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With snowfall crystal balls in short supply, one of the best indications of where to find the best snow in any coming season will always be when and where it snowed most last winter. Here then, is the story of the season's snowfall and those resorts and countries that did, and didn't, have the white stuff.
mt baker hiking off piste istock

Slow beginnings...

After two years of relatively poor snow in the Alps, October 2015 proved a bit of a tease, with good snow falling on the high glaciers, raising all our hopes for a bumper season. And then in November the sun came out and it thawed... with all but the highest white stuff above 4,000m disappearing under balmy late autumn skies.

Come late November temperatures dropped again allowing some heavy snowfalls in the northern Alps to grasp some early winter snow with both hands, in high and mighty resorts such as Val d'Isère and Verbier. The southern alps weren't so lucky, with the kind of persistently sunny, dry and mild weather that only ski and snowboard magazines complain about.

As Christmas and New Year loomed there was still little of the natural white stuff to find in the Alps, and snowmaking machines across the alps were run at full chat to try and make up the difference. In the end, only the lucky few resorts in the northern alps with altitude on their side, such as Engleberg, Verbier and Val d'Isére, plus those areas with excellent snowmaking, such as the Dolomites, managed to deliver a white Christmas and New Year.

 

New year new snow?

Finally, the disappointments of the festive season behind, the snow started to fall in the north-western Alps, with the likes of Val Thorens, La Plagne, Avoriaz and Mürren breathing a collective sigh of relief as enough snow started to build up to save their seasons. One of Italy's biggest winners in January was the north-western resort of Courmayeur. In the south, the Sella Ronda in the Dolomites was only saved by its heavy investment in snowmaking facilities creating decent piste skiing.

In February, just in time for half term holidays and the busiest two weeks of family skiing in the whole season, the southern Alps resorts were at last able to join the party with decent snowfalls in the likes of Livigno, Selva and St Moritz. At this point though the deepest snow was still to be found at those high altitude early season winners of the north, such as Les Arcs, Chamonix, Avoriaz, Verbier and Engelberg.

In a case of better late than never, March turned out to be one of the best months for snow quality and cover across the whole of the Alps, both in the north and south. In fact the end of the season proved to be the flip side to the poor start, with heavy snowfalls continuing through April and even deep into May in many places. The French resort of Tignes for example, still had fresh snow and 67 of its 79 lifts running at the end of April, and Cervinia in Italy had all 12 lifts running past the end of April.

 

Alps snowiest resorts

Given the narrative of the season, there are no real surprises here, with the Alps' northern resorts coming out on top.

France's 'snowiest' resort: Avoriaz in the Portes du Soleil with 792cm of snow between November and April

Switzerland's 'snowiest' resort: The winner here was Verbier with a 20 percent above average 717cm

Italy's 'snowiest' resort: Courmayeur, with 625cm over the course of the season.

Snowiest resort in the Alps... Austria's Warth-Schröcken, with 884cm at resort level. Though impressive, it's indicative of the overall slightly disappointing season in the Alps that this is well below its long-term average of 1,050cm - the highest resort annual average in the Alps.

 

Snow in the US, a tale of two seasons

In the run up to last season, many experts in the US were predicting a bumper El Nino season for 2015-16, expecting record snowfalls in Southern California and Arizona resorts, while north-western Rockies resorts in both the US and Canada would suffer.

But in the event, almost the opposite happened......

US snowiest resorts: The resorts of Mt Rainier and Mt Baker in Washington state, right up by the Canadian border notched up the best annual snowfall of 1,775cm and 1,580cm respectively (not counting the 2,098cm that fell on remote Alaska's Alyeska resort).

The biggest snow drought sufferers of 2015-16 were in Vermont in the eastern US, where snowfalls at Killington and Mt Mansfield were the worst since 1979, receiving just 208cm and 243cm respectively - a reality borne out by our road trip along its otherwise fascinating Vermont Route 100 'ski highway', which you can find on page 66 of the 2016/17 issue of Snow Magazine.

Although California's Squaw Valley saw 1,247cm in the season, this was just 59 percent of historic averages, and an indication of how the promise of El Nino didn't deliver last season.

 

Where was the best snow in the rest of the world?

Japan: Even the famously powder-packed resorts of Japan were less blessed last season, with a slow December holding back totals. The clear winner though, with 1,383cm of snow was Kiroro Now, near Hokkaido.

Scandinavia: Scandinavian winters are long, of course, and Norway's Hemesedal was still boasting a snow base of 95cm and over half of its 20 lifts still operational at the beginning of May, with Sweden's Åre equally as buoyant for spring skiing. For skiing into June (without resorting to Alpine glaciers), look further, to Finland, whose biggest resort of Yllas in Lapland has some 63 slopes and 9 lifts.

 

Europe's best resorts for snow in the 2015/16 ski season

Warth-Schröcken, Austria 884cm

Avoriaz, France 792cm

Chamonix 730cm

Verbier, Switzerland 717cm

Courmayeur, Italy 2,250m 625cm

Arc 2000, France 599cm

Engleberg, Switzerland 450cm

Argentière, France 390cm

Crans Montana, Switzerland 350cm

La Plagne, France 320cm

Alpe d'Huez, France 310cm

Tignes, France 315cm

 

So, all this might give you an indication of where to go for this years ski holiday although there's no doubt that every year is different in the mountains so stay properly informed with our FREE 7-day weather forecasts and weekly snow reports.