January 2018 brought the most exceptional weather to the Alps in decades


In January the western Alps were subject to turbulent conditions. Several very active storms swept the western half of the Alps: Carmen, Eleanor, Fionn and David. Westerly wind patterns have resulted in frequent and excess precipitation and consecuently many floods. In fact precipitation broke record levels in France and parts of Switzerland. In addition, large parts were affected by heavy snow, strong winds and yo-yoing temperatures. 

The Swiss ski resort Zermatt was cut-off from the world twice in a fortnight. Andermatt in central Switzerland found itself in a similar situation after rail and road connections were closed due to the avalanche risk. In these ski resorts thousands of people had stranded. Snow also cut off Austria's Ischgl and Sankt Anton am Arlberg. Other resorts in the Arlberg ski area including Lech had also been affected. Meanwhile in France Chamonix and Saas Fee shut-down their entire ski lift system. Across the northern Alps, in the resorts which have been open, skiing was limited, and for many, despite the epic quantities of snow at altitude, several days were soaking wet by rain.


In many ski resorts the exceptional snow depths and the yo-yoing conditions were -and still are- a significant safety concern due to the risk of avalanche. The avalanche danger was mainly high or extreme in large parts of Switzerland and the northern French Alps. Same story in the western part of Austria, the north of the southern French Alps and the regions in Italy on the border with Switzerland and Austria. Portions of the Swiss Alps have received nearly 3 meters of fresh snow fall in one week's time – a level last recorded in 1999.

At the moment, the snow cover in large parts of the northwest of the Alps is on-par with 1999 when the Alps had to deal with with a lot of devastating avalanches. There's already a snow cover of about 200-350 cm at an altitude of 2000 meters in the western part of Switzerland and the northern French Alps. Above La Rosière on the French-Italian border, where over 8m of snow has fallen this winter – records were being set. Tignes and Val d'Isère in the Espace Killy was another epicentre for Alps snowfall this winter, and average base depths on upper pistes are now over 4 metres deep. In addition Engelberg, Morillon, Flaine, Murren and Sankt Anton have reached upper base depths in excess of 4 metres.

Overall, 54% of the ski resorts in the Alps and Pyrenees now have a snow depth larger than 200% of the long-year (10yr) average. Ski resorts in the Vorarlberg, western Tirol and the Quatre Vallees are doing particularly well relative-wise.


Despite these astonishing snow depth and records, it has actually been very mild in the Alps and at low altitudes January looks set to become one of the mildest ever in parts of France and Switzerland.

Written by skiweather on Thursday January 25, 2018

Category: snowreport - Tags: alps, france, switzerland, western, avalanche

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