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World Snow News 54

Update for December 12th 2008

Welcome to the first world snow update from the Snow-Forecast.com team for the northern season. This editorial is sponsored by Snowbrainer who are very generously offering readers an exclusive gurarnteed 23% savings on Ski and Snowboard Hire with boots for any week in the season in Italian Resorts! With record level snowfalls in the last few weeks and more on the way Italy has got to be one of the most attractive countries for superb conditions.

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Summary

The Northern Hemisphere ski season has got off to a very impressive start again. The European Alps benefited the most from the early season snow, and there's been a distinct westerly shift in the European snowfall pattern compared to last season with unusual early snow for the British Isles and excellent early skiing in Scotland. The heaviest snow has tended to hit the Pyrenees; French, Italian and Swiss Alps. This time lasst year, the heaviest falls had been further east in Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. As the time of writing on Thursday evening, the latest storm has dumped as much as 70 cm of fresh snow at favoured resorts in the Western and Central Alps, the heaviest being in Italy. It's been snowing in Geneva for 2 days but our best guess is that the airport will been open as usual. Conversely, Gatwick closed for several hours on Wednesday morning due to "an unexpected flurry of snow." 100 flights were cancelled or diverted and for anyone who intend to fly the Gatwick-Geneva route when Gatwick was closed, this must have been too ironic to bear!

Last year it was cold but mostly too dry both over the Maritime Alps and Iberia, but this year we have already seen heavy snowfalls in these two areas. Snow depths at many resorts in Iberia already exceed anything achieved last year.

The next major Atlantic storm, already nudging Western Britain, will soon deliver more wintry weather to many parts of Western Europe starting with Scotland, especially on its back edge as it clears away. It will then drift south where it will drop yet more snow on the Alps, Massif Central, Pyrenees, Picos de Europa and the Sierra Nevada and even the Atlas and Rif mountains in North Africa. After that it spends the week drifting through the Med, on a path that currently looks like it is designed to visit as many ski regions in Europe as possible, eventually including the areas in Eastern Europe that most need new snow. That's a long way out so confidence is low.

The snowy pattern is repeated to a lesser degree in North America. Parts of the Eastern and Central United States saw unusual pre-Thanksgiving snow a couple of weeks ago as cold air plunged right down to the Gulf of Mexico with heavy lake-effect snow for southern areas downwind of the Great Lakes. Just a few days ago widespread heavy snow and freezing rain caused extensive travel disruption in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Parts of eastern Canada have also been affected by heavy snowfall; thousands of people were without electricity in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia after heavy wet snow and high winds downed trees and power lines on Monday

At the ski resorts, the weather pattern has delivered sufficient snow to the Pacific NW and the Rockies but a slow start in California and especially southern California. Thankfully, a winter storm is heading their way. The East Coast resorts have had a great start to the season and another bunch of snow and other severe weather warnings have been issued as the next storm winds up.

Taken with the fact that parts of New Zealand and the Andes have just had a very good season too, with snowfall records tumbling at several locations, does all this good news mean that 2008/2009 will prove to be another bumper ski season? If so, does it follow, as some media commentators have already suggested, that all our previous concerns about global warming can now be dismissed? The answer to the first question is "yes, probably" but to the second one, an emphatic "No".

All things considered, this probably will be another good season for most Northern Hemisphere ski areas. With so much depth to the pistes in early December, especially in the Alps and Pyrenees where 2-3m on upper slopes is commonplace, the odds are now stacked in favour of another vintage ski season; very few seasons that start this well go on to disappoint.

Unfortunately, this does nothing to suggest that climate change doomsayers have been barking up the wrong tree all along: the scientific evidence remains compelling. Three seasons ago we all wondered if we had seen the last of December skiing in the Alps and questioned the economic viability of low altitude Austrian resorts, yet now skiers are frustrated that more resorts don't open in November when there is plainly already enough snow. Broadly speaking, two things have worked in our favour. First, the well-understood La Nina pattern in the Pacific has led to lower global temperatures and a more favourable storm pattern, and second, a much less well understood solar minimum (the sunspot cycle) has run longer and deeper than usual. In short, the natural state of flux has briefly conspired to produce two cooling factors that have been strong enough to overcome the warming trend and produce some exceptional ski seasons.

The La Nina pattern has already faded to neutral, and after an unusually long delay, the first of the sunspots of the next solar cycle have begun to cross the solar disk. Our advice is to make the most of the great conditions around the globe before the warming pattern resumes. Failing some enormous volcanic eruption along the lines of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, expect a return to depressingly mild winters sooner rather than later. We would not be surprised to see the early arrival of Spring snow conditions, just as happened in New Zealand a few months ago when some resorts like Mount Lyford lost several metres of snow cover in just a few weeks dashing high hopes for late Spring skiing. In Moscow, a temperature of 9.4 degrees Celsius (49F) was recorded last Saturday at 3am; a new record high for December following the warmest Autumn there for over 100 years. Hopefully this is not a portent of things to come.

