Issued: 4th January 2023
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
We’re seeing repeating cycles of weather in many of the world’s ski regions with many seeing the same weather in the first week of January as they did in the last of December.
For western North America that means more huge storms hitting the coastal mountains with 100mph gales and heavy snowfall. Unfortunately, for The Alps it means more mild air and rain to quite high levels, although that rain fell as snow above 2000-2500m. For Bulgaria, there’s been more dry sunny weather and for Hokkaido, in Japan, regular snow deliveries are happening almost daily.
The effect of it all is ever-growing bases and practical problems actually opening during the storms in western North America. There are continuing challenging conditions (not enough snow) on low-lying ski areas in the Alps and Balkans, but fine up above 2000m.
Elsewhere, it’s generally good in the Dolomites, similar in the Pyrenees to the Alps and cold and snowy for much of Scandinavia. Scottish ski areas are also managing to open some limited terrain.
The weather has been largely dry and sunny across much of mainland Europe over the last week, which is good news if you were enjoying the high-altitude skiing in the Alps above about 2000m, or in areas like the Dolomites where conditions have been consistently pretty good. The less good news is in the areas that need snow pretty badly now, especially lower altitude slopes in the Alps. Some famous French resorts like Les Gets are reported to have only a few runs left open. These weren’t helped by more warm weather and rain at lower altitudes (snow higher up) in the west and north at the end of last week. Temperatures have dropped a little since then. Elsewhere, it has been cold and quite a lot of fresh snow in Scandinavia which feels more wintery and things are slowly improving in Scotland too. But the bad start to the season continues in the Balkans in the south with warm sunny weather with no snow.
It has been a largely dry and sunny week in Austria, although conditions are now more unsettled. Temperatures have generally been cooler over the New Year weekend than they were over the Christmas one though with the freezing point down to lower levels, closer to the valley floor in the daytime and seasonal norms. The best conditions remain up on the country’s glaciers and with little fresh snowfall to report bases remain thin, particularly at lower levels, and valley bottoms are still green in many cases. The Sölden (73/168cm / 29/67”), Kaunertal (95/110cm / 38/44”) and Hintertux (10/100 cm / 4/40″) glaciers are the only ones with a metre of snow on their slopes, all are more or less fully open with the stand out with over 140km (87 miles) of slopes skiable. The Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn Skicircus, Ischgl/Samnaun’s Silvretta Arena and the SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental are all in the world’s top 10 for open terrain, with about 200km (125 miles) of slopes open each, representing 70-80% of their maximum terrain.
Not a huge change in the forecast in the immediate future. Although it does look a little cooler and the weather is more changeable this week compared to last with some light to moderate snowfall increasingly likely.
It has been a mostly dry week on Swiss ski slopes with plenty of sunshine. A weak front moved through at the end of last week bringing typically 5-15cm (2-6) inches to freshen up slopes. But, otherwise, it has been mostly clear weather with temperatures cooler than the previous week. So we remain in a position where snowfall is needed for lower slopes and for much hope of decent off-piste conditions. But on higher runs conditions are pretty good on the groomed terrain. The 4 Vallées (Verbier 10/55cm / 4/22”), Zermatt / Breuil-Cervinia (10/110cm / 4/44”) and Ischgl/Samnaun (25/50cm / 10/20”) all report more than 200km (125 miles) of slopes open but the largest ski area accessible from Switzerland, Les Portes du Soleil (via Morgins/Champéry) reports only about 2/5 of its terrain can currently be skied (161km / 100 miles of slopes) and has been offering lift pass discounts. By contrast, Andermatt (9/185cm / 4/38”) and Saas-Fee (25/180cm / 10/72”) have the deepest snow depths in the country and among the deepest in Europe.
The less-than-ideal conditions are set to continue with mostly dry and sunny conditions and the freezing point up above 2000m at times, reaching +10C or higher at 1000m. But higher terrain should mostly be closer to freezing. There’s a chance of some snowfall in the east later in the week.
