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Travel chaos in the Alps
Saturday December 27, 2014 - Email this article to a friend

The huge snowfalls brought gridlock to parts of the French Alps on Saturday with roads closed and people cut off in resorts. There were further problems on Sunday. Thousands had to overnight in emergency shelters with cancellations at alpine airports.

The snow is very, very welcome but came on the main transfer day of one of the busiest weekends in the season; changeover day between Christmas and New Year.

Despite the warnings of snow the amount caught some people by surprise. 

The authorities declared  an "orange alert" on Saturday for snow and ice in four departments of eastern and southeastern France; Savoie, Haute-Savoie, Isere and Ain.

The alert was lifted on Sunday as the difficulties eased.

On Sunday there were still problems as snow fell but it has eased off.  However thousands of people were still stranded.

"Getting to the ski stations is still difficult and snow chains are compulsory. The advice is that all those who can should delay their journey," said the French Transport Ministry in a statement.

The Ministry of the Interior said the 83 emergency shelters opened on Saturday at the heigh of the problems were open again on Sunday to cope with stranded motorists.

The situation had though improved from Saturday.

The UK tour operator, Crystal Ski, put on emergency flights on Sunday to get stranded customers back to the UK.

On Saturday 15,000 vehicles are estimated to have been affected in the Tarentaise area of the French Alps alone.

Only 7,000 drivers of 36,000 were able to reach their destination in the whole of the Savoie area according to the Interior Ministry. 

More than 2,000 people, mainly British, were stranded at Chambery airport on Saturday night.

All the UK tour operators have been struggling with their transfers.

The airports accessing the northern and western Alps have been hit with some long delays at Geneva and Lyon.

Chambery in France, a main charter airport, was especially badly affected.

Crystal Ski released the following statement to customers as the troubles developed:

"We're aware that due to the snow there have been major delays in Savoie and the surrounding areas. We're getting a handle on the situation now, and we'll update you all as soon as we can," said the statement on Saturday afternoon.

It has customers stranded at Chambery, either unable to get on flights home or make the journey to their resort.

It called the weather "unprecedented".  It has been taking people to and from the Alps for decades.

Some were put up in emergency accomodation.

Emergency AccommodationEmergency Accommodation















One coach took 8 hours to get the 20kms from Meribel to Moutiers and the scene is described as "chaotic".

British driver Gavin Rigby told BBC News that he had taken 11 hours to drive between Val d'Isere and Bourg Saint Maurice. The journey normally takes 45 minutes.

One man is reported to have died as his car skidded off the road near Chambery and other vehicles have hit each other causing huge tailbacks.

Inghams has also had severe problems.

"We ask for your patience and understanding and apologise for any delays and inconvenience caused," said a statement from Inghams on Saturday afternoon to those people affected.

Inghams offered further advice later.

"We know that due to an incredible dump of snow last night - made worse by snow in the UK as well - there have been major delays to some of our flights and resort transfers. We are all working hard here in the UK and abroad to get things back to normal as soon as possible," it added.

There has been criticism of the tour operators, and also praise.

"Although the going is slow, the roads into Morzine and Les Gets are currently clear and flowing, ploughing is constant and excellent while transfer companies are doing an excellent job juggling flight delays," said Morzine Source magazine to PlanetSKI.

Earlier the road between Bourg and the resorts of Tignes and Val d'Isere had been partially closed due to the amount of snow on the road and the danger of avalanche from above.

More than 70cm has fallen and it has been accompanied by strong winds causing drifting.

People trying to get up to Tignes were advised to stay down the valley. 

Others who wished to leave were told not to attempt the journey.

"We recommend you very strongly not to attempt to drive up the road this evening. There is accommodation in Albertville, Bourg St Maurice, Sainte Foy and other places," said a statement from the resort on Saturday evening. 

Here was the scene on the road up to Tignes on Saturday.

The road to TignesThe road to Tignes

















Emergency accomodation was laid on in Moutiers.

The Larnaud gymnasium on the Courchevel / Méribel road was taking standed people as was the village hall.

Vulnerable people including elderly people, disabled people, children and pregnant women are being offered shelter in the local secondary school.

Earlier in the day the road from Tignes 1,800 to Tignes Le Lac was closed. 

On Saturday night it was closed again due to severe danger of avalanche.

It was the same across many resorts in the area including Meribel, Courchevel, Val Thorens, La Plagne and La Rosiere.

There were problems in the southern Alps too.

Serre Chevalier, FranceSerre Chevalier, France











Heavy snow caused some trees to buckle under the weight and have blocked some roads.

"Traffic is very difficult between Albertville and Moutiers for both sides. Traffic is still very difficult between Moutiers and Les Menuires, snow chains are COMPULSORY," said a statement from the authorities.

At Geneva airport there were problems too with many delays and cancellations.

"Chaotic scenes and very stressed passengers - lots of stories of 10 hour journeys from Meribel and other resorts," said PlanetSKI reporter, Clare Meaney, from the airport.

"Our flight finally took off three hours later than scheduled at 12.29 - just one minute before the Geneva curfew time. There were 35 passengers missing from the flight - presumably still stuck up a mountain somewhere," she added.

Going nowhereGoing nowhere

















For those on the plane with Clare it then got worse in the UK.

They had a 2-hour delay to collect their bags.  

"There were angry scenes with people screaming at the staff and staff threatening to have people arrested. Not surprising that people were angry - it was a completely ridiculous and inexcusable situation. Our bags finally came through at 3.00am - two hours after we landed. Never been so happy to see my own bed!!" she added.

Thousands of British people were driving through France on Saturday to try to get to the Alps.

Some were delayed crossing the Channel due to high winds and were diverted from Calais to Dunkirk.

Winds were gusting up to 90mph in the Calais area.

The Channel Tunnel was also closed for a time causing huge backlogs of traffic on a service that had been sold-out.

When people did manage to get across that was just the start of the problems as the motorways were covered in thick snow.

Northern Europe has been hit by severe weather.

Blizzard conditions all the way through France!" said one of our readers and posted the following image.

Heavy snow across Northern EuropeHeavy snow across Northern Europe













Snow chains are essential and people were advised in recent days to take blankets, plus some food and water in case of delays. 

The sensible ones did as many people are stranded in their cars.

Perhaps the best way to get in and out of ski resorts has been by train.

The image below was taken in Martigny by a PlanetSKI reader on Saturday evening.

There was heavy snow but Swiss Rail was still runnning.

Trains still runningTrains still running













And at the end of the train line there was a bus ready to take the people up to Verbier - despite the snow!

Swiss efficiencySwiss efficiency













"The Swiss Post Bus flew up the hill - the only hold up was car with GB plates driving at a snail's pace!" said the PlanetSKI reader.

In Austria there have been a spate of road accidents caused by cars skidding on ice and a woman is reported to have died in Lower Austria. 

Her 10-year old son survived the crash.

The weather was clearer on Sunday in the French Alps, though there was still some snow, and most things are now slowly getting back to normal.

For further details of the chaos with many more examples of the problems and the investigations now underway, then see this related PlanetSKI article.

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