Thursday, March 12, 2009

Heavy Snow in The Alps, Dolomites and Pyrenees Again

Skiinfo reports that there had been more than 100 powder alarms issued in Switzerland, Austria and Germany by 10am this morning, with many more expected during the day. Snow depths at the Zugspitzplatt have reached four metres (13 feet).
In the boarder region of Germany and Austria the snow ploughs have a lot of work with March continuing to be a very snowy month, especially in and around Oberstdorf in Germany. The local ski hill of Nebelhorn had 80cm (nearly three feet) in the past seven days. "For the staff on the slopes and from the road department it’s a very tough job these days to get the slopes, roads, pavement and hiking trails fit for service quickly" Rolf Köberle of Kleinwalsertal Tourismus, another area hit by more heavy snow, told Skiinfo. "The team are working especially hard however as sunny weather and warmer temperatures are expected from Friday onwards and we expect a lot of skiers will want to get here to enjoy the great conditions", Mr Köberle concluded.
There is lot of new snow again in Austria with some areas reporting up to 95cm (over three feet) in the past seven days. Important resorts like the Skiwelt region, Saalbach, Hochfügen, Ischgl and Silvretta Montafon each had at least 20cm (eight inches) during the last 24 hours. St. Anton and Kaprun/ Kitzsteinhorn had 30cm (a foot) each yesterday, so the latter has more than four metres (13 feet) on the glacier now. The avalanche risk has also risen again, in parts of the Steiermark, Upper Austria, Tirol and Vorarlberg (Lech picture attached) it is high (level 4) today, so staying on the marked slopes, where conditions are fine, is strongly recommended there. In Kühtai in Tirol an avalanche came down on a road this morning but luckily did not harm any people. The Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG) in Austria expects up to 50cm (20 inches)of new snow in Tirol and Vorarlberg for today.
In Switzerland alone there have been more than 50 powder alarms this morning. Five resorts reported more than a metre in 7 days and the avalanche risk reaching 4 in some areas (the highest is level five). Andermatt-Gotthard now has a 500cm (17 feet) base on upper slopes and some Swiss ski areas report up to 140cm (4.7 feet) of new snow in the past seven days.
Skiinfo France issued more than 60 powder alarms for French ski resorts on March 6th and 7th and the snow kept falling with another four alarms issued on Monday 9th March for La Plagne, Montchavin - Les Coches, Saint Jean d'Arves and Pralognan la Vanoise. More snow is falling in the French Alps today.
The Pyrenees continue to be the snowiest part of the country with snow depths reaching 500cm (17 feet) in Gourette. In Piau Engaly, the snow depth is 300cm (10 feet) at the summit and 250cm (eight feet) in resort. It has received the most new snow in the past seven days with 155cm (over five feet) of new snow. "We have not seen so much snow so early in the winter for at least 15 years", said Blandine Vernardet, manager of the resort. "The biggest snowfall was on February 12th and 13th when 180cm (six feet) fell in 24 hours. Last week was almost as good with 140cm (nearly five feet) falling on March 6th and 7th. The ski patrol employed the rarely used technique of dropping explosive grenades from the helicopters to secure the ski domain and the local roads from avalanche danger. The ski area is now totally secure, but be careful with off-piste skiing because the unprepared snow-cover is very unstable due to the rising temperature".
Other parts of the Pyrenees are also reporting good cover. In Andorra there have also been more fresh snowfalls, if a little less spectacular than over the border in France, however all ski areas in the principality report upper base depths of at least 2.5m (over eight feet) and some are nearing three metres (ten feet).
In Spain the country’s sensational winter 2008-9 continues in to a fourth month of regular powder snow. The greatest snow depths in the country have reached five metres (18 feet) at Sierra Nevada, the continent’s most southerly major ski area. In the Spanish Pyrenees the greatest snow depth is at Baqueira Beret which has 390cm (13 feet) on upper slopes, but all areas in the region have at least two metres (seven feet) now on their slopes. This bodes very well for the coming Easter holidays.
Italy has had plenty of snow too, particularly in the north with Piancavallo reporting 180cm (six feet) of snow falling in the past seven days alone. Maximum snow depths have passed six metres on upper slopes for the first time in a number of resorts including Sella Nevea 640cm (21.5 feet). The Presena glacier above Passo Tonale is just 10cm (four inches) behind at 590cm.
The new snow means the avalanche risk is high in parts of Italy too. For the last five days in the Dolomites, the danger of avalanches has been at level 4. The rising temperature, after the snowfall of the last hours, makes the situation even worse. In the next few days the danger will remain high, particularly on steep non-forested slopes in the middle of the day away from groomed trails.
This week is the biggest of the season for ski competition in Sweden as Scandinavia’s leading resort, Åre, which staged the alpine world Championships in 2007, hosts the World Cup Finals. The Men’s and Women’s Downhill races were scheduled to go ahead today. Sweden’s downhill skier Hans Olsson reports that the slopes were good overall but that some of the steep parts were very icy. The weather forecast predicts mixed weather during the rest of the week with temperatures between -1 to -5 degrees and some small snow showers. Elsewhere in Sweden it is Lindvallen that got the most snow in the past seven days with 29cm (a foot)of fresh cover. Lindvallen is included in one of Sweden’s biggest ski systems - Sälen, which has the most skier days in the country.
In Eastern Europe conditions are reported to be good at Bulgaria’s major resorts despite a wide variation in snow depths. Bansko claims the most impressive tally of 240cm (eight feet) whilst Pamporovo has a more modest 90cm (three feet) on upper slopes. In Slovakia 100 ski resorts will be open for skiing this weekend, in the Czech Republic the number is nearer 60. Tatranská Lomnica has the most snow in the Slovak Republic with 130cm (over four feet) on upper slopes. Fresh falls of up to 20cm (eight inches) have been reported this week. This weekend the Slovak snowboard association is organising a competition in freestyle snowboarding at Jasna on the biggest SnowPark in Slovakia with prize money of 1000 Euros.
In Scotland all five ski areas are near to full operation as a second week of more snowy weather has continued to enhance conditions after the dramatic thaw that ended a fortnight ago decimated the great cover a month ago. The main weather challenge in recent days was gale force winds on Monday which led to some lift closures but conditions have since stabalised and temperatures are low.
In North America the snow deluge in California seems to have eased although several resorts have doubled their base depths in recent weeks with Squaw Valley now reporting more than four metre (14 feet) of snow lying on upper slopes – be aware of avalanche danger. There’s been some fresh snow in the Rockies with many resorts in Colorado reporting up to 30cm (12 inches) of fresh snow. In New England there have been some small falls but temperatures are also warming again leading to some thawing.
There’s still more than two months of the season left at some Western Canadian resorts including Sunshine and Whistler and conditions in the region are continuing to improve still further with up to a foot (30cm) of fresh snow helping to further build bases and very cold temperatures maintaining snow integrity. On the East Coast too leading resorts like Tremblant reported another 10cm (four inches) of snow keeping base depths above 1.5m (five feet).
Although the start of winter in the southern hemisphere is more than two months off, Mt Hotham in Australia reported snow flurries last Thursday (March 5th), surprising ‘summer’ guests.

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