World Snow News 21

Welcome to the latest roundup of worldwide snow conditions, together with weather prospects for the week ahead from

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  • Exceptionally good early season conditions in Austria and parts of Switzerland - the best start to a season in 30 to 50 years.
  • A brief mid week outbreak of gusty Föhn winds is ending - cold conditions will return to the Alps by the weekend.
  • French Alps benefited from a 40cm fall of fresh snow and a brief mild spell has already given way to fresh snowfalls
  • Cold temperatures have arrived in California at last - snow-making is underway but the natural cover is still in short supply.
  • Western Canada continues to enjoy excellent early season conditions and more snow is forecast.
  • Telluride is the latest major Western US ski area to postpone its opening date this weekend as weather patterns stack against the Rockies this winter.

    The Alps

    November 2006 may have been the warmest on record in the Alps, but November 2007 has provided Austria, Germany and parts of Switzerland with the best early season conditions for at least 30 years.

    Even before last week’s snow storms a number of Austrian ski resorts had already opened as much as six weeks ahead of schedule - Schladming - Dachstein opened its doors on 26 October and Kitzbuhel on 2 November. On Thursday night, heavy snow falls saw thousands of drivers left stranded on a highway outside Vienna - up to 50cm of snow fell and about 5,000 cars were involved in a 21km jam along the highway. This low altitude snow followed two days of heavy snow at higher elevations and overall accumulations at ski resorts were much higher. 120cm of snow fell around Davos and Klosters, and as much as 2.5m has accumulated on the glacier at Kaprun. Low temperatures ensured that the fresh snow stayed dry and powdery through the sunny weekend and several more resorts opened early to take advantage including Badgastein, Zell am See, Saalbach-Hinterglemm and Mayrhofen. The German part of the Alps also saw very heavy snow - deep fresh powder conditions where enjoyed by huge crowds at Garmisch-Partenkirchen last weekend. Bitterly cold temperatures at high altitude (below minus 15C at 3000m) rendered the snow on higher pistes sticky but off piste conditions were excellent from top to bottom. In Switzerland, The Jungfrau resorts of Grindelwald (45/115cm), Wengen (40/80cm) and Muerren (40/80cm) have impressive snow depths for the time of year too. They are only open at weekends until they open daily for the season from the 8th December. On Tuesday temperatures began to climb across the Swiss and Austrian Alps as the wind swung southerly. By Wednesday a gusty Föhn wind was strong enough to close glacier resorts and warm enough to strip away much of the snow below about 1500m from prone areas on the north side of the Alps, from Sion in the Rhone in the West, through Chur in eastern Switzerland (where a balmy 15 degrees was recorded) to Innsbruck where it was 13 degrees at 1am on Friday.

    As pressure builds over Western Europe, the Föhn wind is steadily being replaced by a cold northerly - temperatures in some valleys will fall by 20 degrees in less than 24hrs! During the transition, there will be some new snow about - it's already snowing across the French and Swiss Alps and this will snow spread to Austria soon. We don't expect anything like the metre-plus falls of the previous system. Even so, we could easily see 20-30cm of snow in the French, Swiss and Italian Alps and only a little less in Austria. Snow clouds should clear from the west as the weekend progresses to leave a cold and settled week, though weather models are finely balanced with some having the snowy northerly persist for several days.

    Eastern Europe

    While snow conditions in Austria have made the headlines, neighbouring countries have also seen unusually good early season conditions but in these places the relatively low altitude means that some of the snow that fell a week ago has since melted.

    The same system delivered heavy snow right across the Czech Republic, to Poland and Slovakia. A secondary depression formed south of the Alps and this one ran across Italy, the Balkans, Greece and eventually Turkey. Unfortunately, the most notable weather that resulted was widespread flooding for Greece and Western Turkey. Even so, high mountain areas across this region saw very heavy snowfalls and despite rising temperatures, much of this base remains intact at ski resorts from the Apennines of Italy to the Taurus of Turkey - even the summits of the Balearics saw some snow. The next 7 days will see a return to cold weather. Settled at first but becoming increasingly snowy from Sunday onwards from the Apennines, through the Balkans, Carpathians Bulgaria and northern Turkey.


    It has been quite wintry over northern Britain lately. The cold northerly airflow that is heading for the Alps brought a period of snow to the Scottish Highlands on Thursday. With summit temperatures falling to -7C and gale force winds, conditions are very severe for the time of year. There will be further snow showers for the Grampians on Friday too. On Saturday, an Atlantic depression will pass north of Scotland bringing another spell of snow over the Highlands as milder Atlantic air comes up against the resident cold air. As cloud clears away, the northerlies will return and snow showers will last right through the weekend. Next week begins settled and frosty but there is some indication that high pressure will slip to the south of Britain allowing milder SW winds to cross Northern Britain.