A weak front moved through the French Alps at the end of last week bringing 5-20cm (2-8”), accumulations, heaviest on higher terrain, but it rained again on lower slopes, if not so heavily as over Christmas. Other than that the past week has been largely sunny, cooler in the north and to lower elevations, but still reaching double digits in valleys in the afternoons. So it’s a case of things stabilising at below-par snow levels rather than improving very much. That said, conditions are good on piste above 1800-2000m and the world’s largest area, the 3 Valleys, now has over 400km (250 miles) and about 2/3 of its slopes open. It’s less good news for France’s second largest area, the lower-lying Portes du Soleil where only about a third of runs are open, although that does still add up to about 100 miles of runs. Puy-Saint-Vincent (75/214cm / 30/86”) remains the only centre in Europe posting a 2-metres plus base. Alpe d’Huez (45/150cm / 18/60”) has lost 50cm (20”) from its previous upper slope depth.
Continuing mostly dry and sunny with temperatures warmer than ideal, the freezing point getting up to 2000m and temperatures reaching +10C at times in lower valleys.
It has been a largely dry week across Italy with plenty of sunshine. Temperatures have mostly been cooler than over Christmas, in the -5 to +5C range. As Italian resorts largely avoided the Christmas rain showers, conditions are actually pretty good across the country, although the snow isn’t very deep. Val Garden (30/60cm / 12/24”), in the Dolomites, has the most terrain open entirely in Italy, 175km (110 miles). But the Via Lattea (Milky Way) (20/90cm / 8/36”) including Sestriere, Sauze d’Oulx and Montgenevre in France, is the largest full area open with 260km (160 miles) of slopes skiable. La Thuile (23/140cm / 9/56”) has the deepest base in the country on its upper slopes.
Similar dry, sunny weather to the rest of the Alps. But temperatures look like they should be slightly cooler than further north with highs of +5C in afternoons in the Dolomites, -5C overnight at altitude.
It’s a rather sorry picture for Germany with only about 20% of its hundreds of small ski areas able to open due to the warm weather at lower elevations. At the larger areas that have managed to open some terrain, the average is only about 25% of what’s potentially available, where there’s enough snow. The past week has been mostly dry and sunny once again, which would be nice if it were colder and more snow was lying. But at present this isn’t very helpful, especially with valley temperatures reaching double digits above freezing. Of what is open, Reit im Winkl (0/40cm / 0/16”) continues to post the most terrain open, about 75% of its 40km (25 miles) of runs while the country’s highest slopes on the Zugspitze Glacier (70/102cm / 28/41”).
There’s no huge improvement expected for German ski areas hoping to open but after the warmer weekend weather. Most areas will see temperatures stay closer to freezing (5C on either side of zero Celcius) and there is some precipitation forecast but there’s a mix of rain and snow, depending on when and where it falls.
Continually improving conditions in Scandinavian with the best snowfalls of the season so far and snow depths building as resorts open more terrain. Norway’s Stranda reported 40cm (16″) of snowfall in 24 hours running up to the New Year and was one of many Scandinavian ski areas posting powder conditions for the start of 2023. Most ski areas that have been in polar night for 24 hours a day have now seen the sunshine reappear above the horizon. At Levi, in Finland, the sunshine returned on January 1st.
Cold, snowy weather to start January for most Scandinavian ski areas with lots of snowfall, typically 5-15cm (2-6 inches) per 24 hours for resorts across the region. More and more of this snowfall is in the far north where the sun returns above the horizon as daylight hours continue to lengthen.
It has been a cold and frequently snowy week in Scotland with gradually improving conditions. Cairngorm (10/10cm / 4/4”), The Lecht (5/5cm / 2/8”) and Glenshee (20/20cm / 8/8”) have all had limited terrain open since Boxing Day with fresh snow on top of runs made with the centre’s all-weather snow-making machines. Glencoe (5/20cm / 2/8″) joined them after several attempts on Friday last week, limiting ticket sales to 150 because of the limited amount of terrain they could on. Marginal weather with the rain/snow line moving up and down the mountainside but weather is mostly cold and snow up high increasing.
Staying cold and overcast with plenty more snow forecast, all being well, heaviest in the west.
