Alps Snow Pack Shrinks in Unusually Warm Weather

Record winter temperatures have had a devastating effect on snow conditions in many alpine ski resorts.  Chamonix recently recorded its highest February temperature ever.

Little more than a month ago, at the end of January, most of the Alps had snow depths well above average for the time of year.

How things have changed.

Now, most alpine areas have depths well below average.

The exceptions are the Dolomites, the southern Austrian and south-eastern Swiss Alps.

The culprit has been unusually warm weather.

Last Thursday, 25th February, Chamonix broke its February record when it reached 20.1 Celsius.

The weather forecaster Meteo Alpes says the previous February high in the French resort was 19.6 in 2011.

The same day records were also broken in Bourg St Maurice, the valley town in the Savoie down the mountain from Tignes and Val d’Isere.

It recorded a high of 21.5 Celsius.

Even the high altitude ski areas have been hit.

In Tignes – resort altitude 2,100 metres – the ski lifts are closed, as they are across France, but plenty of people have been out ski touring.

PlanetSKI reader Simon Perry is one of them.

He has so far averaged over 1,000m of ascent every day in 2021.

“The heat has ruined the snow, even on the north faces at a high altitude,” he tells us.

“You need to be above 3,000m on a north face to find relatively soft snow at the moment, and even then it’s not easy to find.

“The spring skiing has been very good up until recently, the snow has had enough freeze thaw cycles to make it great to ski, but now a period of cloud has arrived meaning that there really aren’t any options for skiing on any aspect.

“I can’t remember it being this poor before until April.”

Simon Perry ski touring

Simon’s wife Alexandra Beuchert has, however, been taking advantage of the mild weather.

“I’ve been supremely enjoying running up the hard pack pistes,” she told us.

“12mm track spikes have been great and, up until today, we’ve largely had full sun. Going out in the mornings in a tank top.”

Alexandra Beuchert in a tank top in winter

The warm weather has resulted in a delay to the third round of the 2021 Freeride World Tour in Fieberbrunn in the Tirol in Austria.

It was originally due to take place in a weather window between this coming Saturday 6th and Tuesday 9th March.

“The Austrian Alps are suffering from unusual warm winds that prevent us from holding a competition this weekend,” FWT announced.

“Therefore, we decided to push the weather window until the 17th, to maximise our chances to host a competition, and maybe two if the snow conditions are improving.”

The alpine snow expert Fraser Wilkin of Weather To Ski says there is more snow coming but some areas won’t get anything significant until later next week.

“After a very snowy and relatively cold start to the winter it has been exceptionally mild with little or no significant snow for nearly a month now,” Fraser told us on Wednesday.

“Early in February snow depths were above average, just about everywhere, way above average in places. Now only the south-eastern resorts retain impressive snow depths with many of the lower resorts of the northern and western Alps looking more like it’s early April than early March.

“There is still plenty of good piste skiing in Switzerland and Austria, even at low levels, but freeze-thaw conditions have been prevalent for some time and the loss of snow at lower altitudes has been alarming.

“It is set to get colder later on Thursday/Friday with a little snow for some northern parts of the Alps but we might have to wait until later next week before we even have a chance of some widespread significant snow.”