Once again, exceptionally heavy snowfall in the Alps has been followed by exceptionally mild weather. Less than four days after a critical avalanche situation closed roads and cut off ski resorts, the snowpack has begun to settle, overloaded slopes have purged themselves (or been blasted by safety teams), and we’re back to something approaching normal in many areas.
By that I don’t mean there’s no risk of avalanches. Across the northern Alps, the danger level away from the waymarked pistes is generally at 3/5. That’s still considerable, but the sense of crisis that enveloped the region on Monday has gone. I was in Val Thorens on Tuesday, and the snow looked like this…
But very quickly, the pistes were opened up, and there’s been some fantastic skiing across the Three Valleys, as there has been right across the region. My two fellow-editors, Peter and Felice Hardy have been out with Nick Morgan of Le Ski in Courchevel and Francesca Smith of Powder N Shine in Les Menuires.
Felice said, “Yesterday was one of my best days of piste-skiing ever – the most perfect conditions you could ever hope to find.”
Here’s how it was looking above Les Menuires earlier today.
The word in the Three Valleys (and I imagine across much of the northern Alps) is that the ski rental centres have very little work to do, because no skis need repairing. There’s so much snow bedded down now that no-one is skiing over rocks or pebbles.
This was St Anton in the Austrian Arlberg today. Remember, the resort was in lockdown on Monday – and completely cut off. Today, most of its pistes were open.
As well as great piste skiing, yesterday was a day of wet-snow avalanches on sunny slopes. It was like a spring day after a dump – only the avalanches were much bigger. At the entrance to Val d’Isere one employee working in a mechanical digger was buried by one of them, but survived unharmed in his cabin. His colleagues dug down through the snow for a metre through before they hit his roof.
Of course, over the next few days, the avalanche situation for off-piste skiers will continue to change. It’s going to be affected by a noticeable drop in temperatures, and by a day of moderate snowfall in the south-western quarter of the Alps tomorrow. Anyone leaving the safety of the groomed pistes needs to take heed of all avalanche warnings, carry avalanche safety equipment and, if they’ve got any sense, hire a guide as well.
Here’s tomorrow’s snow forecast for the Alps.
As you can see, the extent of the new snow will be fairly limited. Elsewhere, we can expect the existing cover, which has become heavy in the spring-like sunshine, to harden up as temperatures drop. But by Sunday, temperatures will be rising again.
According to this chart from the European Centre for Mid-Range Forecasting, Monday is likely to be another spring-like day.
What a crazy winter.
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