Just a chair lift in the snow, Grand Massif, France
J2Ski Snow Report 25th January 2018
After some more massive snows, the weather has cleared for a few days allowing Alpine resorts to open more terrain.
This Week's Snow Headlines
- Snow in Alps cuts off a number of big name resorts for a time.
- Scottish ski centres enjoy their best day for several years.
- Big snow in Western Canada - Whistler clocks up 1.5m in 72 hours.
- Huge snowfalls close ski slopes in Western Alps due to avalanche danger.
- Japanese ski area hit by avalanche set off by volcanic eruption.
- Europe's (and the world's) deepest base now 6.6m (22 feet)
It has been another incredible week in the Alps with yet more huge snowfalls as January 2018 looks set to go down in the record books as one of the snowiest ever. All the snow has not been great news for skiers and boarders in some resorts, particularly in the Western Alps, as the avalanche danger has been so high they have been unable to open their slopes safely and in some cases access to resorts has been temporarily cut too.
The snow finally stopped falling in most areas on Monday or Tuesday and the skies turned blue allowing those resorts to start re-opening their slopes and re-open road and rail access too. Zermatt was the last to re-open its over-land connection to the outside world, its rail link to neighbouring Tasch, at 5pm on Wednesday. Resorts quickly began posting pictures of spectacular snowfalls and happy skiers, whilst stressing that the avalanche danger remains high outside areas declared safe.
Snow is expected to begin falling again late Thursday and in to Friday and intensify on Saturday, possibly causing more transfer day problems but, currently at least, falls are not expected to be as huge as in previous weeks, probably more in the 20-50cm total range.
Elsewhere Scotland had an epic Saturday with the best conditions for several years, Scandinavia has had some good snowfall and In China and Japan there have been huge snowfalls too. Japan has even had a volcano erupt at one of its ski areas, although that isn't strictly 'weather'.
Across the Atlantic there have been the first really big snowfalls since November in Western North America with Whistler reporting good falls in the past week, boosting its base to 2.7m, one of the deepest in the country. Conditions at ski areas in the Western US are looking increasingly good too.
In the Alpine Forecast
Much more "normal" winter weather is on the cards for the next week. Snow is expected, mostly to the western Alps (northern French Alps, Swiss Alps and northern Italian Alps) but probably not in the quantities of the last couple of weeks. Generally clear and settled conditions will prevail otherwise, with temperatures a little above seasonal averages until the end of the month.
Avalanche risk levels remain high over a wide area and this will continue for a while. As always, be careful to follow local advice if going off-piste; carry avalanche safety kit and do not ski alone.
See when and where it's going to snow...
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Conditions are great in Austria, as snow conditions stabilise and the heavy snowfall gives way to sunny days. Off piste the avalanche danger remains high at most resorts, but resorts are working hard to make groomed slopes safe and more and more terrain is opening. If anything it seems to have been more strong winds rather than excess snow that has been the problem in recent days at some high altitude areas. Only glacier areas like the Dachstein and Kaunertal glaciers were still closed on Wednesday.
Base depths in Austria are exceptional for January with the (closed) Dachstein reporting nearly 6 metres (20 feet) of snow lying and snow depths at St Anton (which was cut off for several days and like many areas had a level 5 maximum avalanche danger over the weekend) from 1.7m in resort up to 4.2m at the top of the slopes.
French slopes have been dumped on once again over the past week, causing big issues for some resorts which had to close all or most of their terrain at times. The Chamonix Valley was particularly hard hit with slopes closed and some guests staying in accommodation in possible avalanche zones advised to stay indoors with shutters closed whilst the avalanche danger remained at 'extreme.' Things began to ease off on Tuesday when resorts began to open terrain, often having to first plough their way to the lifts.
Base depths are still being assessed at some resorts but those that are measuring them are reporting snow reaching 5 metres in depth at La Rosiere and plenty of others are past 4m and many 3m. More snow is on the way from Friday which could cause issues on change-over day.
Italy too has seen plenty of fresh snow of course, with Cervinia having to close all its runs until Tuesday when it began to re-open slopes. It's reporting the deepest base in the country at 3.9m. Other resorts in the Italian Alps are looking good too with 3m bases and base depths in the Dolomites are now as deep as 245cm at Canazei. Here excess snow has not been a slope-closing issue but the Sella Ronda has been briefly closed a few times due to strong winds at high points on the circuit.
A remarkable week in Switzerland which has topped the tables for the deepest snow, the biggest snowfall, the most ski resorts cut off and the highest avalanche danger. Engelberg and Crans Montana have gone tit for tat in a battle for the biggest totals with Engelberg on top at 655cm (22 feet) at present. The avalanche danger is now easing slightly and more terrain has been gradually opening across the country with great conditions reported almost everywhere.
Snowy conditions in much of Eastern Europe too, although again with occasional snow at lower elevations. Bansko reports 20cm of fresh snow and is moving ahead of other Bulgarian areas in terms of snow depth with 40-200cm reported lying compared to 20-50cm at Vitosha. It's a similar picture in other eastern European nations.
Scotland had one of its best days for several years on Saturday when a combination of a week's snowfall ending with a rare perfect blue sky day with no wind led to thousands of skiers attempting to hit Scottish slopes. Unfortunately the demand was so much that the centres were overwhelmed and there was a six mile tailback on the road up to Glencoe and all five highland centres reached capacity and had to stop selling tickets. Sunday was a bit stormy so there were fewer folk on the slopes and this week has seen a rapid rise in temperatures leading to a thaw and more stormy days however centres are optimistic that when things calm down again there should be enough snow left for operations.
Conditions are fairly good in the Pyrenees with almost all runs open and all lifts operating right across the region. There was some heavy snow, albeit with periods of rain at lower altitudes, before the weekend and more snow is in the forecast for the Pyrenees this coming weekend, with up to 60cm expected at some areas. In Andorra base depths are at 40cm to 140cm whilst in Spain depths have reached 225cm at Formigal and the numbers are similar on the French side.
It's looking good in most parts of Scandinavia with up to 50cm of fresh snow reported in Norway in the past 72 hours. Roldal has the deepest base in the area at 2.8m but most resorts have good 1-2m bases. Further East in Finland and Sweden there's been less fresh snow but with temperatures at double digit below freezing the perfectly healthy bases aren't going anywhere and most runs are open and lifts operating.
It's been a very snowy week in Western Canada, in fact as far west as Vancouver Island there was so much snow that Mt Washington ski area had to close for the first time in nearly 20 years, leaving a few dozen skiers trapped overnight. Around two metres of snow fell in a very short period. On the mainland there were huge snowfalls too at Western ski areas like Cypress and Grouse Mountains and Whistler where up to two metres of snow fell again, but here over a longer period – about a week. Suffice to say it's been powder skiing all week. Further east in to BC and Alberta there's been fresh snow too, just not so much, and it's looking good still in Quebec and Ontario with base depths there still good.
Conditions continue to improve in the Western US. For the first time this season Park City, the largest resort in the US has more than half of its runs open – 190 of 347, after fresh snowfall this week. It's a similar picture across ski states California and Colorado as well as Utah. Mt Baker, one of the snowiest resorts in the world, is rapidly moving forward on its base totals with nearly 90cm (three feet) of snow in the past 72 hours and has reached a 4.5m base, the deepest in North America at present. Most ski areas in the Midwest have had fresh snow too and their good season continues. Little fresh snow on the East Coast but bases remain healthy and most lifts and runs open. Temperatures are a little warmer than they have been for most of this month.