Greetings from Tignes in France, where I’ve been making my first turns of the season with British ski school Snoworks. I’ve just come down the mountain after a taste of Nick Quinn’s all-terrain course, and we’ve had a cracking morning, skiing gorgeous cold, grippy snow up on the glacier, and more humid, heavier stuff lower down.
It’s been a joy to get back on skis, and great to sample some thought-provoking instruction. And now that the Double M piste is open, all the way down to Val Claret, there’s a lot of ground to cover, too. My legs were screaming by lunchtime.
Today has also been a timely reminder of the need to stay high at this time of year, because the weather is very mild right now. According to French forecaster Meteo-Chamonix, the freezing was expected to reach 3100m today, and by lunchtime it certainly felt like it. It’s more like spring than the beginning of winter here.
It is supposed to cool off a bit during the week: and if you check out our snow forecast for the Alps, you’ll notice there is the odd splash of colour about – predicting high-altitude snow. But there’s no sign yet that properly cold, wintry weather is on its way. Some mid-range weather charts are suggesting it’s coming in the second week of December, but you can’t bank on that just yet. To be on the safe side, if you fancy a cheeky pre-Christmas getaway, you need to target a resort with glacier, like Tignes, Hintertux, or Saas-Fee, or a resort with plenty of skiing up to 3000m, such as Cervinia or Val Thorens.
There’s no shortage of snow in the Rockies right now
For a while this autumn, the weather in the Rockies and the Alps was running parallel, thanks to milder-than-average conditions. But that’s all changed now. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, the Rocky-Mountain ski season is off to a roaring start, thanks to heavy snow in the last two-and-a-bit weeks.
In Breckenridge, Colorado, for example, they woke to 20cm of powder on Sunday morning, and another 18cm today. The season total so far is now 190cm of snow: nearly all of which has fallen in the last fortnight. Meanwhile, Vail, which opened for the season on Friday, had 36cm over the weekend. 1,100 acres of terrain at the resort is already open, and with more snow to come, the resort looks in good shape for Thanksgiving weekend.
However, the real winner this weekend was Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah. Here, just east of Salt Lake City, Snowbird has just had its big helping of Utah snow: 81cm in a couple of days. Alta next door had about the same. Both reports opened for the winter on Friday. What a way to start the season…
Further north, Jackson Hole is looking good for its opening day on Thursday. It reported 30cm of new snow on Sunday, and 132cm so far since the start of winter.
In Canada, Whistler opened for the winter on Friday
Meanwhile, in Canada, Whistler opened for the season on Friday, and celebrated its first weekend with an 11cm top-up of snow. The mid-mountain base on the trails is 44cm deep, so the resort could do one more big dump, and a shift towards colder weather, to really get the season going. The signs are mixed. Up to 33cm of snow is expected over the next couple of days on the top half of the mountain, but it could turn to rain on Wednesday as milder air moves in. Then, at the weekend it should get colder again. ‘Twas ever thus in November. Two steps forward. One step back.
Finally, a big thank you – to Carrentals.co.uk for supplying a hire car at Geneva airport for my trip to Tignes.
|France: in Tignes, there’s gorgeous snow on the Grande Motte glacier at the moment, and the Double M piste is open down to Val Claret. Conditions should improve further this week with more high-altitude snow. However, the weather is mild overall, and if it stays that way it’s going to be tough to open the links to neighbouring Val d’Isere on Saturday. Meanwhile, in the 3 Valleys, high-altitude Val Thorens opened for the winter on Saturday.|
|Switzerland: weather permitting, four glaciers are currently open for skiing in Switzerland – above Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Engelberg and Les Diablerets. Snow cover at altitude above Zermatt and Saas-Fee is exceptional in the wake of the heavy snow in mid-November, although the current thaw is affecting its quality on all but the highest slopes. Verbier is currently opening at weekends, too.|
|Austria: it’s been mild in Austria too, but that’s fine for now, because there’s lots of high-altitude skiing on offer, at Obergurgl, as well as on the Hintertux, Stubai, Molltal, Pitztal, Kaunertal, Rettenbach and Kitzsteinhorn glaciers. On the Hintertux glacier, 40km of pistes are now open, and the snow is up to 185cm deep. All eyes are now on the mid-range weather charts, because a decisive shift to colder conditions is needed in the next couple of weeks to get the lower resorts ready for winter.|
|Italy: early-season conditions have been superb above Cervinia. But here too it’s been warm. In the village today, the temperature was due to hit +10C. Meanwhile, above Val Senales in the South Tyrol, eight pistes are currently open for skiing on the glacier. Above Passo Tonale, on the Presena Glacier, three pistes are also open.|
|Andorra: Andorra’s ski resorts are currently closed.|
|Western USA: see our main report. The mild autumn in the Rockies is now a fading memory, and the season is off to a memorable start. A wave of resort openings marked the weekend just gone, including both Vail and Aspen, and every other ski resort worth its chairlifts will be going by next weekend too. Right now, Utah has the best snow, but the cover is also good in Colorado and Wyoming, with more to come over the next day or so.|
|Western Canada: Whistler opened on Friday, and had 11cm of new snow over the weekend to celebrate. Winter hasn’t properly settled into its stride there yet, though, and there’s a mild spell to come on Wednesday and Thursday. Meanwhile, in Banff National Park, Lake Louise and Sunshine Village are both now open and had a dusting of new snow at the weekend.|