Break out the Factor 30! Once the clouds clear, blue skies and mild temperatures are the order of the week at least until Friday across the whole of the Alps and the Pyrenees. See our Alpine snow forecast for more details.
Piste conditions in France, Switzerland, and Italy remain good – especially at altitude. But Austria, for once, is suffering – except for resorts close to the Italian border. The freezing level has shot up to 2500m and the balmy south-westerly air is playing havoc with what is already a thin snowpack for the time of year. Lower runs in many resorts are ribbons of white against green and much more snow is needed. Winter still needs to seriously make its mark here to secure a full-length season in some of the smaller resorts.
In the classic destinations such as Val d’Isere, Verbier, and even St Anton there’s some great piste skiing to be found. However, the off-piste remains unusually dangerous – experts are saying that the snowpack is at its most deadly for 15 years. Moreover, the Swiss Guides Association has warned that conditions are unlikely to improve over time.
The off-piste website, Pistehors, quotes avalanche expert Robert Bolognesi as saying: “It’s as if there are ball-bearings under the recent snow.” Xavier de la Rue, four times Xtreme Verbier champion, has emigrated to the Pyrenees for the winter where he thinks conditions are less dangerous. Other pro freeriders are training on piste.
This week the avalanche risk remains three, or even four, out of a maximum five. If you do go off piste, take a guide and make sure you have full survival equipment. This winter we’re seeing a major increase in ABS. An airbag is a sensible piece of kit, but even if you manager to trigger it in a crisis, it by no means guarantees survival – especially in the vicious slab avalanches we are seeing at present.
Across the Atlantic conditions are sweeter, with some fresh falls in the Rockies. Sean Newsom reports from Utah today: “I had a little welcome present from the snow gods on Saturday morning in The Canyons: 10cm of light dry, Utah powder, blown in on a sharp northerly wind. In sheltered spots it drifted into pillows of snow so light it felt like we were skiing air. It did wonders for the pistes, too. All eyes are now on the forecast for the back end of the week. By Utah standards, December was a dry month, and the resorts here could do with a really meaty snowstorm to fill in the tree runs off-piste.”
Here are a few current webcams. The European webcams were filmed at around noon today:
|France: A substantial amount of snow has fallen at altitude, and piste conditions are close to perfection in the higher resorts. However, rising temperatures – 6C in Morzine today – will quickly make inroads on the cover at village level in lower resorts. Currently Morzine-Avoriaz has 120cm at 1800m and 190cm up on the Swiss frontier. Alpe d’Huez has 68cm in town and 210cm at the top of Pic Blanc. Val d’Isere reports 70cm in the village and 110cm at 2500m. Val Thorens has 105/165cm.|
|Switzerland: Conditions have improved dramatically since Christmas with some decent falls over New Year. However, this has served to increase the already substantial avalanche risk. Verbier has half a metre in town and 127cm at the top of the Funispace gondola. Zermatt has 85cm in the resort and 315cm at the top of the Klein Matterhorn. Davos has 28/90cm and St Moritz reports 76-120cm, while in Laax it’s 30-140cm.|
|Austria: Snow depths are pretty varied across the country (see our main report). At altitude, near the Italian border, the snow is deep. In Obergurgl for example, the settled cover is 90-195cm. The snowpack on the Stubai Glacier is 40-210cm. However, Further north, and in the lower resorts, it’s much thinner. For example, in the Skiwelt it’s only 20-40cm deep. St Anton has 20-85cm compared to 73-170cm in the same week last year.|
|Italy: Overall what is more often than not – in snow terms – the poor relation of the Alpine Big Four is experiencing its best start to the season in a decade. The snow is deep in many resorts in the central and western Italian Alps. Currently, above the Aosta Valley, Cervinia reports 60-160cm, and in Madesimo it’s even deeper, thanks to over 2m of snow at altitude from the Christmas storm. Further east, in the Dolomites, there’s 30-80cm for snow above Canazei, and up to 140cm on the slopes above Moena.|
|Andorra: Snow cover across the Pyrenees is excellent at present and Andorra is no exception. Grandvalira (Pas de la Casa, Soldeu-El Tarter) has 90cm on the lower slopes and 170cm at the top of the lift system. Vallnord (Arcalis, Arinsal-Pal) has 100-180cm with an avalanche risk of 3/5.|
|Western USA: See our main report. Colorado has had several top-ups of snow, which have been significant in the north and east of the state. California and the Pacific Northwest remain short of snow and are looking forward to a fundamental change in the weather. Currently, Breckenridge has picked up 76cm since New Year and now has 137cm packed down, mid-mountain. The Canyons has 69cm mid-mountain, while Snowbird reports 124cm and Jackson Hole 145cm.|
|Western Canada: Whistler has picked up another 27cm in the past week and should get an extra 10-15cm over the next three days. The base is now 108cm – rather modest by the resort’s exalted standards. Elsewhere, Lake Louise in Banff National Park has had half a metre of fresh snow over the past week and the base is now123cm in the Back Bowls. Conditions here, as well as in Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay, are faultless. However, it’s a typical January temperature with a high of a bone-chilling -16C.|
January 6, 2014@welove2ski
Break out the Factor 30! https://t.co/1hmU5xVhaC
January 6, 2014Thomas Weller
Hi guys… I follow your reports loyally, if not obsessively, but recently I feel let down by the downer tone you’ve been sounding. Sure Austria needs snow and the northern Alps in general are hurting but couldn’t this be tempered with the AMAZING conditions across all of Italy??? There are so many AWESOME Italian resorts, often much cheaper and spectacularly beautiful but nay a mention except to say “they’re off to a great start.” If you ask me this is hardly a tone with which to convince a British skier who usually goes to St. Anton or Val D’Isere to try some place new. Anyway, take it as constructive criticism, my only wish is to keep this site the best there is on the web.
On a positive note…the avalanche warnings are very well done and clear and I think you are fulfilling your responsibilities well in this regard, health and safety is paramount! Thanks!
January 6, 2014Peter Hardy
Hi Thomas, point taken. I’m just off to ski in the Dolomites – San Cassiano and the Marmolada. I’ll be giving you a full report.