Tag Archives: Snow

A strange season

Finally, fresh snow in the Alps!

Finally, fresh snow in the Alps!

It’s been a funny old season so far in Europe, and not in the laugh out loud sense of the word. Loads of early snow in November got people excited about the prospect of another great snow season, but other than a dump over Christmas and New Year, conditions have been pretty spring-like on the whole.

Forecasts for fresh snow have kept coming, only to be pushed back or diminish in substance. Things were starting to get pretty desperate but fortunately the Alps received a big dump of snow on Monday night, which has revived not only the slopes but spirits too.

Dan Tignes Jan 14 rockThe mister is out in Tignes at the moment and the fresh snow has quickly turned his grumbles into gloating. Not sure what’s worse! I am, of course, just jealous as it looks amazing, and certainly a far cry from the footage of sketchy conditions that he was sending me a few days ago, which was infinitely more bearable.

However, it’s not all good news. Unfortunately this cycle of snow followed by prolonged periods of thaw that we’ve experienced so far this season, combined with a weak layer of hoar frost that formed in November, has resulted in an extremely unstable snowpack and one of the highest avalanche risks in years. There have already been at least 20 fatalities and as many injured in avalanches throughout the Alps and we’re only a matter of weeks into the season.

Dan Tignes Jan 14

Today in Tignes

There has been much debate over whether or not people should be venturing off piste at all this season, and while it may seem a little extreme and premature to be making such sweeping statements, there’s absolutely no doubt that any forays off piste should be treated with extreme caution.

Until yesterday, with such little fresh snow around, the off piste hasn’t really looked all that enticing anyway, but it’s when fresh snow comes to snow starved slopes, not to mention snow starved riders, that the real danger arises. The temptation is to hit the fresh pow hard to make up for lost time, but it’s easy to forget that under that fresh stuff is a layer of bullet proof snow, and lurking further below that is particularly unstable layer that’s already been responsible for an inordinate number of deaths. As avalanche expert Robert Bolognesi described it: “It is as if there are ball bearings under the more recent snow. The layers have not adhered to each other”. For more info on this check out Peter Hardy’s article in the Telegraph.

Breck Jan 14

Current conditions in Breckenridge. Yeah, whatever.

The overriding message is be very careful out there. If you’re determined to venture off piste, make sure you know what you’re doing; are with people who also know what they’re doing; and that you’re all properly equipped. And there’s no point just carrying a transceiver – you need to know how to use it! Lecture over.

Of course, on the other side of the pond they’ve got the opposite “problem” of extremely low temperatures and shed loads of snow. Great if you’re in the mountains, but possibly not so much if you’re trying to go about your daily business in New York.

And Scotland’s actually not looking too bad either. It’s the resorts on the west that are faring the best (that bit closer to North America, I guess!) and there are some stunning pictures emerging from Nevis Range. The Scottish mountains are no stranger to strong winds but recently they’ve taken a real beating. Storms have caused damage, prevented uplift and blown away precious snow in the ski areas, but fortunately it seems to have calmed down now and is looking pretty good.

Nevis Range Jan 14

Nevis Range looking awesome

I’m planning to get up there soon, but in the meantime the relatively mild weather in the lowlands has meant that I’m managing to get in plenty of mountain biking, which is helping to curb my cravings to shred.

The next trip is to Bansko in Bulgaria in a couple of weeks, where I’ve been invited by British run chalet company, Snomads. Unfortunately they’ve also been cursed by a slow start to the season so I’m crossing fingers for a miraculous turnaround in the next fortnight! Who says it’s all about powder anyway? 😉

Over to you…

How’s your season been so far? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

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Snoooooow!

Val Thorens today, 29 October!

Wow, what a weekend! Pictures have been flying around the internet showing just how much snow has been falling across the Alps! There has been half a metre of fresh in some places, with even more forecast! What’s even better is that it was accompanied by extremely cold temperatures which has allowed it to settle, right down to the valley floors. Surely this has got to bode well for a great start to the season?!

Opening day at Mt Norquay, Banff

Over in North America, conditions are also looking fantastic, with the season already in full in full flow in certain resorts. Mt Norquay in Banff opened on 25th October, two weeks ahead of its scheduled opening date, making it their earliest ever opening! Conditions in Vail also look fantastic, with knee high powder already over in Blue Sky Basin!

