Visitors to French ski resorts faced chaotic conditions last week when the snow finally arrived, and are probably concerned as they face the return trip. The good news is that the weather outlook is that the authorities seem better prepared and the weather is milder. Apparently on transfer day last week around 29,000 cars and coaches were left stranded for the night in 80 emergency centres in France and thousands were left stranded at airports.
I was in Switzerland at the same time, and broadly the same weather conditions hit the areas I visited, but there were no delays and no problems that I was aware of. As the Daily Telegraph succinctly put it:
Swiss resorts reached from Geneva airport caught at least the same amount of snow last weekend, but the Swiss managed to keep roads clear. The trains too – from Geneva to Martigny for Verbier and other resorts – ran to their usual clockwork schedule.
Snow conditions now look promising as the season gets fully underway. However warmer temperatures in the next few days mean that the freezing level may rise as high as 2000m. Although well prepared pistes below that level should be OK, lower slopes may see rain rather than fresh snow.
Roman Polanski was seen skiing in Gstaad over the holiday period. The famous film-maker and paedophile is 81 and still skiing, which gives me encouragement of a few more years yet. Madonna was also seen skiing in Gstaad, with one report that she had gone heli-skiing with her kids, presumably looking for virgin snow.
Olivia Palermo was also photographed in Gstaad, although I am not sure if she was skiing as the pictures of her seem to be of her shopping. Indeed, the skiing over the holiday period has been less than spectacular, and I suspect Gstaad, as a low lying resort apart from the Glacier 3000 section of the Gstaad Mountain Rides, fared less well than most of the big name ski areas.
Prince Andrew and Pixie Lott, meanwhile, are enjoying higher altitude Verbier (not together I hasten to add, although the prince is turning out to be a bit of a dark horse).
The festive period was characterised initially by a shortage of snow below 1800m, then high winds above 1800m and finally snowfall amidst plummeting temperatures – the temperature was -18C on the Jakobshorn at Davos on 30th December when I visited.
In fact I managed to visit several resorts between Christmas and the New Year. Pizol, Savognin, Arosa-Lenzerheide, Sedrun and Davos. In addition I managed to get in some great train journeys, a visit to a spa in Bad Ragaz, a walk around sites famously associated with Heidi, an interesting cocktail made with Aperol I tried for the first time on the Jakobshorn for only 1 franc a glass (who says Switzerland is expensive?) and a bunch of other stuff. Updates to resort pages and video footage, as well as details of what I got up to will follow.
Although I am a huge fan of skiing in Switzerland, I actually learnt to ski in Scotland, on the Cairngorm. And, although I have managed to visit every significant Swiss ski resort, I can claim to have skied ALL of the Scottish resorts. Well, all five of them – Switzerland has over two hundred.
The shortcomings of Scottish skiing are several. The weather is unpredictable, the verticals are relatively small and the public transport access is poor. However, I have had some fabulous days skiing in Scotland. Cairngorm is the best known, Nevis (with a top station around 1200m) is the highest and Glenshee the most extensive; all three, on a good day, are glorious resorts to ski and well worth the visit – as good as some of my favourite medium-sized Alpine resorts. Glencoe and the Lecht are more limited, but the Lecht is convenient for where my family live and is good to get a few turns in.
One of these days I may well put together a microsite on Scottish skiing, but in the meantime I can commend an excellent infogram on Scottish skiing, provided by Sainsbury’s Bank. They also have some basic information on each of the resorts.
I reported last week on the English Show that the warm weather and dry conditions were hitting the ability of resorts to make a decent base, and that even a cold snap in mid-December would be followed by unseasonably warm weather. A week later, my prognosis seems to have been borne out, and even Courchevel in France has cancelled events because of poor snow conditions. My advice remains “go high”. You can find which resorts have the highest runs at the Swiss Winter Sports and Snow and Rail websites – on the resort finders you can click on the columns to sequence the tables by any field. High resorts like Zermatt and Verbier, for example, benefit from high glaciers and villages above the ski line, so you can be sure you can ski all the way back into the village. Freezing levels seem to be hovering around 1500m, so any runs above that altitude looks fine, although the snow forecast for the next couple of days comes with warm weather so the snow may turn to precipitation on even some middle stations. The temperature then dips a little and gives way to a period of sunny weather over Christmas where you can be sure the resorts will desperately be churning out the artificial snow on runs where they can establish a base. The good news, or bad news if you plan to ski over the New Year, is that the weather will change after Boxing Day, with blizzards expected by New Year’s Eve and, although the temperatures will still be a little on the high side, this should ensure good snow cover right down to the high valleys into January.
Austria has some glaciers but on the whole the resorts and runs are low, and the country has suffered from too little or not enough snow, with temperatures too mild to use snow-making machines. Italy has fared a little better, and I have had good reports from Cervinia. France should be OK if you go to somewhere high like Tignes.
It is a shame for many resorts, as some visitors will surely cancel plans to ski or snowboard. There seems to have been something of a resurgence too, with most resorts reporting higher levels of planned hotel occupancy over Christmas than last year, especially in Switzerland.
I’m spending Christmas in Bad Ragaz for Pizol. The valley run to Wangs probably won’t be open or much fun if it is, but since I am on the other side of the mountain, that is no great loss. There is also an easy backcountry run from the top of Pizol you can walk up to without skins, although you will need to carry your skis or board beyond the last lift. I also plan to spend a few days in Chur which has easy access to some of the best resorts in Graubünden ahead of the New Year – plenty of altitude nearby in resorts like Flims/Laax.
Many pages at my web site have webcams so you can check out the snow conditions for yourself. If they don’t follow the links to the resort web sites in case they have any other web cams set up.