Can there be too much of a good thing?

Early season skiing has come under fire in recent years. “The snow is coming later and later each year” and “early season just isn’t what it used to be” can often be overheard around après-holiday know-it-alls as they puff their chests at the bar. However this time round, the early season snow drought was nowhere to be seen.

Since the Christmas lights went up, the Alps have been hammered by storm after storm, it looked to be the ideal start to winter, finally the bumper season that the Alps have been deprived of for so long. The patchy, Friesian December cover of recent seasons was a faint memory over Advent with many resorts boasting thick layers of snow.

The naysayers were forced to eat their words, declaring it the best start to the season in decades. Yet at points, this heavy snowfall has danced on the line between dream and nightmare.

For regular snow and weather reports head to the Snow and Weather page on our website.

13,000 stranded in Swiss resort

Zermatt hit the headlines this January after heavy snowfall crippled the resort. The high alpine town was cut off from the outside world when the railway that provides access to the pedestrianised commune was closed as a precaution due to the heavy snow. It should be noted that it is not uncommon for the railway that ferries passengers between Täsch and Zermatt to close for a short time following heavy snowfall.

However, the unprecedented amount of snow that fell in the first fortnight of January forced the railway and road to close from Monday to Thursday.

Although the road and trainline to the high-profile resort were not actually damaged by avalanches, they were covered by a thick layer of fresh snow and in places avalanche debris. The exposure of the carriageways, coupled with the incessant snowfall and the constant avalanche threat forced the authorities to keep the connections closed, leaving around 13,000 tourists stranded in the isolated resort. When there was a break in the weather helicopters would airlift passengers to lower towns for medical reasons. To add insult to injury those without airlifts available were impacted by intermittent power and electricity blackouts for a period earlier this week.

The avalanche risk in areas of the canton de Valais topped out at 5 out of 5, a level calculated by the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research. The last time the risk of avalanche reached the maximum level in the region was in 2009, highlighting how rare it is for the Alps to receive such concentrated snowfall.

Access to the resort has resumed this Thursday morning, however where the tracks are still covered in snow the operators are providing a rail replacement shuttle service – something English readers will be all too familiar with!

Transport Turmoil in the Tarentaise

The Tarentaise is a one of the most popular ski valleys amongst Britons. Unfortunately, under these extreme conditions, its snowy reputation has also been its undoing. Access to many high profile stations was plagued by heavy snowfalls and avalanches in the first half of the month.

Tignes and Val d’Isere have been worst affected, largely due to their vulnerability to the retour d’est phenomenon. Roads to both resorts have been periodically closed during the foulest conditions. The latter was totally isolated due to an avalanche blocking the only road in and out of resort for a time, although this has now been cleared.

Access to Tignes has been intermittent during the storm, with the roads between Tignes 1800 and Tignes Le Lac, and Tignes Le Lac and Tignes Val Claret opening and closing periodically. Holiday makers were ordered to stay inside by local authorities, such was the heightened state of avalanche warning.

Both resorts experienced days where the lifts were not running for safety reasons, however are both now open. Avalanche warnings in the area were set at 5/5 for periods, as they were in Zermatt, and remain extremely high. Riding off piste at present is still extremely hazardous and not recommended.

The 3 Valleys and Paradiski areas didn’t escape the carnage either. The small windy road ascending the mountain to Val Thorens and Les Menuires was closed above St Martin de Belleville owing to the conditions. The 1950 and 2000 stations of Les Arcs were also cut off for a short while for the same reason.

Avalanche danger

Due to the inherent danger of avalanches in resort many resorts shut up shop for days on safety grounds. Saas Fee and Zermatt were closed for 2 days and still remain dormant. It is likely that higher altitude slopes will remain closed for the time being in many major resorts. Resorts in the Milky Way have also received a huge amount of snow, Sestriere particularly, with Monterosa reportedly received 2.5m of snow over a 72-hour period.

Although the deep snow can be inviting, the conditions in the Alps are extremely hazardous. If you are set on venturing off piste, ensure you go in the company of a trained professional and carry all of the essential equipment.

Head to our Info and Advice pages to find out more.

Rain saves the day!

Although the heavy snowfall is causing issues all over the Alps the overall result of the snowfall is a positive one. The amount of snow that has fallen is phenomenal and sets the rest of the season up incredibly.

Ironically it is not snow, but rain that was the welcome guest at the end of the party. Whilst the rain has in some places destroyed the light fluffy off piste, the warm wet precipitation has penetrated the snowpack helping it to bond together. This should help to secure the snowpack, although, as always there are no certainties with avalanche conditions.

Remember to read our daily snow reports for up to date conditions from across the world.