Knee deep powder in Blue Sky Basin, Vail – 25 October

There was even snow in central London this weekend, with Freeze Festival going off at Battersea power station. The snow might have been artificially produced, but freezing temperatures added a true authenticity! Festival goers were able to marvel at some of the world’s best riders hitting the gravity defying kicker, assembled from scaffolding, which was awe inspiring in itself! The standard of riding was incredible with the likes of Jamie Nicholls, Billy Morgan, Dom Harrington and Cody Hierons making light work of the monster kicker. The best result for the home crowd was Billy Morgan taking first place in the International Big Air: the first Brit to do so in 5 years!

Jamie Nicholls at Freeze. Photo: Ian Ashmore

There were also some pretty massive headline acts to complement the riding, with DJ Shadow and the mighty Public Enemy taking to the stage after dark. All in all, the general consensus seems to be that this was the best Freeze yet!

It’s impossible not to be excited about the start of the season after a weekend like that!

Was anyone at Freeze? What was your highlight? Got any trips to the snow planned? Leave a comment and let us know… Let’s share the excitement!!

Pre-season snow fix

It’s been dumping with snow in the Alps over the past few days, generating much excitement and anticipation for a great start to the ski season. And with still two months until most alpine resorts open for business, things are certainly looking good!

Les Arcs this morning (16th October)!

The first snowfall of the season came even earlier this year though, with snow falling in Canada, The Alps, and even Scotland, as early as the end of August! As it happened, I was travelling out to the French Alps when they received their first substantial snowfall, which settled as low as 1800m.

We were actually expecting to catch the end of the alpine summer, but the driving rain that hammered our car on the journey from Geneva to St Gervais seemed to suggest that summer had well and truly ended. The next morning snow was clearly visible on the Aravis mountains, which is almost unheard of at the end of August! Fortunately the weather had improved dramatically overnight and by the end of the day the sky had cleared and the sun reappeared. However, the snow remained on the mountains for the duration of the weekend, serving as a tantalising reminder that winter is just around the corner.

La Vallée Blanche from the top of the Aiguille du Midi

A trip to the top of the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix increased our hunger for winter even more. At 3842m, its precipitous peaks and glaciated valleys are permanently shrouded in deep ice and snow, in the form of La Vallée Blanche glacier, and overlooked by the formidable Mont Blanc, which looms above.

The views from the top are absolutely stunning and you can’t help but be transfixed and humbled by your surroundings. In winter it’s possible to ride down La Vallée Blanche, with a guide, but although there’s still plenty of snow in summer, the crevasses are too exposed for it to be safe. Instead, our descent was made in the vertiginous cable car, and as we plunged back down to Chamonix, we were already planning our next ascent, which will be with our boards, and a guide, in tow!

To see more pictures of the stunning views, check out the album on the Riding Switch Facebook Page.

Another twist in the tail…

From this...

Well, the storm that was forecast to hit Colorado this weekend (see previous blog post) certainly didn’t disappoint! Just when it looked like the fat lady in the sky was about to sing, she started puking pow!

Breckenridge received 8 inches of snow in 24 hours, and, in an ironic twist that would make Ms Morissette wail, Aspen got 13 inches, just in time for its closing day! Still, it must have been a pretty epic closing day!

...to this. In a couple of days!

These pictures show just what a difference a couple of days have made, providing yet another twist in the tale of the tail, of this crazy season!

Breckenridge is open until the end of the month, so there’s still time to enjoy its revitalised slopes…

Thanks again to Pip from Powderbeds.com for the pre-storm photo. Typically she had left before the arrival of the fresh snow, so the second picture is courtesy of the lucky people at Aspen Snowmass.

Winter 2011/12: a season of surprises and mixed fortunes

Fresh snow in Argentière on Wednesday

Winter 2011/12 really has been a season of surprises and mixed fortunes. In Europe, it started with a worrying lack of snow, but within a matter of days had gone from one extreme to another, leading to lock down in certain resorts, and some of the best snow records in recent years. Then early March saw the premature onset of spring, which brought temperatures more commonly associated with summer. Fortunately the fantastic base that had accumulated earlier in the season managed to withstand the prolonged period of high temperatures and minimal snow, but by early April it was beginning to look as though the end might be nigh.

