Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Record Low temperatures in the Alps

Skiinfo reports that the roller coaster of winter conditions that has brought a number of weather extremes to both Europe and North America since November shows know sign of relenting, with record low temperatures in the Alps the latest excess from Mother Nature.
Skiinfo’s French office reports the country has seen its lowest temperatures, below -20C at the greatest extreme, in the past week. "The country had not known such cold spell since winter 1996/1997" said Skiinfo’s Virginie Bernat, noting that the cold snap began in late November. The main beneficiaries of the latest snowfalls has been south Eastern France with resorts in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes and Alpes-maritimes all benefitting and even 20cm (eight inches) of snow at Marseille airport by the Mediterranean.
Cold weather has also been the order of the day in Austria and Switzerland, but with limited fresh snow allowing for sunny days on the slopes, some of which have been icy first thing because of the lows. Zermatt continues to offer spectacular conditions.
In Austria more than 90% of the country’s lifts, spread across more than 500 ski area, are open. The little fresh snow that has fallen can be measured in single figures, for example five centimetres (two inches) on the Kitzsteinhorm glacier above Kaprun. The Molltal glacier has the most snow with 330cm (11 feet).
Switzerland is currently staging the Burton European Open in Laax until 17th January with 400 boarders competing for $125,000 in prize money. The resort has had an inch of snow in the past week, Saas Fee a little more with 15cm (six inches). The greatest snow depth is at Zermatt with 650cm (22 feet) – probably the most in the world at present, up on their year round glacier ski area.
Of the snow that has fallen in Western Europe it was North Western Italy that saw some of the biggest falls in the past week with up to a metre of fresh accumulations. "In Piemonte the authorities closed the schools for after snowfall lasted continued for 48 hours on 7-8th January, followed by very low temperatures bringing dangerous driving conditions" reports Skiinfo’s Italy office. Arabba in the Dolomites continues to claim the deepest snow in the country with 480cm (16 feet) but Alagna is gaining ground, or snow to be precise, reaching 440cm (just under 15 feet).
Spain and Andorra continue to enjoy the best winter on the slopes for many years. Spain’s southerly Sierra Nevada has reached 350cm (nearly 12 feet) of powder snow and many resorts in the Pyrenees have more than two metres (nearly seven feet) of powder. Baqueira Beret leads the way with up to 225cm (seven and a half feet) on upper slopes. More snow is falling.
More than 100 athletes from 15 different countries are currently in La Molina for the 2009 IPC (International Paralympic Committee) Alpine Skiing World Cup competing in three different classes – sitting, standing and visually impaired.
In Eastern Europe it’s still a mixed picture although greatly improved from the conditions at Christmas. In the last week were about 100 ski areas were open in Slovakia and 70 in the Czech Republic with up to 120cm (four feet) of snow on upper slo[pes at higher areas, lower centres relying on artificial snow. The picture is similar in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia.
Slovakia joined the Euro at New Year and prices have been falling as the holiday period has finished. There‘s 80cm (nearly three feet) of snow in Vrátna and in Martinské hole there is new six seater chair-lift in operation. Business was up on last year in many slovak resorts, Mr. Kovalčík, manager of Kubínka hoľa ski centre commented, "we are the only ski resort in Slovakia which cut prices and therefore we have increase our customer numbers".
In Norway and Sweden a period of very cold weather with temperatures below -10C has ended and there have been higher temperatures at the start of this week. The temperature is going to drop again in coming days and new fresh snow is expected in many ski resorts, particularly in Western Norway. The glacier resort off Stryn has received the most snow of the past week, reaching 70cm (28 inches). "Many ski resorts in Norway have a high avalanche risk, so off piste is not recommended right now", said Jens-Andreas Løland , Skiinfo’s Oslo-based Norway Country Manager.
Scotland has suffered from a spell of warm, wet, windy weather which has decimated the snow at The Lecht and Glenshee, although Cairngorm still has half a dozen upper runs open and The Lecht has limited cover on their nursery slope. Forecast cold temperatures should improve things. On The West Coast Glencoe and Nevis range are yet to open for the winter.
In North America the heavy snowfalls in the West have eased although modt resorts continue top accumulate a few inches of fresh. It has been the turn of the East coast to benefit most in the past week though with up to a foot (30cm) of fresh powder in New England.