Pre-Christmas models were inconclusive, but as Christmas arrived so did the predictions of the first real snowstorm of the winter for last weekend. However, its ferocity still took many by surprise as it dumped up to three times the forecast amounts firstly in the French resorts of the North Western Alps and then worked its way East through Switzerland and into Austria. Italy did not miss out and neither did the southern Alps though here the falls were less intense.
What it did bring was utter travel chaos in the Savoie region of France in particular, on one of the busiest Saturday transfer days of the season with thousands forced to sleep in their cars or in emergency accommodation.
It has been a parched December in many places and a very difficult start to the season with resorts struggling to open enough runs to keep the early season visitors busy. Now a collective sigh has been heard throughout most of Europe, though more is still needed.
The weekend’s heaviest falls occurred in the main resorts of France across the Three Vallees, Espace Killy and the Portes du Soleil, where resorts such as Megeve and Morzine have seen the worst starts to winter for many years.
Further snow is forecast, for the coming weekend, preceded by sustained cold temperatures, helping to preserve what has fallen and allow the snow cannons to go into overdrive across the Alps.
In France, Snow stats in some big name resorts now make satisfying reading. For example: Tignes (100/60cm) has 90% of runs open, Alpe d’Huez (120/70cm) now has 80% of runs open, as has La Clusaz (100/40cm), Morzine (110/15cm) and Meribel (100/40cm). Argentiere (160/35cm) is running at 70%, as is Courchevel (100/60cm); Avoriaz (110/70cm), Les Gets (80/40cm), Serre Chevalier (90/30cm).
Les Arcs (85/65cm), Megeve (60/30cm) and Val d’Isere (95/50cm) are still at 60%, while Montgenevre (60/20cm) has only 40% of runs open, underscoring the need for more big falls to sustain the improved overall picture.
In Austria too some parched pistes have been refreshed and it’s still snowing throughout much of the country. St Anton (95/40cm), which was looking especially bleak a week or so ago, is now running at 90%, as is Obergurgl (105/60cm) while Lech (80/60cm) is at 80%. Solden (205/80cm) is looking epic with 80% of runs open. Ischgl (50/15cm) has also opened 80% of its runs, but those snow-depth figures indicate that more is needed here, too. The good news for anyone in or travelling to Austria is that this week’s fresh snow will improve things even more and the top ups are forecast to continue into the coming weekend.
In Italy Madesimo (240/30cm) continues to top the snowfall charts and is now 80% open, while Cervinia (170/55cm) is looking good at 90%, as is Cortina (140/30cm). More light snow is forecast for the coming weekend.
In Switzerland, the weekend’s snowstorm brought joy to Verbier (140/50cm) which benefitted from 40cm in the town and 60cm on the upper slopes and is now 60% open – a 20% improvement over this time last week. Grindelwald, which was looking especially bleak last week with just 10% of runs open and snow depths of 20/10cm, is now showing as 110/30cm and has opened 70% of runs. Improvements too, are reported at Klosters (110/20cm), while Andermatt tops the world snowfall charts with an impressive 3metres on its upper slopes.
Bulgaria is also reporting plenty of fresh snow on the pistes. After falls of around 15cm by Monday, Bansko (80/35cm) is 90% open, while Borovets (75/35cm) and Pamporovo (70/30cm) are both at 80%.
Germany is properly on the scoreboard now: Garmisch (135/25cm) is 60% open. And fresh snow takes Zakopane in Poland up to 45/30cm.
The Pyrenees also saw impressive snowfalls last weekend, and Andorra is basking in clear skies this week, but with 80% of runs open at Pas de la Casa (120/80cm) for example.
Spain also caught the weekend snow and Baqueira (150/75cm) looks good, though, perhaps surprisingly, still only has 55% of runs open – but the snow is fresh!
Scotland now has up to 50% skiing at its resorts, but a mix of rain/sleet/snow, freeze/thaw temperatures and gusty winds makes for a changeable picture.
US and Canada
While the Alps were the story last weekend, on the other side of the Atlantic it’s been business as usual across the US. With more fresh powder last weekend if you’re travelling this weekend you can expect empty slopes, fast lifts and no queues once the New Year crowds have departed. As it is, nearly all major resorts are almost 100% open now, though Aspen (122/91cm), for example, is one big name lagging slightly with 34 out of 43 lifts turning. Nevertheless, here too the skiing is glorious, with a light covering of new snow expected over the next couple of days.
The East Coast resorts is expecting bigger dumps. Killington, Vermont, has 18cm forecast, Cranmore in New Hampshire is looking at 16cm, and even Stowe is hoping for 10cm or more.
In Canada, the Banff resorts of Lake Louise and Sunshine Village are expecting fresh snow this weekend – their first since before Christmas – not a lot, perhaps, but enough to freshen pistes that will be a bit packed down after the holiday crowds have left. Whistler (119/119cm) has only seen a light dusting in the past week, and further east Sun Peaks (114/99cm) continues its impressive start to the season with 91% of runs open. But it’s way out east on the other side of the country where the Canadian snow story is likely to be told next week, as some big dumps of 20cm or more are expected at the likes of Stoneham, Mont Sainte-Anne and Tremblant, which will come as a relief as all three are currently running at under 50% capacity. Stoneham, in particular at 20/20cm has only 18% of runs open.
This week belongs to Norway, where Voss (150/40cm) continues to pile up the powder. The New Year is likely to bring blizzard conditions – maybe not so pleasant, but when the sun does eventually come out, there is likely to be a further 50cm of powder topping up its already incredible pistes.