It’s been an extraordinary season so far in the Alps. The weather’s lurched from the sublime to the ridiculous on several occasions, and in the north-west a snow drought has been followed by thumping great snowstorms.
In the last three days, well over a metre of snow has fallen in places.
Sadly, there have been several fatal avalanche accidents as a result of the sudden surfeit of snow – notably the terrible incident in Les Deux Alpes, which hit a group teenagers from Lyon on a school trip. At the time of writing, it had claimed three lives.
The group was skiing on a black piste which was closed because of the avalanche risk.
In many French resorts the avalanche warning level is still at 4/5, which rules out off-piste skiing altogether, and every professional report has noted the extremely unstable condition of the snow pack. Great caution is needed out there. Please pay attention to all warnings, and for goodness sake don’t ski pistes that are closed. If there are tracks on them already, that doesn’t mean they are safe.
Temperatures have been low, too. As a result, the snow has settled at village level in low-lying resorts such as Morzine, which were hit by heavy rain last weekend. It’s going to get colder for a time too – with the daytime freezing point down to 500m in France and 100m in Austria, so this new snow is likely to stick around for a while.
As for snowfall – well, according to our snow forecast, it isn’t over yet. In the medium term, it looks as though high pressure will settle over the Alps next week, but for the next five days, it will be snowing, on and off, across the northern Alps. Accumulations won’t be as heavy as they were on Monday and Tuesday, but they could still be significant.
Here’s tomorrow’s snow forecast.
And this is Saturday’s map.
As you’ll see, the focus of the storms will be shifting east, away from France and into eastern Switzerland and Austria. East of the Arlberg in Austria, it’ll be very welcome, because accumulations here since the weather turned on January 2 have been much lower than in the west.
Unfortunately, it looks as though Italy will miss out again. There was snow here at the beginning of the week – Madonna di Campiglio in the Brenta Dolomites notched up 45cm, and looks much more wintry now beneath its mantle of white…
Brilliant work by snow-makiing crews is keeping the pistes very skiable too. But still, the southern side of the Alps lags a long way behind the north.
Bear in mind, by the way, that some of the mid-range forecasts are predicting a sudden rise of temperatures at the end of next week, which will bring another thaw. So, as ever in this yo-yoing season, the best plan is to aim high if you’re booking a trip.
Here’s a quick squizz at conditions today in the Alps, starting with Val d’Isere this morning, where John Yates-Smith of chalet specialists YSE caught a group skiing with The Development Centre, at La Daille. “Like we needed more snow!” was his comment. Currently the snow here is 105-180cm deep.
Meanwhile, this is how it’s looking in Serre Chevalier this morning. The snow isn’t as deep as it is further north in France, but up high it measures a very healthy 110-125cm with 25cm on the valley runs.
Pictured below is Verbier in Switzerland, where the snow is currently 35-205cm deep.
And here’s St Anton in Austria’s Arlberg. The resort is expecting a big snow day tomorrow, and currently has 60-145cm packed down on the pistes.
Meanwhile, in North America…
Generally, January has been pretty quiet in the Canadian and American west. There have been exceptions to that picture – notably in California – but overall, the weather has been calm and sunny. It’s been quite a contrast with what happened in December.
Now, however the weather is getting interesting again. At least four storms will be blowing over the region between now and Tuesday. Mostly, these will be bringing light to moderate falls. But their cumulative effect will be significant, and locally there will be the odd proper dump.
In Colorado, for example, snow guru Joel Gratz reckons that there’ll be up to 40cm of new snow on some central and northern resorts by Sunday – with more to come next week. That’s good news for resorts such as Vail and Breckenridge. Parts of Utah could get more. California will see plenty of fresh snow too, which comes on top of the 30cm that have fallen in several resorts over the last week. There’s the chance of a really meaty snowstorm in across California’s Sierra Nevada on Monday, but it’s by no means certain yet.
Meanwhile up in Canada, things are looking up for powder junkies, too. Whistler had 16cm on Tuesday night, and is expecting 10-20cm on Saturday, with more snow likely to follow.
|France: the higher French resorts are groaning under the weight the snow that’s fallen over the last two weeks. More of the white stuff is expected, as well as falling temperatures, which will do wonders for the state of the lower resorts. The avalanche risk remains very high. Currently, Tignes, has 105-180cm of settled cover, on-piste, and Chamonix 165-550cm on Flegere.|
|Switzerland: conditions across the northern and western resorts of Switzerland are quite similar to the northern resorts of France: there was heavy snow at the start of the week, and the avalanche risk is at 3/5. Currently, Zermatt, reports 180cm of cover at 2900m, and Engelberg 20-205cm.|
|Austria: Austria hasn’t had as much new snow yet as France and western Switzerland, although resorts in the Arlberg such as Lech, are doing well. Elsewhere, the new snow is thinner – for example, 20-45cm in the Skiwelt. More widespread and heavier snow is expected across Austria from tomorrow – but watch out for the thaw which may get going next week.|
|Italy: still the watchword is “more snow please” in the Italian Alps, although the scene is not nearly as snowless as it was a couple of weeks ago. Currently, high-altitude Cervinia reports 70-230cm of settled snow. In Canazei in the Dolomites it’s 25-60cm deep.|
|Andorra: the fate of the Pyrenees has closely followed that of the Alps this winter – so far. A prolonged snow drought gave way to several days of snow, followed by rain at lower altitudes, and now more of the white stuff. In Andorra, Pas de la Casa has up to 65cm of snow packed down, on-piste.|
|Western USA: see our main report. The resorts of California, Utah, Colorado are all expecting a series of small storms over the next week, which should drop a foot or more of fresh snow in most resorts. Currently, in Colorado, Breckenridge reports 99cm of mid-mountain snow, in Utah Snowbird has 142cm, and in California Heavenly has 162cm.|
|Western Canada: after a cracking December, Whistler has had a quieter start to the new year. However, the next few days look promising. Currently there’s 185cm of settled snow, mid-mountain. It’s generally been dry in Banff National Park, too. The mid-mountain snowpack is 81cm deep.|