World Snow News 23  *** World Snow News no. 23

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  • Snowy weather yet again for the Alps
  • Northern California to sees its first storm of the season
  • Up to 1m of snow fell in Vermont last week
  • Scotland opens for skiing, and closes again
  • Skiing begins two weeks early in Bulgaria
  • Pyrenees to see some snow at last, but mostly in west
  • American Rockies good and quickly getting better

In October I reviewed how La Niña and the present state of the North Atlantic Oscillation would impact on the northern ski season. So far, things have broadly gone according to the expected pattern. I mentioned that La Niña years tended to provide Northern California and the Rockies with late starts to the season and that's exactly what we have seen - in Colorado and New Mexico, autumn precipitation was just a third of normal and several resorts had to postpone opening. Nearly two months after the first heavy snows hit the Pacific NW, the Colorado Rockies saw their first decent snowfall just a week ago and by the time you read this, the California and Nevada resorts around Tahoe will also be seeing their first decent fall of the season - quite late by their standards. Conditions in the Alps continue to improve as Westerly winds blow in moist Atlantic air. Only Canada and Japan can rival European snow accumulations right now. Bulgaria has also joined in the snow-fest with over 1 metre of early season snow - mostly falling last week. Just one European major area has missed out so far - high pressure over the Pyrenees has not strayed very far for several months but we are increasingly confident that the snow we predicted in the last editorial will duly arrive this weekend. Unfortunately, Sierra Nevada skiers will miss out once again. Overall, things are looking rather promising in the run up to the important Christmas holiday period - a big contrast to last season in Europe .

The Alps

As forecast, it has been a fairly unsettled and snowy week over the Alps especially in western and northern areas. Places like Isola 2000 near Nice however were too far south and too close to high pressure to collect very much snow from the moist westerly winds - though even here, a 70cm base on upper slopes makes for good skiing. Resorts in Austria and Germany typically saw 20-40cm of snow last week and in Switzerland there was enough snow to cause some lifts to close. Verbier reported 45cm of fresh snow three days ago and skiing is excellent as a result right across Valais. Many resorts across France are due to open this weekend including Meribel, Mottaret, Risoul, Courchevel and St Martin de Belleville. Typical snow depths across the French Alps are 40-70cm. While this is less than in Austria and Switzerland the continuing west flow brings the prospect of heavy snowfall this weekend. Quite mild at first, but falling temperatures and strong winds will soon make things pretty inclement above the trees. Following the snowfall, there should be a brief sunny weather window on Tuesday and Wednesday as a ridge of high pressure crosses the Alps ahead of further Atlantic fronts late in the week. Mid-week snow conditions should be excellent.

Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada

There has been such great snow in Alpine resorts for so long that I need to remind myself that the conditions in the Pyrenees are not really that bad for the time of year. Last week was again cold enough for overnight snow-making. Current dry weather should give way to cool NW winds and light snowfalls this weekend although at this stage it doesn't look as if much snow will penetrate as far east as Andorra. The excellent small resort of Gourette near Pau is much further west and should see the most new snow - it opens on December 15th. Some of this weather should also affect the usually snow-sure small Cantabrian resorts much further west - resorts like San-Isidro. Snow should fall here on and off from Saturday through Monday and although we don't expect great accumulations it will be very welcome following an unusually dry autumn. No sign of any significant snow over the next seven days in the Sierra Nevada but at least the nights will be cold enough for snow-making.


Cairngorm was open for limited skiing last weekend but mild mid-week weather depleted the snow depths, currently 20cm at the top with no snow left at the bottom. Thursday's deep depression will leave a cold northerly blast in its wake with heavy snow showers and drifting snow on Friday and the prospect of a better day on Saturday when lifts should be able to operate again. With weather systems moving off the Atlantic in quick succession, the week ahead looks very mixed - stormy and mild on Sunday, cold and snowy north winds again on Monday, more settled on Tuesday and mild too before the next system rattles through mid-week. Watch the detailed forecasts and snow reports to make the most of any brief weather windows in the Highlands .


The west flow continues to drive weather systems through the sea area between Scotland and Iceland but rising pressure over nearby Russia these systems are not continuing across Scandinavia as they were previously. Instead, they are exiting to the north around the top of the high. As a result, it looks like the current snowy spell may be the last for a while and drier and colder continental air may soon edge in from the south east - it is finely balanced. With a couple more days of snow expected and 50cm of cover typical, the prospect of a spell of cold and dry weather must be very welcome.