If our advice is to make the most of the great conditions on offer again this season without delay, the economic climate will certainly deter many British skiers. Britain has already endured the worst run on Sterling in modern times, but if the money markets get a whiff of a looming government default or worse of Quantitative Easing (fancy name that tries to avoid admitting that they intend to print debt-free money to meet their obligations) it could get worse. Oddly enough, and very much against form, Switzerland also looks vulnerable to being forced down this route, so don't be surprised if this currency falls back to more familiar levels before winter is out.

Although there are always both winners and losers when exchange rates change, we don't envisage too many skiers from a currently very snowy Eurozone heading to Scotland or Iceland to take advantage of the cheap currencies on offer there. Conversely, British skiers can now expect to pay through the nose for the privilege of holidaying in the Eurozone or America: it wasn't even cheap when Sterling was strong, now it will feel extortionate. Perhaps this is a good time to consider some other locations that offer better value for money. For example, like Sterling, the Canadian dollar has suffered too, as has the Kroner of Norway and the Kronor of Sweden. Even here, holders of pounds will find that things have become about 8% more expensive than a year ago, and let's be perfectly honest, these were not exactly cheap destinations to begin with.

The table below shows changes in the Sterling exchange rate over the last twelve months with no attempt made to compensate for the variation in the local inflation rate; no doubt prices in Iceland have surged a bit. If you earn pounds and are considering a holiday in Japan, we suggest that you reconsider because the pound has fallen by a jaw-dropping 40% against the Yen. Many other major ski destinations will seem about a quarter more expensive to British than they did last year and nowhere apart from Iceland will be any cheaper. If your budget is limited this could be a good season to visit somewhere you would not normally consider, somewhere like Turkey where skiing was already cheap and the exchange rate has not changed by very much, or Iran where it was so cheap that even at 20% more expensive, it still remains a bargain. For the less adventurous, Romania is only 10% more pricey. Meanwhile, Japanese skiers would be well advised to sample the skiing on offer abroad - everywhere suddenly became cheaper for you and some places Scotland and Iceland!) became much cheaper. Think of it as our way of saying thank you for funding our decade-long spending spree with all that ultra-cheap money you loaned our banks fuelling a 10 year credit boom.

Canada Dollars -12%
Czech Republic Koruny -20%
Euro -19%
Iceland Kroner 40%
India Rupees -10%
Iran Rials -20%
Japan Yen -40%
Lebanon Pounds -27%
Norway Kroner -7%
Pakistan Rupees -6%
Poland Zlotych -12%
Romania New Lei -10%
Slovakia Koruny -26%
Sweden Kronor -9%
Switzerland Francs -23%
Turkey New Lira -4%
United States Dollars -27%

This might be a good point to remind you that you can cover the cost of Snow-forecast membership many times over by taking advantage of our affiliate programs. Wherever we have been able to negotiate a discount, on car-hire, ski-hire insurance or anything else that looks useful to skiers and borders, we pass on the entire saving to our members. For car rental, Holiday Autos are very competitive to begin with and we have always found that their 10% discounted rate to our members offers unbeatable value and pre-booking your ski equipment from our partner Snowbrainer can save you money and time when you get to the resort.

Site news

If this is your first visit back to snow-forecast.com you will notice that we have redesigned the site making it clearer to navigate with fewer distracting ads. We have also been selective with our advertisers and site partners and believe they enhance the site by offering you genuinely useful resources for your travel or time on the slopes.

For many of our most popular resorts, we now have interactive pistemaps overlain on the stunning Google Maps terrain. What's more you can purchase these pistemaps to go on your Garmin GPS from only £17.99.

A few months ago we promised there would soon be movies made from archived webcam images - these will be available soon once processing of the vast archive of images is complete. Meanwhile, you can overlay links to live webcam images on any of our dynamic maps via the shortcuts on our map page.

We recently made huge improvements and additions to our sister project at surf-forecast.com. As avid surfers, we eventually hope to deliver the same level of detailed information that snow-forecast provides skiers and snowboarders. Compared to skiing, surfing is practically free and in the spirit of surfing, surf-forecast.com will remain free too. You can already check out detailed swell component forecasts for thousands of breaks worldwide together with animated wave maps covering the entire globe, along with wind, tide and even sea-temperature conditions.


Summary:

  • Thursday again saw heavy snow and low temperatures across much of the Alps

  • FRANCE, Italy and Switzerland offer the best skiing at present with deep bases

    ITALY stands out as the place to be

    An Atlantic depression will bring fresh snowfalls to Western Europe this weekend

    Snow starts in Pyrenees, then moves onto the Alps at the weekend

    Snowfalls spreading to mountains of Southern Europe and North Africa early next week

    This depression moving slowly east, hopefully affecting Eastern Europe, Lebanon and Israel late week

    Winter Storm warnings have been issued for South and East USA

  • Freezing Rain and snow expected from Virginia to Maine; tornadoes in Florida

    Already excellent snow accumulations at many Appalachian resorts

    The West of the USA has got off to a slow start

    California resorts have not seen snow for about two weeks

    Expect moderate to heavy snow here in a few days time

    Rockies resorts already in quite good shape and will soon improve

    The Alps

    Early December snow conditions in France, Italy and Switzerland are closer to what we expect in February. In Austria, although conditions are not quite as good as this time last year after a couple of 1 metre falls had occurred, they are much better than usual for the time of year. Low pressure over central Italy has made for an especially cold and snowy day on Thursday with temperatures staying well below zero even in lower Alpine valleys and we predicted up to 75cm of snow falling in places. Cortina has duly reported 70cm. It's cold too, so expect light and powdery snow conditions from top to bottom.

