The secret to choosing a ski resort for snow this winter

val thorens off-road - THIBAUT LOUBERE/OT Val Thorens

val thorens off-road – THIBAUT LOUBERE/OT Val Thorens

The UK may have enjoyed a surprise snowfall in late 2022 – but many of the slopes of the Alps are now wetter than white. A combination of mild weather and rain in France and Switzerland forced some to close completely.

A few weeks before Christmas, experts predicted a great start to the season. Then came the rain. By Christmas Eve, it had swept across the northern parts of the French Alps and parts of Switzerland, washing away previous snowfall and leaving many Christmas skiers disappointed. By 28 December, the website weathertoski.co.uk reported that snow conditions in the north-west Alps were “generally poor for the time of year and much more snow is needed”. Before New Year’s Day things got “very bad” and some resorts are still closed to skiers.

But that’s not all bad news. Conditions are much better in the south-eastern parts of the Alps, especially in the Dolomites, which have escaped the worst of the weather. There is also a lot of snow in North America and Scandinavia. While this is no consolation to those whose ski holidays have been a disaster, it is a testament to how unpredictable snow can be. With this in mind, it’s worth knowing how to choose a ski resort where white is almost always guaranteed – regardless of the season.

If you’re heading to the slopes soon, you can stay up to date with the latest information here and find out if you’re eligible to cancel.

Top tips for finding a resort that provides snow, whatever the forecast

Aim High

A high course is one of the most important factors guaranteeing snow conditions. Every 1,000 m uphill means an estimated temperature drop of 9.8°C in clear weather and 6°C in cloudy weather; every meter higher means you’re way above zero – the point where rain (one of the worst words in the skier’s lexicon) turns to snow (one of the most positive). Be warned, experts warn, as ski resorts fight the effects of climate change, that freezing levels will continue to rise at altitude.

The French resort of Val Thorens is the highest town in Europe (2,300 m) with access to some of the highest slopes, reaching 3,230 m.

val thorens - OT Val Thorens

val thorens – OT Val Thorens

Ice happiness

Glaciers go hand in hand with high-altitude resorts. These giant blocks of ice, which can be over 100m deep, do a great job of protecting the snow after they fall, and when they’re mostly scraped off, they’re still useful for honing your ice skiing skills.

The highest glacier in Europe, Plateau Rosa at 3,500 m, accessible from Zermatt in Switzerland and Cervinia in Italy, offers 21 km of groomed slopes. Other notable glacier resorts include Sölden and Hintertux in Austria and Tignes in France. On all of them you can find super-avid people who hone their skills in training courses during the summer and fall months if snow levels permit, and their confidence in snow makes them consistently popular in winter as well.

North face, happy face

We all know the advantages of a south-facing garden when there is more sun and the same principle applies to the slopes of a ski resort. While it’s wonderful to bask on sun-drenched slopes, it’s not good for the quality of the snow – unless it’s cold to the feet, in which case it really doesn’t matter. Since the northern slopes are unaffected by the sun, conditions remain much more stable and the snow stays in better condition for longer, especially towards the end of the season. The problem is that most slope maps rarely show slope orientation – you need a proper map to judge accurately.

Location, location, location

Some destinations are lucky with mild weather systems. Japanese resorts, especially those on the northern island of Hokkaido, are a good example. They are not high, have no glaciers and are not very endowed with northern slopes. What they have is geographical luck.

Low

Low

The wind blowing from Siberia hits the Sea of ​​Japan and then sheds up to 15 m per year of the lightest, fluffiest snow known to mankind. Alta and Snowbird resorts in Utah have similar annual snowfall due to a similar effect. Most of Utah’s storm systems originate in the Pacific Ocean, but local geography also has an influence. The Great Salt Lake, northwest of the city, warms the air and supports moisture. The warm air rises, cools, and begins to drop snow – a phenomenon known as lake-effect snow.

Simulate something

Snowmaking has gained tremendous momentum over the last 20 years, with many resorts investing millions in the latest technology. The resorts in the Italian Dolomites are a prime example, where almost all of the 1,200 km of slopes are covered by snow cannons. As long as it’s cold enough, it will snow… it just might not feel natural.

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