When it comes to skiing, one thing you really do need over anything else, is snow. You don’t necessarily need a massive amount of it, but there’s nothing quite as bad as having an expensive ski holiday spoiled by a poor snow cover or soggy snow! With climate change and global warming very much a reality, snow conditions in ski resorts are becoming increasingly unpredictable. Many people now seek out more snow-sure ski areas to guarantee their skiing and boarding pleasure.
But where to go? Which are the best snow-sure ski resorts in the Alps?
The impact of climate change is not something many ski resorts want to talk about. There is no question however, that the c-factor is an important force to be reckoned with. Several small low-altitude Swiss and French resorts have already become unviable, and for similar ski resorts it is getting harder and harder to provide a good-quality snow cover during the ski season.
For reasons scientists don’t fully understand, the Alps are warming faster than the global average. But the issue is not primarily the climate change itself -i.c. higher temperatures-, but an odd mix of (fast) interchanging weather patterns, extreme weather events and stalled weather systems. In addition a phenomenon called seasonal drift has pushed the coldest weather in the Alps from December to the early months of the year and Spring snow melt is occurring earlier in the year, thereby shortening the ski season. In the Southern Alps, which already have less snow than their northern counterparts, snow depth below 2000 meters decreased more than in the Northern Alps. Regional trends sometimes differ considerably. So, what can we learn from the recent past?
Snow-sure ski resorts are all about altitude, the higher the ski area the better the chance of deep and good-quality snow. Still, there are huge differences between ski resorts when it comes to snow depth and snow quality. Most resorts claim to be snow sure but quite often this is simply a marketing ploy. Some hide an over-reliance on artificial snow-making. A handful of sources provide arbitrary snow statistics, like highly stationary snow depth levels throughout the ski season (aka flat-lining).
Many wintersport blogs compile lists of snow-sure ski resorts, which entails in arguable and unsubstantiated claims of the ‘snowiest ski resorts’. The rankings hardly ever exceed a top ten of usual suspects. Are those lists based on facts, perception or maybe a result of incentives? What data, if any, are used? Where are the data obtained, and over what time span?
The focus on a top ten means that a lot of interesting snow-sure alternatives are left out-of-scope and umentioned. That does not seem to be fair. We would like to know what can be said about the level of snow reliability of neighbouring ski resorts and those at lower altitude.
SkiWeather.eu is determined to provide you with an honest and unbiased approach to these questions. We have conducted an extensive and thorough research which took place over the best part of the past 10 years. A massive amount of snow and weather data (30mln+ records) from various sources was processed and analyzed. The objective was to rank all ski resorts on a combination of snow depth and temperature.
Not the snowiest, but the most snow-sure
To be very clear, we are not interested in the snowiest ski resorts based on the snow depth at the top. Most of the times the slope area around the top mountain station is fairly limited, or at least forms a very small proportion of the entire ski area. Snow depth around the top station, peak or nearby measuring station is usually substantially higher then, let’s say, 200 meter lower down.
In this research we therefore assigned scores to over 1.500 ski resorts based on the weekly average snow depth on both lower and upper slopes, and to the variance in temperature. This was done for every week of the the main ski season (week 52 – week 10). Consistent and prolonged low temperature and substantial snow accumulation from top to bottom station result in a more favourable score.
To counterbalance massive snow accumulation at the mountain top we have put more emphasis on the lower slope conditions and the temperature. Therefore, the upper and lower slope snow depth was weighted by a factor of 0.6 and 1.4 respectively. This means that a huge snow depth on the upper slope -in itself- is not enough to qualify as highly snow-sure when the snow cover on the lower slopes is thin. In addition, the attribution of the factor temperature was used as the quality dimension, and it’s weight was set at around one-fifth in the total score equation. The variance of the snow depth timeseries, the occurrence of snow depth outliers and the variance of the maximum temperature timeseries were used as a mitigating factor in the total score.
The 2022 ranking method resulted in a more robust and reliable ranking than in previous years, and a new ‘winner’ : The most snow-sure ski resort this year is the french ski resort Val Thorens in the Trois Vallees. VT has an excellent ski condition track-record: both snow depth and temperature levels are quite stable compared to other ski resorts.
Former number one and winner in the last three measurements; Schrocken Warth had moved down several positions since 2018. Schrocken Warth is famous for it’s pronounced micro-climate which usually leads to massive snow fall and low temperatures over the ski season. However the ski resort, like neighbouring Lech am Arlberg, seems to be affected by higher temperatures at times in recent years. Schrocken Warth (1270-1494m) is situated at fairly ‘low’-altitude compared to other top-ranking snow sure resorts .
The most important change in the top 200 is the position of the Dolomites ski resorts. Their position deteriorated considerably due to the lack of snow fall in the eastern part of the Southern Alps in recent years. But also the Lombardian Madesimo gradually moved down the top 10 over the past measurements; an indication of the problematic snow fall record of many Italian ski resorts.
The overall score resulted in the following ranking for the ski resorts with at least 50km of slopes.