    As we head into the weekend, the present system will clear away towards the Balkans. The next Atlantic weather system also passes south of the Alps early next week with the French Maritime Alps, the Italian Alps and the southern Swiss Alps (Valais) again most likely to see the heaviest snowfalls but the very heaviest snow probably falling on the underrated and cheaper resorts in the Apennines. It's the Men's World Cup event at Val d'Isere this weekend but although the pistes are currently in great shape, the event will probably suffer from poor visibility as a result of increasing snow and wind on Sunday.


    Scotland

    Scotland got off to a remarkably early start to the ski season following heavy snow an low temperatures in October. Great off-piste skiing and snowboarding was reported from as far south as Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons of South Wales. Indeed, this was the earliest snowfall in Southern Britain since 1932. There is still skiing available at Cairngorm and Lecht but lower slopes are now worn and more snow is now needed.

    As mild Atlantic air comes up against cold air over the British Isles this weekend there is every chance Scottish resorts, especially the more eastern ones, will see fresh snow. A chilly NW wind and snow showers following on behind. Mountains in England and Wales will see some patchy snow too before it turns milder here. Next week there is a trend towards warmer temperatures and westerly winds with freezing levels approaching the Scottish summits at times and there may even be rain at the summits on Tuesday as the wind goes briefly SW. Otherwise, a windy week with further snowfalls for upper slopes but a general thaw lower down.


    Scandinavia

    Sunny and cold at resorts in Norway and Sweden on Thursday where most resorts have about 50cm of snow cover but where fresh snow has not fallen for a while. Expect only light snowfalls over the next few days with the chance of heavier snowfalls towards the end of the week as those westerly winds blow in from the Atlantic.


    Pyrenees and Spain

    Ski resorts in the Pyrenees have got off to a much better start than they did a year ago when it was cold but too dry, and at Sierra Nevada in the far south of Spain they were able to open a few weeks early thanks to the Autumn snowfalls.

    It has been snowing in the Pyrenees for most of the past week; windy at times. The next Atlantic system is already bearing down on this area. The heaviest snow will probably fall in the nearby Massif Central but most ski areas in Iberia should see at least some snow on Saturday and Sunday, easing away to the east on Monday. Another band of Atlantic weather crossed the area on Tuesday but the rest of the week should be fine. Expect some great skiing.


    Eastern Europe

    Early season weather patterns have steered most snow-bearing clouds away from Eastern Europe and even in fairly snowsure resorts in Bulgaria only limited skiing is available and more snow is needed.

    We are hopeful that a deep Atlantic depression that initially brings mostly wind and heavy rain to Britain this weekend will end up by delivering welcome snow to much of this region in about 6 days time. The forecast track takes this system initially southwards across France and then eastwards through the Mediterranean; eventually reaching Turkey and Lebanon.


    Appalachians

    Snow conditions are generally excellent for the time of the year following unseasonal snowfalls that began before Thanksgiving weekend.

    Exceptionally mild air pushing up from the Gulf is set to trigger some very stormy weather over the next few days as it comes up against very cold air further North with a warning of tornadoes for Florida and heavy rain, sleet, snow, freezing rain and strong winds for many. The heaviest snow will probably fall across inland Maine. Mild for many on Sunday bringing a brief thaw to the southern and central Appalachians and the Great lakes region. A second depression crossing the Great Lakes region from the west on Friday will bring another large area of ugly weather with the usual East Coast mix of rain, wind, freezing-rain and for many, heavy snow.

    American Rockies

    Overall, resorts are in pretty good shape for the time of year with about 50cm to 1m of snow at most resorts and the forecast of more to come soon and as usual, cold enough for powder.

    A fine day at Colorado resorts on Thursday but Friday will see the start of a bitterly cold and often snowy spell of weather lasting at least a week.


    California and Nevada

    A slow start to the season in this area, especially at the resorts closest to LA where most mountainsides are still bare.

    Fine and mild weather on Thursday and Friday will be replaced by lower temperatures, stronger winds and snowfalls on Saturday and then staying snowy through most of next week.

    Western Canada

    A slow start to the season in Western Canada too. Ever since the La Nina pattern loosened its grip on the Pacific Region, the relentless run of Pacific storms that characterised last season returned to normal. In some ways, this a good thing because less snow and more sun will be welcome: last year was too cloudy. In British Columbia, only Revelstoke Mountain Resort has more than 1m of snow at present while Whistler has a light cover of fresh snow on Thursday on a 50cm base.

    Friday looks like it will be very snowy and the clouds will be slow to clear this weekend, however Monday and Tuesday look like the will be stunning days but bitterly cold as the east wind brings air from the cold continental interior. Turning unsettled again by next weekend too, so looking promising for Christmas vacations.

    The snow-forecast team - December 2008