THE SNOW CANNONS ARE SWITCHED ON
11th December 2016 | James Cove, PlanetSKI Editor
Thousands upon thousands of cannons are switched on across the Alps as the temperatures drop but sadly no snow falls. It is poor low down in ski resorts but there is much better news at altitude. NEW
It is a piece of good news in an otherwise worrying time as Xmas approaches.
It is now cold enough to make snow across many resorts in the Alps.
PlanetSKI has been in Soelden and Obergurgl in Austria this week.
It is a welcome sight.
Huge snowmaking is now underway with the standout areas being the Dolomites in Italy and Les3Vallées in France that have huge capacity.
See here for a feature from last year as PlanetSKI visited the Dolomites to see its snowmaking capabilities – the same is happening now.
So, what are conditions really like at the moment in the Alps?
Some resorts and ski companies are painting a very rosy picture and posting pictures showing snow covered slopes, while others are reporting dire conditions and posting pictures of brown slopes and thin strips of man-made snow.
The answer lies somewhere between the two positions.
Since the start of December we have had PlanetSKI reporters in St Anton, Mayrhofen & Soelden (Austria), Verbier & St Moritz (Switzerland), Sestriere & Sauze d’Oulx (Italy) plus Val Thorens, Courchevel, Val d’Isère & Tignes (France).
Our readers have been sending us information and pictures from other areas.
We have been out on the slopes and seen conditions with our own eyes across much of the Alps.
Overall it is a pretty grim picture in places, but there is hope.
First the grim picture.
The huge snowfalls of November are but a distant memory – much has been washed away by rain or simply melted as the temperature shot up.
The pictures we have taken in the last few days in Austria tell their own story.
At the top of St Anton last weekend was too warm even to turn the snow cannons on.
There were good piste conditions but this cannon, at 2,330m, should have been pumping out snow like it was going out of fashion.
Fortunately it is now switched on.
Some of the lower resorts such as Megève, Morzine and Kitzbuehel are getting increasingly concerned.
They have little, if any, natural snow covering.
Even high resorts such as Les Menuires in France at 1,850m are tantalisingly below the snow line.
However there is good news.
At altitude, and by that we mean over 2,000m, there is plenty of good skiing.
It is better than pre-Xmas 2015 or 2014.
This is what it was like in Val d’Isère and Tignes at the top of the resort a week or so ago.
And check out our videos of piste skiing as PlanetSKI’s senior reporter, Katie Bamber, put her skis through their paces on the pistes.
On Monday PlanetSKI skied on the glacier above Soelden and the conditions were superb..
In Verbier, Switzerland, the pistes at the top of the resort are in excellent condition and the resort has made a fabulous effort with snow making and grooming.
“Snow conditions were surprisingly good on piste and the snow has kept pretty well. It is possible to ski all the way back down into Verbier and this is being maintained well. No problems on piste once you get up the Medran lift,” said a team from the UK ski travel agent, Alpine Answers, who are currently in the resort.
“Obviously, some of the resort is still closed but the skiing was still very good and you can get right up to 3,000m and ski from there all the way down into the village.”
See here for a resort review of Verbier by Alpine Answers.
PlanetSKI’s Chief Reporter, Jane Peel, was in St Moritz at the weekend where the slopes above 2,000 metres were in great condition and well groomed.
Artificial snow also meant it was possible to ski all the way down to resort level at 1,770 metres.
However the photos clearly show the difference between the top and the bottom.
“The general feeling in St Moritz seems to be that they are not panicking yet,” she said.
“An instructor told me he thought around 60% of Corviglia mountain was currently open and probably about 50% of Corvatsch.
“This last weekend was busy on the slopes as St Moritz is close to the Italian border and it was a long weekend in Italy, but they seemed to cope.
“The crowds are expected to return from 26th December and I think they’ll start getting worried in a week if there’s no snow on the horizon.”
In Sestriere in Italy there was World Cup ski racing last weekend.
“Great snow up the hill if not in the valleys,” said one of our readers who was watching the action.
And in Courchevel, France, it has been announced the next women’s World Cup race will go ahead.
“All the efforts to make the race happen pays off. The race course is in excellent shape, although there is still some hard work coming up. We look forward to see the same high class event as last year, no doubt it will be,” said the Race Director, Markus Mayr.
The event takes place on December 20th.
“All efforts have been deployed to make the race happen, especially by snow groomers and snowmaking technicians who produced snow. We are thrilled with FIS decision,” said the Courchevel Club des Sports director, Bruno Tuaire.
That is primarily because it is set to get colder so the snow cannons can be turned on.
Low down it remains poor but high up it is good in the resorts across Les3Vallées.
And that is the saving grace for many – the cannons have been switched on across the Alps.
Here is Soelden on Monday:
It has improved coverage – where the snow has been placed.
We will have a full round up on Thursday this week which will shed more light on what the forecast holds.
It comes from the alpine weather expert, Fraser Wilkin.
Here is his assessment from Monday.
“For the vast majority of the Alps it’s another dry day with lots of sunshine in the west. What’s more, there won’t be any significant change in the broad-scale weather pattern any time soon, which means that the Alps are unlikely to see a proper return to winter before Christmas,” said Fraser.
“As for the rest of the week: another very weak front may again clip the extreme east of the Alps on Wednesday, but for everyone else it will once again be dry with plenty of sunshine. It will be cooler than last week, however, with freezing levels typically between 1500m and 2300m, sometimes a bit lower in the far eastern Alps.”
And if you fancy a ski trip in December our recommendation is go for it – but go to the right resort.
There are some fabulous deals to be had as prices are cut – see all the latest from the major UK tour operators in the PlanetSKI Deals & Discounts page.
And if you want a cheap flight to get to the high-altitude resorts then Ski-Flights is offering Saturday 17th December Gatwick to Chambery at just £99 return (7-nights) and that includes a free 20kgs hold baggage allowance – full details are in our Deals & Discounts page linked to above.
And if you want to keep an eye on the snow conditions don’t forget our main report is out on Friday and this report will be updated daily (if not hourly)
Keep the snow dances going…
They don’t seem to be needed in Montgenèvre.
“I was in Montgenèvre in the southern French Alps last weekend and was pleasantly surprised by the snow conditions there with good snow all the way down to resort level,” said Katie Waddington from Zenith Holidays.
See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.
PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news