SPAIN / ANDORRA REPORT
Unfortunately, conditions remain sub-optimal in the Pyrenees, with another week of temperatures a little too warm and little or none of the needed fresh snowfall (just light snowfalls for some to start the week). So the amount of terrain open has been declining and at resorts like Baqueira Beret (30/45cm / 12/18”) it is down to about 90km (56 miles), about half the maximum and what was open two or three weeks ago. So not the best start to the new year. Grandvalira (10/40cm / 4/16”) is the only area reporting more than 100km (63 miles) of slopes open. The slightly deeper snow is lying on the French side of the mountains with Piau Engaly (20/70cm / 8/28”) reporting the most.
SPAIN / ANDORRA FORECAST
There’s little change expected and no sign yet of the lower temperatures or big snowfalls needed in the Pyrenees. Instead, there’s plenty of sunshine forecast and temperatures largely above freezing at all altitudes in the daytime, a few degrees above up high, more like +10C at some resorts.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA REPORT
Unfortunately, there’s been no real change in the weather in southeastern Europe and ski areas in Bulgaria, Bosnia, Serbia and Romania are struggling to open much with double-digit plus temperatures in valleys and wall-to-wall sunshine. So what’s open is mostly made up of small areas created by snow-making on shady slopes. Most resorts just have a kilometre or two of slopes open still, unfortunately.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA FORECAST
Sadly, other than the chance of a few clouds later in the week, the current forecast is for continuing sunshine, temperatures warm in valleys and above freezing up high. The only positive is some -6C overnight lows up high which should allow snow-makers to work in the small hours.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA REPORT
A mixture of sunshine and cloud over the past week in the Czech and Slovak Republics with temperatures up, mostly above freezing, but only by a few degrees. So as with much of Europe, warmer and drier than would be ideal when more snow is needed really to build on the current thin bases. Most ski areas have so far been able to open 3—60% of their terrain. Pec Pod Sněžkou (40/75cm / 16/30”) is posting the deepest base in the Czech Republic with Jasná (30/70 cm / 12/28”) leading the way over the Slovakian border and also posting the most terrain open in the region, a few kilometres/miles more than a week ago, despite the weather, with 35km (22 miles) skiable.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA FORECAST
Actually one of the more promising snow forecasts for western Europe with temperatures closer to freezing and snow forecast day and night over the final few days of the week. The only blip possibility is temperatures turning a little warmer, particularly at lower levels, which might bring some rain, but hopefully, it’ll all be snow.
NORTH AMERICA INTRO
North America has had another week of active weather systems, particularly in the west, with more big storms slamming into the Pacific Coast. These have carried more significant snow storms east to the Rockies, which have had several more feet of snow. It’s less good news in the east after Storm Elliot brought cold and snow over Christmas weekend. We’ve seen a return of warmer weather with rain at times.
The snow keeps falling in the Rockies with many areas seeing up to 1-3 feet (30-90cm) of snowfall over the past week. Temperatures have generally remained below freezing and dropped as low as 20 below overnight. Although some lower-lying ski towns have seen the numbers creep a few degrees above freezing point into the high 30s/low 40s Fahrenheit some afternoons. Steamboat Resort (20/48″ / 50/120cm) in Colorado report they had 112″ (2.8 metres) of snowfall at the summit by 28 December making it officially the snowiest December at the ski area’s summit in a decade. All the snow has caused some issues though with high avalanche danger outside opened terrain a major issue, leading to a fatality at the closed Berthoud Pass ski area. Most ski areas are fully open including America’s largest, Park City (43/50” / 107/124cm) in Utah. Nearby Alta (43/87” / 106/218cm) continues to post the deepest snow in the Rockies.
The snowy conditions will continue through the rest of the week with low temperatures, well below freezing and plenty more snow forecast.
USA WEST REPORT
The west coast has been hit by another series of huge storms, reflecting what happened at the end of 2021. Although that time it had been a dry December whereas this year it’s been a very snowy first few months of the season. The storms caused operational issues with gale-force winds, low visibility, high avalanche danger and periods of freezing rain at times so it was an ongoing battle to open any terrain through the New Year weekend and outdoor celebrations were cancelled in many areas. Mammoth was the first resort in the world to post a 15-foot (4.5 metres) base this season by the end of last week and The Palisades reported almost three feet (90cm) of snowfall in 24 hours to start the new year.
USA WEST FORECAST
The series of storms hitting the west show no real sign of easing with more lining up in the Pacific with the potential to bring much more snowfall to the region.