The most snow-sure ski resorts in the Alps
|1.||Schrocken Warth||Schrocken Warth||Schrocken Warth||Val Thorens Les Menuires|
|3.||Val Thorens||Val Thorens||Val Thorens||Obertauern|
|4.||Madesimo||Sankt Christoph||Montgenevre||Tignes Val dIsère|
|5.||Sankt Christoph||Val dIsère Tignes||Sankt Christoph||Schrocken Warth|
|6.||Val dIsère Tignes||Madesimo||Val dIsère Tignes||Breuil Cervinia|
|7.||Lech Zurs||Les Arcs||Madesimo||La Rosière|
|8.||Peisey Vallandry||Lech Zurs||Lech Zurs||Andermatt|
|9.||Passo Tonale||Peisey Vallandry||Les Arcs||Les Arcs|
|10.||La Plagne||Passo Tonale||La Plagne||Hochsolden|
To avoid any discussion about the exact position of a ski resort in the ranking, we grouped the top 200 ski resorts into rank classes, each containing ten ski resorts. Rank class I ski resorts can be considered as the most snow-sure in the Alps and, are a very safe bet as a destination for your next ski holiday. Please note that although ski resorts in the lower-rank classes may have a lower chance at having deep and high-quality snow or a shorter ski season, they are still a very good option when the conditions are right; when there is a (positive) deviation from the long-term trend, which happens more often as weather systems meander more frequently. Moreover, the price level in these resorts is usually much lower…
These are the most reliable or snow-sure ski resorts:
Val Thorens (2300-3200m)
At an altitude of 2300m, resorts don’t get much higher than this. 99% of the ski area is positioned above 2000m which ensures the best quality snow during its long season. Val Thorens is with a doubt an excellent bet for good snow conditions. Europe’s highest major skiresort is naturally one of the continent’s most snowsure right from the start to the end of winter. As well as the altitude advantage, Val Thorens also has a high proportion of north-facing slopes and access to not one, but two glaciers. Val Thorens is so confident of its snow cover it offers a snow guarantee.
Sank Christoph am Arlberg (1740-2811m)
Located in the famous Arlberg region and sandwiched in-between Lech, Stuben and Sankt Anton -which are all very snow sure resorts- tiny Sankt Christoph adds altitude to the equation. Settled in front of the Flexenpass at an altitude of 1740m it is one one of the best destinations for early or late season skiing in Austria.
Austria’s only purpose-built resort also comes with its own micro-climate and was cleverly positioned just so for access to the finest snow. Long term records reveal a snowfall average in Obertauern of nearly 8m, with the encircling peaks of the Niedere Tauern mountain range causing an ice-bucket effect that keeps temperatures super low.
Tignes and Val dIsere (1550-3456m)
Tignes sits above the treeline at 2100m with a top lift height of 3456m on the Grande Motte. Tignes is open before all other ski resorts in Europe and is the last to close its tracks. Like neighbouring Tignes Val d’Isere can get significant snow from storms of both Atlantic and Mediterranean origin. Tignes and Val dIsere are amongst the most reliable resorts in Europe for good snow due to the extent of high altitude skiing (60% of its 300km of slopes are above 2500m).
With it’s own micro-climate making things colder and more precipitous than others in the area, Warth-Schrocken averages over 10m of snowfall each year. Long term records taken at just 1600m show a seasonal average of nearly 11m of snow. Even in bad years Schrocken and Warth are snowier than many of it’s higher-altitude rivals.
Breuil Cervinia (1520-3820)
At 2050m, Breuil Cervinia is one of the highest resorts in the Alps, guaranteeing excellent, snow-sure skiing throughout the season and into summer.
La Rosiere (1176-2800)
La Rosière is the snowiest ski resort in the Tarentaise. La Rosiere has the benefit of being sited on the sunnier yet still snow-sure southern side of the domain, This is explained by its exposed position perpendicular to storms funnelling up the valley from the west.
Andermatt has a big reputation for snow that few Alpine ski resorts can rival. Key to this is the way it benefits from storms arriving from different directions. The resort is equally likely to get dumped on from the north, the west or the south, and is therefore an excellent place to hedge your bets. The main Gemsstock mountain is also high and shady, so the snow that does fall sticks around, and is often in good condition.
Les Arcs (1800-3225)
The snow-sure, high altitude resort of Les Arcs is an excellent end of season destination. The skiing rises as high as 3225m on the Aiguille Rouge summit, and in good conditions stretches down to the tree lined pistes at 1200m. It’s an excellent variety of terrain.
Passo Tonale (1200-3016m)
Tonale is a high-altitude resort perched in a wide, open expanse that is both snow-sure and sunny. It is actually one of Italy’s highest resorts and is guaranteed good snow and a long season. Presena is the glacier just south of Passo Tonale which sits at over 2700m, so this coupled with the generous snowfall makes Tonale the perfect spot for powder seekers. Incidentally, Tonale is one of the cheapest snow sure destinations.
In the table below the average percentage of ski slopes and ski lifts that er in operation during the ski season. It is an indication of the risk that not the full ski area is available at any day. Some ski resorts are prone to bad weather (high winds, avalanches), or the age / maintainance level of the ski lift system. Once again, Val Thorens has a good track-record, as do Les Arcs and Obertauern.
|4.||Tignes Val dIsere||74%||76%|
In addition to our research on the snow reliability of ski resorts we did an analysis on the spatial variability of (complete) snow depth and temperature timeseries in order to discover which resorts have a similar micro-climate profile.
The map below shows all the ski resorts included in the research (data available). Ski resorts with an identical marker have a similar micro-climate profile. The clustering is a result of timeserie-profile analysis over a 10 year period. Basically, the map shows the classic north-south divide (by the main Alpine ridge) and the divide between the Western and Eastern Alps. But in this N-S/W-E lay-out there is still significant differentiation, which means that the direction of a storm front has a different impact on the (sub) regional scale. The best example is the Northern Alps, and most notably the region below the Bodensee (e.g. The Arlberg region). In general, the Northern Alps have a mixed situation of profiles (clusters). This is due to the fact that this area is prone to Fohn.
The lesson-learned here is that although ski resorts are in close proximity to each other, that does not guarantee the same weather pattern and snow conditions. This is particularly true for ski resorts in the Northern Alps like Tirol and Vorarlberg.
The cluster id is included in the snow-sure ranking.