World Snow News 24  *** Snow News 24 

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  • Parts of French Alpssee 1m of snow in time for Christmas
  • Settled but cold week ahead for Alps
  • Ice Storm hits US, brings a little snow to resorts
  • Conditions in Canada set to improve again
  • Snowstorm forecast for Appalachians this weekend
  • Fresh snow in Pyrenees at last
  • Glencoe saved by Invocas
  • Resorts in Lebanon and NW Spain see fresh falls - now close to opening

It is not often that mid December finds skiers spoiled for choice. The combination of a strengthening La Niña in the Pacific and a weak North Atlantic Oscillation means that most of the ski areas of the world are currently in great shape. So many areas saw fresh snow last week that it begins to look like calling this winter a good season is a foregone conclusion. For much of North America, where conditions in the States have improved dramatically during December, it's unlikely to take a turn for the worse. Even so, despite the great start, European resorts are more vulnerable to mild winds as well as long periods without fresh snow so it's a bit early to be confident about the peak months. With an intense high pressure system now building over the Alps it won't take too long before all this wonderful fresh snow is tracked out. The piste cruisers won't mind if it doesn't snow before Christmas, but off-piste powder hounds may be more interested in the snowier weather around Europe's more obscure edges.

It's simpler to mention the few places that don't have great conditions right now than list all those that do. In previous editorials I was pessimistic about the prospects for resorts in Southern California, but even here there they have had about 25cm of snow over the past week. In no particular order, here are some places that are not doing so well this season. Scotland doesn't have great snow depths and is subject to mild SW winds - probably the last thing the new owners of Glencoe wanted to hear. The Pyrenees have seen some snow at last, but the base isn't yet deep enough to be too excited about - but at least they can look forward to new snow next week. Further south, The Sierra Nevada has received very little snow so far this season, and there isn't much sign of that changing. In Scandinavia the snow is getting a bit too old and hard packed for some tastes and with little prospect of fresh snow next week, there are better destinations to aim for.

The Alps
The fresh snow has fallen much as expected. Over a metre fell in the northern French Alps. Valais in Switzerland did well too. Indeed, no major Alpine resort missed out entirely, even if Isola 2000 saw just 2cm. The present mid-week dry and cold weather has followed as forecast too, but the big mistake in last week’s editorial was predicting that Atlantic fronts would return around now. In reality they got about as far as Ireland and stalled. Instead, the ridge of high pressure crossing the Alps quickly became much more intense than expected and now it looks like it is going to sit over central and western Europe for at least a week as a cold stagnant pool of air. The worry is that once established, it could prove reluctant to shift. The North Atlantic Oscillation isn't driving depressions into Europe with the usual vigour and anticyclones over continental Europe at this time of year cool down so quickly - the combined effect risks ringing a sudden end to the pattern of frequent Alpine snowfalls just as we started taking them for granted. Easterlies with snow flurries are still affecting Austria and the Dolomites. These look like they may spread across the Italian and French Maritime Alps for a time with much more significant snow for the Apennines. These cloudy easterlies will fade away by Sunday and these southern Alpine areas will then join the rest of the Alps in having good weather and excellent fresh snow conditions - certainly the best conditions of the season so far in much of France and Switzerland where upper level snow depths are near the 2m mark. There is just a hint that if the anticyclone drifts over Britain as expected, snowy SE winds may return to the southern areas of the Alps in France and Italy next week. Atlantic fronts looks like they will make another attempt to invade Europe in 5 or 6 days as a deepening depression forms off Portugal. As that depression slides away northwards there is a risk of heavy snowfall where it comes up against the cold continental air. It is a long way off, but central and northern Spain, SW France and perhaps even southern Britain are at risk of a period of snow from Thursday through the weekend and it is just possible that the cold air will not have been overcome before Christmas. Hopefully the low pressure will track further into Europe than we expect.

Pyrenees and Iberia
The Pyrenees and Cantabrian resorts got the snow that we forecast last week. Although they saw nothing like the depths reported in the French Alps, it was nevertheless very welcome because it had been so dry for so long - something like 15cm of snow fell in Andorra, more to the west. Current models predict a low latitude Atlantic depression next week will run up along the Portuguese coast next week. Although the wind will tend south over Spain, the airmass is quite cold and we should see some mid-week snow from this system on nearby mountains like Serra da Estrela in Portugal and the Cantabrian Mountains too. It should be sufficient to get places like San-Isidro open. SSE winds, squeezed between this low and the European anticyclone blowing off the Mediterranean may also bring further snow to the Pyrenees - more especially to the eastern resorts; places like Masella in Spain.

The Scottish season spluttered to life a couple of weeks ago and since then the lifts have occasionally been running at Cairngorm but yesterday they were again closed because of high winds which have whipped away a lot of the snow here and almost all of the cover from nearby Lecht. The Ptarmigan bowl should have sufficient cover to allow skiing again once the wind subsides but overall it's not a good forecast for Scottish resorts because it is on the wrong side of the European anticyclone which means it is currently picking up mild SW Atlantic air. It's above freezing with severe gales on Thursday afternoon - especially in the west. This is something that might come as a surprise to people from England where it is mostly cold and frosty. As the high shifts towards Britain, we should at least sea both the wind and freezing level fall next week but any surviving snow may turn icy in these conditions. Apart from a few flurries off the N Sea, no substantial snow is forecast during the next seven days but a chance of better conditions in time for Christmas. Following a successful purchase today from Invocas, Glencoe is open for business and awaiting suitable ski conditions. We wish them the very best of luck - on a good day, Glencoe offers the best skiing in the British Isles and it is heartening to hear that it will be business as usual in 2008.

