Wednesday, February 18, 2009

French Resort Digs Out Chairlift As Six Feet Falls in 48 Hours

Skiinfo reports that whilst healthy snowfalls are continuing in many parts of the Alps, as well as in Western North America and even Japan, it’s the Pyrenees that continue to be the big snow success story of winter 2008-9. In the French Pyrenees snow depths have reached five metres (17 feet) in some resorts. Laure Angla Gré manager of Gourette ski area which has a 450cm (15 foot) base on upper slopes told Skiinfo, "We have exceptional snow coverage this year. On February 11th alone we received 120cm (four feet) of snow in 24 hours. We have to get the snow controlled and safe quickly for holiday makers and for the first time used a technique called "héligrenadage" to reduce the avalanche risk. This involves setting off 12 explosive charges from a helicopter". Cauterets ski area in the French Pyrenees (picture attached) has been digging out its ski lifts after huge snow falls in recent days. More than five feet (160cm) on snow fell on 11-12 February and the total in the past seven days has passed 280cm (nearly 10 feet). Season long accumulated snow depths for the resort are currently standing at over five metres (17 feet).
Elsewhere in the Pyrenees snowfalls have not been quite so massive in the past week, but the ski areas of Andorra and Spain are still sitting on 2-3m (7-10 feet) bases and are well placed to offer skiing top the scheduled end of the season in April and potentially beyond if they wish to extend their opening.
It has also been snowing a lot in recent days in the Northern Alps region of France and to a lesser extent in the Jura and Massif Central regions. It is also still snowing heavily in Austria, German and Switzerland with many resorts receiving more than a metre of new snow in the past week, and Skiinfo issuing numerous powder alarms to subscribers.
Switzerland had the largest falls of all with Sörenberg reporting an incredible 210cm (seven feet) of snow falling in the past seven days (the biggest fall of 60cm/two feet yesterday, February 17th). St-Cergue La Dôle came close with 200cm (6.6 feet), 50 cm of which also fell yesterday. Zermatt continues to have the biggest snow depth in Europe and probably the world with 7.12m (24 feet) on the glacier.
In Austria the greatest snowfall of the past week has accumulated at the Zugspitzplatt Ehrwald which reports 135cm (over four feet) of new snow. Salbach Hinterglemm Leogang added 80cm (nearly three feet); the SkiWelt (including Söll and Going) 70cm (over two feet) and St. Anton am Arlberg 55cm (nearly two feet). The Kleinwalsertal area on the boarder between Austria and Germany received 65cm (Over two feet) of new snow in the past week, which according to Ralf Köberle of Kleinwalsertal Tourismus is, "Natural snow of the best quality – so our snowmakers take a break". The resorts with the most snow in the country now have nearly four metre (13 feet) depths. However it’s imperative to stay on the piste for the time being rather than heading out in to the deep powder as the overall avalanche situation stays critical with a general risk level of 4 (high) on Wednesday and level 3 (considerable) on Thursday. Spontaneous avalanches are possible in areas with lots of fresh snow.
Germany had loads of fresh snow, too. The number of resorts that have a snow base of more than a metre doubled in the past week, with many adding at least 50cm in the seven days and several adding at least a metre. The Zugspitzplatt at Garmisch, which now looks forward to hosting the World Alpine Skiing Championships in two years time following the conclusion of the Val d’Isere Championships at the weekend, has the most snow in the country with a 330cm (11 foot) snow depth. Alpsee Bergwelt and Balderschwang were amongst the resorts reporting the most new snow in the past week, up by 140cm (4.6 feet) and 120cm (4 feet) respectively.
In Italy most of the snow in the past week has been in the centre and south of the country causing traffic disruption as far south as Sicily, which has several small ski areas.
Campo Felice-Rocca di Cambio in the Abruzzo region, one of Rome’s local ski areas, received 25cm (8 Inches) of new snow whilst Ussita / Frontignano in Marche region got the most in the country with 50cm (20 inches) more snow. It’s still snowing in the major ski areas to the north too though with La Thuile and Courmayeur in the NW of the country receiving 40cm/16 inches and 20cm/8 inches respectively. The Presena Glacier above Passo Tonale and Arabba on the Sella Ronda still have the most snow in the country with 550cm (18 feet) and 480cm (16 feet) respectively.
In Scandinavia there was a small amount of new snow at several resorts over the weekend and up to 30cm (a foot) more snow is expected this week.
In Eastern Europe there has also been some fresh snow wirth forecasts projecting more for Bulgaria, Slovenia and Romanie in the coming days.
It’s not such good news in Scotland where after last week’s spectacular snowfalls, temperatures shot up to 13 degrees Celcius at sea level in northern Scotland and were significantly above freezing on the ski slopes above too, leading to rapid thawing of the snow. Fortunately most ski areas have such deep bases, by Scottish standards, the snow is still providing good cover on upper slopes and temperatures are forecast to drop through the week, slowing and possibly stopping the thaw. However Cairngorm is reporting bare patches and more rocks showing through and Nevis Range say that lower runs back to the top of the gondola are getting narrow. Glenshee reports, "Most runs have good cover with soft snow on a firm base. Some high traffic areas are getting scraped thin and with thawing temperatures bare patches are appearing on some runs".
In North America it’s also all change with resorts in California on the West Coast reporting falls of up to six feet in the past week, whilst on the East Coast an unseasonable warm snap has led to daytime melting of snow accumulations in some New England resorts. So far this season New England had been having an above average snow season and the West Coast a below average one. "We had 15 trails that had snowmaking on Saturday morning, and by the afternoon we had about 11 trails with snowmaking, and we'll certainly continue throughout the week", said Bridget Hinman, marketing manager for Whiteface Mountain in New York state. After limited snowfall by Mammoth’s standards during the first three months of its long season, the world famous Californian resort has made up for it big time receiving more than half the season total in the first two weeks of February. That season total is now nearly eight metres (300 inches) but Mammoth has received 165cm (five-and-a-half feet) in the first half of February. The resort’s current base depth of 240-390cm (8-13 feet) means Mammoth will now stay open in to May with a possibility of remaining open into June or July if conditions permit.
In Colorado the new snow has been less dramatic but it is falling. Beaver Creek and Vail have reported aover 30cm (a foot) of new snow each in the past week with the former receiving 21cm (seven inches) of lucky new powder last Friday, 13th February.
Further afield, Japanese ski areas are also reporting "amazing snow falls" throughout January making for a solid three metre (ten feet) plus base at the leading resort of Niseko. The Kutchan Yukitopia Festival is held on the 21st and 22nd February and includes some unique events like the ‘Great Water Trial’ and the ‘Human Donkey Race’ – both not to be missed!