Eastern Europe

The heavy snow that we predicted for Borovets turned up on Tuesday and they have opened two weeks early as a result. It will remain below freezing with showery snow there over the next 7 days. A heavier spell of snow on Saturday night in the mountains of Greece - heaviest in Mountains around the Gulf of Corninth where 20cm seems likely which is good news for resorts like Helmos near Patras and Parnassos, near Athens Winter has arrived in Lebanon in the Middle East too. There is currently a very unsettled mix with strong winds and thunderstorms in Beirut on Thursday night and snow falling at the high ski areas nearby. It will be windy and often snowy through the weekend but becoming much milder and settled again next week. Not cold enough for significant snow at Mt Hermon in Israel this time, although it is some way off, prospects for the  weekend of Dec 15th are quite hopeful with the chance that cold and snowy NW winds will affect the mountains of both countries

North America

Canadian Rockies and West Coast
Whistler has around 1.2 metres of snow cover including about 70cm that fell earlier in the week. It has been dry since then and that 70cm has been greatly compressed. Temperatures are currently well below freezing, even at resort level and it looks like staying that way over the coming week - always a relief in a La Niña year. Thursday was overcast but Friday / this coming weekend and beyond should see some good sunshine as a ridge of high pressure builds in off the Pacific. There is just a chance of light snow on Sunday afternoon, but nothing substantial until the end of the week. Inland, the Canadian Rockies at places like Banff are in great shape too. Apart from that band of snow arriving a day later, the forecast is broadly similar - the weekend looks settled but very cold - not getting much above -20 deg C.

American Rockies
Before December began, all of the snow action was north of the border in Canada. Since then however, conditions over the American Rockies have greatly improved. A deepening weather system currently over Nevada looks like drifting about the four corners for a few days before exiting into the Gulf of Mexico. Places like Colorado and New Mexico should see heavy snowfalls again. Taos currently has just 50cm of snow but as a result of this storm we expect things to be much better before they open in just 8 days time (14th). In Colorado where many resorts have recently opened, clouds are building and more snow is forecast. Vail currently has 46cm of snow following a 28cm fall last weekend and we expect a similar amount to fall on Thursday and Friday. A lot of cloud and further snow showers through the weekend as the low pressure system slowly moves away south, filling as it goes.

North America - East Coast

Almost 1m of snow fell in parts of Vermont last week, jump-starting the season at places like Stowe where 5 lifts are serving 35 pistes (Thursday 6th). Very cold (max -6C, (21F)) with light snow and snow showers maintaining fresh conditions over the next few days at Stowe. Another band of more significant snow arrives on Tuesday, though snow quantities should be relatively modest - more significant further north for places like Tremblant.


Although we provide forecasts for over 250 Japanese resorts, this major ski area will only be occasionally featured in the weekly editorial. This is because the vast majority of skiers there are not yet users of our site - the Japanese resort forecasts are relatively recent additions. Another reason to omit Japan is the climate. Outside of snowsure Hokkaido the weather is very varied, difficult to forecast and almost impossible to succinctly describe. This is because wintertime finds most of Japan sitting astride the boundary between tropical air and the icy continental Asian airmass which means that freezing levels vary enormously over very small distances - a situation akin to the Appalachians , but further complicated by having sea on both sides. While flat light days and regular power falls are a feature of winter on the northern island Hokkaido a place where winter snowfall is almost relentless, further south things are very complicated and brief mild spells are common, especially the further south and east you go. Right now, Furano on Hokkaido has just over 1m of snow, including a 20cm fall last night that missed nearby Niseko Hirafu. We expect typical December weather over the next 7 days - cold, often cloudy and with snow on and off throughout. Further south, on the big island of Honshu where most people live, Hakuba currently has representative conditions - very good for so early in the season. Friday saw fresh wet snow falling on a 1m base. Snow is expected to turn to rain below mid-mountain for a time today. Easterly winds should keep the weather cool over much of Honshu in the coming week quite snowy through the weekend and again on Tuesday, but with fine spells between.

Best wishes,

The snow-forecast team