Temperatures are back up towards seasonal norms after the crazy lows of a little over a week ago as Storm Elliot blew through. The Midwest was one of the big winners from the storm with some big accumulations as a result of snowfall as the storm moved through, so things are looking much more wintery than they were. There has just been light snowfall with temperatures typically five or so degrees on either side of the freezing point this past week and some areas have had rain. But on the whole, it has been fairly dry. Caberfae Peaks (36/58” / 90/145cm) is currently posting the deepest snow in the Midwest with fellow Michigan Resort Boyne Mountain (40/40″ / 100/100cm) the most open terrain.
After a warm weather ‘blip’ midweek that won’t affect all areas, it’s looking cooler and more consistently below freezing for the remainder of this week and into the weekend. Initiailly, there was not a lot of snow in the forecast, with more overcast skies and dry. But now it seems the storms hitting the Pacific
USA EAST REPORT
Storm Elliot provided a big boost to ski areas in the eastern US, particularly in the north where ski areas like Whiteface (14/36″ / 36/91cm) and Jay Peak in upstate New York and Vermont were posting plenty of powder snow after poor conditions pre-Christmas. The storm brought less snow to other areas although they did see the deep freeze and Killington (23/28″ / 58/70cm), the largest in the region, has top to bottom skiing and about 75% of its terrain open for the first time this winter. Unfortunately, though the weather has turned much warmer, getting into the high 40s Fahrenheit and bringing rain. So, it is one step forward, two back it seems at times.
USA EAST FORECAST
Unfortunately, the weather remains challenging for ski areas in the east with temperatures staying too mild at times and rain rather than snow forecast at times. But it’s a mixed picture with temperature dips and snowfall also possible.
CANADA WEST REPORT
It has been quite a week for western Canada with temperatures yo-yoing through about 30 degrees and some violent storms hitting the west coast bringing gales, rain and heavy snowfall at various times. Whistler Blackcomb (0/145cm / 0/58″) had to severely limit its open terrain at times at the end of last week as it all blew through. Inland, a greater problem was ice build-up on lift machinery, which caused problems for resorts like Big White (40/138cm / 16/55″) and Sun Peaks (80/125cm / 32/50″). But the overall picture is good and there was plenty more fresh snowfall when it was safe and possible to get to it. Kimberley (88/199cm / 35/80″) has the deepest snowpack and just about everything is open.
CANADA WEST FORECAST
It’s looking cloudy but dry for the week ahead with temperatures generally staying below freezing, typically between zero and -15 Celcius.
CANADA EAST REPORT
Things initially improved a lot in eastern Canada since Storm Elliot blew through over the Christmas weekend, with resorts reporting 50-60cm (20-24”) fresh snow accumulations after near drought conditions for much of December until the storm arrived. But then things have warmed up a good deal since, from the very, very low temperatures around Christmas. It’s still sub-zero but not quite in the high double digits we saw pre-Christmas, but there has been rain, damaging the thin snowpack, especially at lower elevations. Quebec’s Tremblant (40/130 cm / 16/52”) is the first in the east to post over a metre of snow lying across 65km (40 miles) of slopes open, about 80% of capacity.
CANADA EAST FORECAST
It looks like the remainder of this week will be dry, frequently sunny and probably warmer than ski areas would like. This is particularly likely down at the base of slopes, which could see double-digit plus temperatures again on mid-week afternoons before temperatures dip again to double digits below Celsius.
A mostly cold and snowy week on Hokkaido and in the north of Japan, less so further south. Niseko (100/255cm / 40/102″) has one of the deepest bases in the country and indeed is in the world’s top 10 for snow depth, reporting temperatures subzero Celcius day and night through the week and near constant snow showers bring 5-15cm (2-6″) more powder daily. It’s a similar picture for most Hokkaido ski areas except in the west, which has been drier. More problematic is the battle to open terrain for resorts in the Hakuba Valley and elsewhere further south where it continues to be warmer and drier, although there’s been some snowfall.
A mixed picture with the low temperatures and daily snowfall expected to continue in Hokkaido and northern Honshu. But getting warmer and drier the further south you get with little expected for regions like Nagano.