We mentioned the prospect of cold and dry air edging in from the SE and that is just what happened. It was initially good news but after a few days it has left the pistes quite hard. The mild SW flow will clip northern Norway at first, but otherwise a predominantly cold and dry prospect for at least a week.

Eastern Europe
Resorts in Bulgaria are in good shape following more snow on Wednesday. Only Bansko is open right now (with 1.6m at the top) but all resorts have great conditions and can expect a period of heavy snow on Saturday night followed by a cold week with a mix of sunny and cloudy days. Neighbouring Greece is less well known to foreign skiers which is a shame because nowhere on the Greek mainland is very far from a ski resort. The local Aegean climate has thrown up a few climatic oddities like the spectacularly snow-sure  (and exceptionally scenic) Mount Pilion, near Volos - a snow magnet when an easterly blows and with ideal conditions forecast, we expect heavy falls there in the week to allow them to open next weekend. Kaimaktsalan near the northern city of Florina is already fully open and is also expecting more snow through Saturday. Sunday should be perfect. Most Athenian skiers head to type Mount Parnassos, above Dephi on the northern shores of the type Gulf of name Korinthos. A day pass costs just 13.5 Euros on quiet weekdays. There is currently 15-20cm base and temperatures are -10C and with two spells of snow expected next week; one on Saturday and another on Monday, and according to local oracles, it should open for skiing very soon. Turkey has far higher mountains than Greece and its high plateau gives it a much more continental climate with bitterly cold and often snowy winters. Scattered light to moderate snowfalls are forecast for the next week.  Heaviest snow is forecast for the Balkans at resorts like Tara in Serbia and Montenegro - this snow will be carried on cold east winds first to the Apennines of Italy, and later for Corsica and Sardinia too.

Mount Hermon in Israel has just a dusting of snow at the top and the next 7 days will see a mix of rain and snow so it probably won't open until January. Higher altitude resorts in Lebanon have a much better cover and need just one more fall to open and we expect there to be sufficient new snow this week to allow opening next weekend and if Friday's snow is as heavy as expected. Perhaps Faraya may open as early as Saturday 15th.

Canadian Rockies and West Coast
After a relatively dry spell, the winter storms are gathering again. Whistler is currently 86% open and has about 130cm of base following 10cm of snow three days ago - it's cloudy and cold and there are light flurries of snow. There is a great deal more snow in the forecast. The problem may be finding long weather-windows to enjoy it because apart from a brief hiatus mid-week when the sun may come out for a few hours, it looks like it will stay cloudy and snowy for much of the next 10 days. These systems will penetrate well inland too, bringing regular top-ups at the usual suspects in Alberta where conditions are already excellent.

American Rockies
The bare slopes of late autumn have been rapidly transformed by a succession of weather systems and in the space of 2 weeks, snow accumulations have caught up with European levels - Breckenridge and Copper Mountain now both have over a metre. The most recent notable system was an ice-storm that brought chaos to several states in the mid-west and has left many there without power as cables and branches snapped under the weight of ice. As the system moved away into Canada, rain turned to snow in the polar air that followed. Most of the weather action was west of the Rockies but many resorts there saw a light covering. There is light snow around the Colorado Rockies over the next day or so too. Settled weather following on as pressure builds next week.

Northern California and Nevada may have been late starters this season, but they are catching up fast. A few weeks ago it was warm and sunny but lately it has turned cold and snowy. It went straight from summer to autumn. 40cm of fresh snow was reported from resorts around Tahoe last week and the forecast could not be better - a sunny weekend for making fresh tracks before another system brings more heavy snow on Tuesday and staying cold too. Even Southern California received some snow last week, with 25cm falling on the local Los Angeles resorts - places where they don't really care if it snows as long as it is cold enough for snow-making, and happily it is - more trails are being opened daily at the local LA resorts.

Again, we have to look to the Gulf of Mexico to see what the weather has in store for the eastern USA and Canada and the Appalachian resorts. A deepening low is forecast to quickly track NE over the weekend bringing some especially ugly weather to a wide region - strong wind, heavy rain, snow and more ice. It's a complex weather picture that is evolving quickly so I suggest you closely watch the resort forecasts because the details will change. Stowe in Vermont is typical of resorts in the region in having between 40 and 140 cm of snow at present following a light covering of 7cm a few days ago. We expect all Appalachian resorts to have a very snowy weekend as this system passes. In Canada, Mont Saint-Anne did well last week too. It has partly cloudy skies, with temperatures reaching close to -20 degrees Celsius on Thursday following 18cm of snow on Tuesday. Staying bitterly cold too. It will be Sunday before the passing storm delivers the next heavy fall of snow. Excellent sunny skiing conditions will follow across the Appalachians before a second system takes off on a similar track in a week.

Surely a typo? Not at all. Daytime temperatures on the 4200m summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island average -4C in the winter. It's usually well above the rain-forest clouds but easterly storms can bring occasional deep snow. With vast tracts of cinder, it only needs a moderate fall to allow skiing. It sometimes gets good enough to tempt local surfers out of the sea and on exceptional winter days the road up to the summit sees trucks ferrying local skiers and boarders who can enjoy a respectable 1000m of wide tropical vertical if conditions are right and they are right now. There was once such big storm 6 days ago and the snow cover is still excellent. Expect cold weather and low temperatures and snow showers over the next 7 days.

Best wishes,

The team


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