glacier. Val opened on November 29, but only seven pistes are currently skiable.
And this was La Croisette in the middle of Courchevel this morning. The resort postponed the of its winter season last week, but after a good weekend of snowmaking has decided to open four lifts and three runs tomorrow, including the Combe de la Saulire red – one of the finest pistes in France.
Serre Chevalier has good snow on its higher pistes at the moment. It was open at the weekend, when this video was shot. It plans to open full-time for winter on Decemer 13.
Some of the best and most extensive skiing at the moment is in Cervinia, where there’s 150cm bedded down at the Plan Maison mid-station, thanks to some big mid-November dumps. Pictured below is how it was looking this morning.
And, finally, this was the scene, mid-mountain, above Madonna di Campiglio. This part of the Italian Alps did well out of the weather last week, and there’s good cover in the Groste sector. At 2250m there’s already 90cm of snow bedded down.
Snow is coming again to the western US and Canada
In the western US and Canada last week was, by recent standards, a quiet one for most resorts, with little or no fresh snowfall. California was an exception: there, the Lake Tahoe resort of Northstar claimed 66cm of the white stuff in the last seven days.
Now, the immediate outlook is for a mild and sunny spell. In Northstar, a top temperature is expected of +7C on Tuesday, with +6C on the cards in both Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Breckenridge, Colorado. That won’t bother the resorts too much – many have decent cover on their trails as a result of the big dumps last month, and are in good shape for Christmas. But the off-pisters aren’t happy, as the November powder is now long gone. Fortunately, it looks as though the weekend will bring a decent dump: thanks to a storm that’s due to hit California on Thursday, and then move swiftly inland.
Further north, Whistler is expecting much more active weather from today. It’ll start warm and wet, and there could be rain even on the top half of the ski area. But Wednesday will see a drop in temperature, and as much as 50cm of snow by Thursday night.
Meanwhile, in the Canadian Rockies, last week was a quiet one too. It was however colder than the US and the west coast, which meant the snow stayed soft and grippy on the shadier slopes. In Lake Louise, daytime highs are expected to rise this week, and but probably won’t break the 0C barrier.
|France: see our main report. The temperature’s dropped and the snow cannons are running at full pelt. It’ll warm up again midweek, but at least the freezing point won’t rise much above 1600m, and some forecasts are now talking of moderate to heavy snow on Saturday. It’s too soon to be sure of that, but at the very least we should see more resorts opening this weekend with some skiable pistes. For the time being, Tignes and Val Thorens are the resorts to target, although there several pistes open in Val d’Isere, Les Deux Alpes and Alpe d’Huez. Serre Chevalier is confident it will be opening for the season on Saturday, too.|
|Switzerland: there was light snow across much of Switzerland at the weekend. Low temperatures mean the snow cannons are able to run at last as well. However, the high-altitude resorts are still the ones to target, especially Zermatt and Saas-Fee. There’s good skiing on the glaciers above Engelberg and Les Diablerets, too – whenever the skies are clear, and a handful of pistes are also open in Verbier, Laax, and Davos. In St Moritz, both Corvatsch and Corviglia are open, with a total of 21 pistes to ski.|
|Austria: there’s been light snow across much of Austria, and a noticeable drop in temperatures. Snow cannons are working hard to make up the shortfall of natural snow. You can currently ski at Obergurgl and Ischgl, as well as on the Hintertux, Stubai, Molltal, Pitztal, Kaunertal, Rettenbach and Kitzsteinhorn glaciers. Ischgl offers some of the most extensive skiing in the country at the moment with a impressive 72km of pistes.|
|Italy: early-season conditions have been superb above Cervinia, especially above 2500m. Above Champoluc and Gressoney in the Monterosa ski area a handful of lifts and pistes are also open, and there’s good snow on the Groste sector of Madonna di Campiglio. However, as is the case elsewhere in the Alps cover is very thin in many Italian resorts, especially below 2000m, and only now are the snow cannons able to get to work to make up the shortfall. Above Val Senales in the South Tyrol, ten pistes are currently open for skiing. At Passo Tonale, seven pistes are open.|
|Andorra: the Grandvalira ski area got going after a week’s delay on Saturday – and had a very timely 40cm of snow on its upper slopes to help the season along. Currently, 95km of pistes are skiable. Vallnord got going at the weekend too.|
|Western USA: see our main report. November turned into a memorable month in the American Rockies with the snowstorms coming in waves. As a result, many resorts are in great shape for the early season, although the milder weather in Colorado and Utah of recent days has made the snow heavy on the lower slopes. In Vail, Colorado, the settled cover is 50cm deep on the upper slopes. In Snowbird, Utah, it’s around 75cm deep. Further north, Jackson Hole is in great shape with over a metre of snow packed down mid-mountain, and 100% of its terrain open. The immediate outlook is for mild weather, followed by snow moving in from California on Friday and Saturday.|
|Western Canada: Whistler opened on November 21 this year, and now offers skiing on both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. However, it’s not been a vintage start to the season with stubbornly mild weather and a lack of significant snowstorms. That may change on Wednesday, when a warm, wet weather front turns cold, and dumps on the top half of the ski area. As much as 50cm of snow is expected. Currently, the snowpack on the higher pistes is around half a metre deep. Meanwhile, in Banff National Park, Lake Louise reports settled cover 81cm deep on the mid-mountain pistes. Daytime highs of -1C are expected this week.|