However, in keeping with the twists and turns of the season, this week has seen winter return to the Alps, replenishing the pistes in certain resorts with more than 20cm of snow, and ensuring that the season definitely isn’t over yet!

A very bare looking Aspen Highlands earlier this week

Unfortunately it isn’t quite the same story over in parts of the US, where they’ve had a pretty dismal season. In Colorado, spring has well and truly set in, and without a substantial base to withstand the high temperatures, the snow has started to retreat rapidly. Pip Holmes from Powderbeds.com has been out in Colorado for the past week and sent these pictures, which show the extent of the thaw. Unsurprisingly Aspen have announced that they’ve decided to close Aspen Highlands this Sunday, well before its scheduled closing date.

It’s a completely different story up in Canada though, where it’s been dumping all season. In Whistler they’ve had an incredible 13.4m of snow so far, and the end still seems a long way off. It’s also a similar story in Banff and Lake Louise where they’re pretty close to beating their annual snowfall record.

Breckenridge on Thursday

It’s even been snowing again here in Scotland, just days after we were basking in some of the hottest March temperatures on record. Sadly it’s been too little too late to make much impact on the ski areas, in what has been a disappointing season compared to the past couple of years. Cairngorm is hanging in there (they had 3cm on Thursday night), but there’s very limited terrain open.

So, conditions couldn’t be more different across the board as winter draws to a close (or doesn’t, as the case may be!), but if the earlier part of the season is anything to go by, anything could still happen. There’s even a storm forecast to hit Colorado today, which could bring a massive dump of snow! As good ol’ Lenny once sang, “It ain’t over (baby) ‘til it’s over…”.

Whatever conditions winter 11/12 has brought, one thing’s for sure: it’s definitely been a season to remember!

What have been your highlights (or lowlights) of the season? Leave a comment below… I’d love to hear from you!

Word on the piste: Andrea attacks the Alps

If we thought we’d had it bad with the recent storms here in the UK, it was nothing compared to the mother of all storms, ‘Andrea’, which has been lashing the Alps over the past 24 hours.

Lift station at the top of Alpe d'Huez this morning, after the storm had passed.

Her name doesn’t exactly conjure up images of a storm capable of unleashing winds of up to 200 miles per hour and a metre of snow, bringing resorts to a standstill and enforcing a lockdown, but when you consider that the name Andrea is derived from the Greek word for ‘manliness’, ‘virility’ or ‘warrior’, it suddenly seems much more appropriate. I guess adding an ‘s’ makes it sound a bit more powerful, but perhaps I’m being sexist.

Anyway, I digress. Reports from the Alps tell of people being stranded in Zermatt after an avalanche blocked the road and rail links to and from the resort; of a 9pm curfew being put in place in Val d’Isere last night due to the extreme weather conditions; of lifts being closed, and avalanche danger ratings being set to 5 (the highest level).

Val d'Isere this morning. Photo: Kevin Harris

But all of this means yet more snow for the Alps which have already received extraordinary levels so far this season. Pictures of vehicles and even buildings buried by the snow show just how much there is out there, and it’s pretty impressive.

It all makes the storms that battered the UK look pretty small fry. But we do at least know how to name our storms. Perhaps the alpine meteorology PRs should have consulted their Scottish counterparts before plumping for the standard WMO moniker. After all, storms don’t come much more virile-sounding than ‘Hurricane Bawbag’. Perhaps ‘Hurricane les Bourses‘ would’ve been more fitting?

 

Word on the piste: From one extreme to another

Is it possible for a ski resort to have too much snow? It certainly appears that way in the Alps at the moment! Ironically, less than two weeks after concerns over a lack of snow, there is now so much that certain resorts have had to close lifts and even roads.

The road to Tignes this afternoon

Pictures from Tignes have been doing the rounds on social networking sites showing snow that’s over 1.25m deep! And it’s apparently still dumping!

Tignes, where one metre of snow fell overnight!

Of course, no one is bemoaning the extraordinary levels of snow (except maybe those who are stuck on the roads!) as things are looking very good indeed for those lucky enough to be hitting the slopes over Christmas and New Year. Just have to hope it eases off enough to get there…!

Anyone out there at the moment? Or been out and managed to get back?! Please leave a comment. I (and others I’m sure) would love to hear about your experiences…!