The winter has finally returned in the western Alps since last weekend. After a first disruption which began Thursday night, a second front arrived Saturday and dropped a thick layer of -much needed- fresh snow. Below 1500m or so there has also been some rain and sleet at times, but snow did eventually reach much lower levels later on Sunday. In spite of the wind that has complicated the situation, one sees some nice snow accumulations in certain parts of the western Alps. The heaviest falls have been in the the French southern Alps, the (south)western Swiss Alps and some central and western parts of the Italian Alps. The snow has settled at low altitudes too: there’s snow down to village level in The Portes du Soleil and the Dolomites again. Higher up, the off-piste avalanche risk is generally 3/5, down from a very dangerous (4/5) yesterday, but still significant.
The back end of Storm Marcel gave the Pyrenees another 40cm yesterday and overnight, but the storm force winds scraped the snow from some ridge-lines but also dumped tons of snow in the valleys isolating places by means of 2 metre high snow drifts. Current snow depths in the Pyrenees are among the best in the Alps: Luchon-Superbagneres: 110/140cm, Peyragudes: 140/200cm, Baqueira-Beret: 140/180cm. The huge amount of fresh snow and strong wind has elevated the avalanche risk to very dangerous (4/5)
Most other parts of the Alps have also seen some fresh snow, though quantities have on the whole been more modest in the Austrian and eastern Italian Alps. As is so often the case after a few days of storm driven snow fall we now have the payback of strong winds, that will close many top lifts across the French Alps as well as create massive wind slabs off piste.
A active four-day weather front has left nearly 60 to 80cm of fresh snow on the upper slopes of the western Alps. All French ski resorts in particular have done very well – but there’s been snow right across the border region, including the Italian Dolomites. Depending on the altitude and the wind, conditions can be variable at the beginning of the week. There was nearly 70cm of fresh snow at around 2200m in the Belledonne massif. Locally, snow has fallen into low-altitude mountain resorts as in Chablais for example. More than 80cm fell in Les Ecrins, in Oisans, and nearly 70cm in Orcières. Some of deepest accumulations are in the Chamonix valley; 75cm of the white stuff fell between Thursday and Sunday night. Alpe d’Huez, welcomed up to 75cm, with about 70cm in the Three Valleys and 60cm in Val d’Isere.
This new snow is great news for the Alps in the run up to half term. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that base depths remain modest in many areas for early February and that low altitude resorts could still do with more if they are to avoid problems during warm spells later in the season. Anyway, for the start of school holidays in France, the ski conditions are looking great again.
The ski resorts in the western Alps will get more snow on Monday. Although the amounts will be fairly moderate, but it’s likely to bring the five-day total to 80 or 90cm in some places. It will be snowing lightly in the French northern Alps, the north of Switzerland and Austria and in the eastern Dolomites on Monday. You can expect another 5 to 15 centimeters.
A new front is coming in from the northwest on Tuesday. This front will bring some fresh snow to the French northern Alps and the west of Switzerland. Probably 10 to 15 cm of fresh snow above 1000 meters. The front that passes the Alps from the northwest on Tuesday will reactivate itself on Wednesday and will turn into a Genoa depression. This low-pressure system coming from the Gulf of Genoa will hit the Piedmonte with lots of moist air and could stick around until Friday. You may expect at least 10-30 cm of fresh snow, but locally even 50 cm of fresh snow. The Monta Rosa region and sk reorts like Breuil Cervinia may even welcome a bit more (35-70cm).
In the west, the daytime freezing point will be at 1000m on Wednesday. In Austria it’s likely to be at 1500m.
The weather models are throwing up all sorts of interesting options for next week. Most likely it is bringing fresh snow again and it will be generally a bit colder. The 16-20 Feb GFS is currently looking at a cold node coming from the northwest, connecting with a low in the Adriatic and giving good moisture for the Southern Alps. The first part, when the northwest low first hits will give decent snow to most of the Alps.