Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Avalanche Warning Levels Hits Maximum As Austria Gets Six Feet (180 cm) Of Snow

Skiinfo reports that very heavy snowfall in Austria has led to more than 100 powder alarms being issued in recent days. Yesterday (Tuesday, February 24 alone), more than 60 were issued, all for Austria, with many resorts, including the country’s largest lift-linked ski area the Skiwelt, receiving more than 50cm (20 inches) in 24 hours over Monday/Tuesday.
The resulting heavy snow means that the avalanche situation is critical with the avalanche warning level at 5, the highest possible level, in the North Alps at present. Houses were evacuated and sections of important roads closed because of the avalanche risk. Some schools have closed and the Obersteiermark region has declared a state of emergency, the 750 inhabitants of Radmer are still marooned after 24 hours with the road to their village was cut off, several others have the same problem.
The Austrian military made their first helicopter flight to supply 500 people in the marooned ski resort of Planneralm near Schladming since the road into the ski resort was closed due to the avalanche danger. A second ski resort, Hochfügen in the Zillertal is also currently marooned because roads are blocked, about 700 tourists are reported to be in the village. In Lower Austria more than 1000 members of the volunteer fire brigade have been shovelling snow off rooftops in half a dozen villages to prevent them from breaking under the heavy snow. For skiers it’s great news for off-piste powder once the avalanche risk lowers, and even on the pistes there’s great snow, which now looks certain to last well beyond the scheduled end of the season. The Altaussee Loser-Sandling ski area received the most snow in the past week, a whopping 190cm (6.3 feet) and internationally better known resorts were not far behind with Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang adding 175cm (nearly six feet), Wilder Kaiser Brixental 165cm (5.5 feet) and Kaprun - Kitzsteinhorn 137cm (4.5 feet). Altaussee Loser-Sandling now has the most snow in the country with 450cm (15 feet) lying on upper slopes and Kaprun - Kitzsteinhorn not far behind with 407cm (13.5 feet).
Germany has also seen heavy snowfalls (averaging 70cm/2.3 feet in recent days). Snow depth on the Zugspitze at Garmisch has reached the four-metre (13.3 feet) mark. There are more than 20 resorts in Germany now with a snow base of two metres (66.3 feet) or more.
For Switzerland the picture is less dramatic but there has been some fresh snow, especially in the north Alps. Zermatt has the top snow depth as usual with 715cm (24 feet) on its glacier. Gibswil has received 210cm (seven feet) in the past week and Laax 75cm (2.5 feet) setting off a powder alarm yesterday (Tuesday 24 February) when 20cm (eight inches) fell.
It has been a quiet week in France, with the biggest snowfalls averaging 40cm (16 inches), primarily in the northern Alps. This is good news for the region which unusually has had less snow so far this winter than the Pyrenees and the South Alps. Avoriaz has had one of the biggest falls of the past seven days with 50 cm (20 inches) accumulated. The greatest snow depth is still in the Pyrenees though with 450cm (15 feet) at Cauterets.
Italy has also had a quieter week for snowfall than in recent weeks, with most of the new snow (up to a maximum of 30cm / 12 inches) falling on the middle and south of the country again rather than so much in the Alps and Dolomites which still have huge snow bases from earlier falls at most resorts. At least another 48 hours of cold weather with snow to low levels is expected in the southerly latitudes. The greatest snow depths remain in the north though with the Presena Glacier above Passo Tonale at 550cm (18 feet), Alagna Valsesia at 490cm (16.3 feet) and Arabba Marmolada at 480cm (16 feet).
In the Pyrenees the three month snow deluge has slowed for a week at least although the base depths for most resorts remain at between 2.5 – 4.5m (8- 15 feet). In Spain Sierra Nevada continues to have the greatest snow depth with more than four metres (13 feet) on their upper slopes there are now more than 100 kilometres of piste open here for the first time. This weekend the resort will host the FIS Freestyle European Cup and the Freestyle National Championships.
In Scandinavia conditions are continuing to improve in Sweden where many resorts now have more than a metre (over three feet) of snow lying. There have also been some healthy falls of fresh snow in the past seven days, with the leading resort of Are leading the way, reporting 36cm (14 inches) of new snow.
In Scotland the thaw which set in a week ago, a week after some of the best snowfalls in years has sadly continued leaving very little skiable terrain left at all five areas, though at time of compilation, each was managing to scrape together a few hundred metres of skiing on a narrowing run or two. However fresh snow is expected today.
Eastern Europe has had some much needed snow and the depths at Bansko have passed the two metre (Seven feet) mark on upper slopes. Coverage at Borovets has also improved and Pamporovo, which was suffering, has reached 90cm (three feet) on upper slopes too.
Canada has been seeing fresh snowfall on both sides of the country this week. On the East Mont Sutton in Quebec has had more than a metre (3.3 feet) of snow in the past seven days. On the west over 18 inches (45cm) of snow has fallen in the past 72 hours at Whistler, taking snow depths at mid-mountain past the five-feet-six-inches (165cm) mark.
In the US the heavy snow has continued on the West Coast with Squaw Valley receiving a few more feet to clock up a spectacular ten feet (three metres) in February to date. The snow is back in the east too with Sunday River in Maine reporting another foot (30cm). Killington in Vermont, which says it has had more visitors so far this season than last year, is running 15 inches (38cm) ahead of the total snowfall (215 inches/5.38m) at this point in the season last year, which was one of the best ever for snowfall.