    Whereas the present weather pattern is delivering Scotland a typical freeze-thaw cycle, in Scandinavia the warm spells are much closer to zero degrees and so a snow base has accumulated. In Norway, Geilo (5/5cm) is now open for winter snow sports despite a shallow snow base. 5cm of snow fell on Thursday morning and they have four pistes open. Dustings of snow also fell at the other open resorts of Trysil (25/30cm), Oppdal (40/40cm), Hemsedal (5/50cm) and Lillehammer (25/25cm). Voss (30/30cm) is scheduled to open on the 1st of December. The largest open ski area is at Spitzingsee (20/50cm) which has 18km of pistes open. We expect to see further snowfalls for resorts in Scandinavia over the weekend, more especially in SW Norway. If Atlantic SW winds develop next week, freezing levels will rise above the tops so make the most of present conditions just in case.

    Pyrenees High pressure has been anchored off Western Europe for two months with just brief periods of unsettled weather for the Pyrenees and other Iberian ranges - it is a weather pattern that favours the Alps, and more especially the eastern Alps. Apart from some light snowfalls from a bitterly cold northerly the next seven days promise yet more of the same - fine and cold over the Cantabrian Mountains and the Pyrenees. With temperatures of about -10C at 2500m, at least it will be cold enough for snow making. Weather models again indicate that a snow-bearing Easterly airstream may become established in 9 or 10 days time but confidence is very low - last time they predicted this it did not materialize.

    Sierra Nevada The southern outpost of European skiing is located improbably close to the Mediterranean, just a short distance from Malaga. At over 3500m, the Sierra Nevada is a respectably high mountain range and for now at least, it is home to Europe's most Southern Glacier, a boulder covered lump of ice beneath the towering north face of Mulhacen, (3479m). From a skiing point of view, the area is worth considering in poor Alpine seasons because it tends to do better in years that are poor in the Alps. Friday night and Saturday should see further fresh snowfalls before the weather becomes fine and cold again from Sunday. A similar pattern affecting the Atlas too - if anything the weekend snowfalls will be a little heavier here. As with the Pyrenees, the best hope for significant snow is if the weather models are correct in predicting that an Easterly flow will become established in a week or so.

    Middle East Political instability means that this fascinating winter sports region is mostly overlooked by outsiders. Some of the most consistent skiing in the region is to be found on the 3000m+ mountains of Lebanon. However, neighbouring Israeli skiers don't venture here and as a result much lower Mount Hermon, the only ski resort in Israel, is often full to capacity. Similarly, Iran offers a range of very high altitude snow-sure ski destinations that have incredible potential if only political tensions would subside. The ski season in the Middle East tends to begin a month or so later than in Western Europe but some years it allows skiing well into April - when snow does fall it can be heavy and in Lebanon in particular it often lies several metres deep. The week ahead looks mild and dry for Israel and Lebanon but unsettled, cold and snowy for the ski resorts close to Tehran.

    North America

    Heavenly Mountain Resort began making snow this week The Lake Tahoe snow sports season is therefore just days away if temperatures continue to cooperate. The West Coast's largest snow-making system can cover 70 percent of Heavenly's trails in machine made snow. Heavenly's opening day, scheduled for this Friday, November 23rd. Looking further ahead, we expect a welcome fresh fall of snow around Tahoe on Tuesday.

    In marked contrast to Europe, snow depths in the Rockies are modest and with 46 cm of snow Vail is probably the best of the Colorado resorts - 10-20cm of snow is more typical of others.

    A small area of snow is currently sinking across the Eastern Rockies as far as New Mexico and NW Texas bringing the first significant snow of the season to some resorts in these areas - very welcome, but probably not enough to kick start the season anywhere. So far this autumn such snow events have been few and far between and Telluride is the latest major Western US ski area to postpone its opening date this weekend as La Niña winter weather patterns favour the Alps and the Pacific NW and stack against the Rockies, especially the more southern States.

    Across the other side of the continent, East Coast snow conditions are steadily improving following widespread Appalachian snowfall last week that extended coastwards to New York City. On the southern shores of the Great Lakes, there was localised heavy Lake Effect snow too.


    Snow has also been falling on the east of Canada this week allowing Tremblant and Mont Sainte-Anne to open in time for their weekend visitors. A low pressure system currently located over the coast of Maine is expected to bring another 15 to 30 cm of snow to the small resorts in Newfoundland, Labrador and Québec on Friday.

    Moving west, Banff National Park looks cold and dry until Sunday when it will turn snowy and then stay that way through Monday. Bitterly cold too, with resort temperatures as low as minus 16C. Big White (38/38cm) and Silver Star (25/54cm) were scheduled to open on Saturday but this has been postponed until the 30th November. When you consider that Big White boasts and average of 7m of snow in a season, they plainly have some catching up to do but nobody should panic for at least another month.

    The mid-station of Whistler reported 45cm of snow from the last weather system bringing the accumulation there to over 1m and the Glacier is open now too. The weather should stay fairly settled over the weekend - quite mild at first with only light snow flurries about the tops before colder weather and a more significant band of snow arrives on Monday.