Cor blimey, Snowfiends; it’s a very mixed picture in the Alps at the moment.
In the west, it’s by turns weird, frustrating and – occasionally – fabulous. Since Friday, we’ve seen rain up to 2500m, followed by snow, followed by brilliant sunshine, and over the next five days it looks like the weather is going to get even more hectic. Wind, snow, rain; you name it, it’s all in the forecast. Fortunately, this unsettled spell should finish off with snow down to 1000m on Sunday night (check out snow forecast for details). Although the settled spell that’s due to follow will be mild.
In the east, it’s been generally cooler and snowier since Christmas. In the south, across the Italian Alps, it’s been dry.
The net result? Austria and eastern Switzerland have the best snow at the moment, and they’re likely to get the lion’s share of the white stuff on Sunday/Monday, too (10-30cm looks likely). Even here, however, the temperature has been yo-yoing about, and it’s been windy too. As a result, conditions off-piste are dangerous and unpredictable. According to the Tirol’s avalanche service, “Inside the old snowpack, hardened crusts are frequently embedded, interspersed with layers of loose, faceted snow crystals” – and there’s a layer of wind-drifted snow on top of that. Confirmation of the treacherous conditions came on Monday, when two members of the US ski team were killed in an avalanche in Solden.
Meanwhile, in the French Alps, there’s a sharp contrast between conditions lower down and at altitude. Below 1800m the cover is thin on-piste, and threadbare away from the groomed slopes. Up to about 2000m south-facing slopes have been affected by the latest sunny spell too, softening during the day and refreezing overnight. At these elevations, don’t be surprised if you find pebbles on piste by lunchtime, as well as black smears of underlying ice.
Higher up the snow is deeper, and the pistes are in surprisingly good nick. In Courchevel yesterday, James Hardiman of Alpine Elements reported that the higher pistes were fast and fun. This polar bear certainly seemed pleased…
Of course, surviving a relatively snowless winter like this one is a lot easier if you’ve got a good snow-making system. Here is one of the Espace Killy’s 800 snow cannons hard at work this morning in Val d’Isere. Thanks to John Yates-Smith of YSE for the photo.
Off piste, conditions vary enormously, and the slopes are almost as avalanche-prone as they are in Austria. However, if you get away from the lift systems in the company of mountain guide, there is superb snow still lurking in the more remote chutes and couloirs…as I discovered this morning in the company of the brilliant Neil McNab.
The Rockies have warmed up, too
The Rockies are having a mild week, but in some resorts the week got off to a spectacular start, thanks to heavy snow which favoured the northern US states and Canada. On Tuesday, Jackson Hole in Wyoming reported just under 90cm of snow in three days. Big White in Canada claimed 56cm in just 36 hours…
|France: the message is a simple one in France. Aim high for good skiing. This has been a mild winter so far – despite the occasional frigid interlude – and you need to have access to lots of slopes above 2300m to get the best of it. Currently in high-altitude Tignes there’s 40-90cm of cover, on-piste: quite hard in places lower down, and much softer on the Grande Motte Glacier. Meanwhile, in Alpe d’Huez there’s 40-95cm of snow on-piste, and Serre Chevalier there’s 80-20cm. Off-piste, your best bet is to hire a guide and go ski-touring.|
|Switzerland: in western Switzerland, the situation is very similar to France. There was some rain at the weekend, and snow higher up; and the happy skiers are the ones with plenty of altitude in their resort. Further east, the snow is generally thicker, but again not brilliant on the lower slopes. Currently Verbier, in the west, has 10-90cm of cover, while Laax in the east has has 35-210cm of cover. In the south, St Moritz, reports snow 13-91cm deep, on piste.|
|Austria: the slopes are white, even in the lower resorts of Austria, and generally it’s cooler. However, the country won’t be immune from the effects of yo-yoing temperatures over the next four days. On Saturday, as in the French Alps, the freezing point could be up to 3000m. Hopefully, Sunday’s snow will repair the damage. Currently Lech, in the Arlberg, reports cover 40-95cm deep. In the Skiwelt it’s currently 50-90cm deep.|
|Italy: the Italian Alps have missed out on almost all the snow that’s fallen since Christmas. Cover is thin on the lower slopes as a result, and most resorts are relying on their snow cannons to keep the pistes in reasonable shape. Currently above Cervinia the snow is 90cm deep, mid-mountain, thanks to heavy snow at the start of winter. Meanwhile, in the Dolomites, Canazei has up to 60cm of cover on its higher pistes.|
|Andorra: in Andorra, the Grandvalira ski area reports a respectable 50-100cm of cover on its pistes, although it too has been suffering from mild temperatures lately.|
|Western USA: After all the excitement of late December in Colorado and Utah, when there were powder days aplenty, the weather has turned a bit meh. Temperatures today are likely to hit +5 or +6C on the lower slopes. However, they will drop back at the weekend, and Colorado should get snow on Sunday and Tuesday. In Utah, Monday night and Tuesday should see fresh snow. Currently, Vail in Colorado has 99cm of snow packed down, mid-mountain, Jackson Hole in Wyoming has 162cm, and Snowbird in Utah 154cm.|
|Western Canada: Whistler reports 44cm of snow on the upper slopes in the last seven days, and a settled snowpack of 122cm. However, it’s suffering from mild temperatures at the moment. Even on the top half of the ski area it’s expected to reach +3C today. Meanwhile, in Banff National Park, it’s colder, with a top temperature of -6C expected at Lake Louise. The resort reports 24cm of snow in the last four days.|