Alpine Snowfall

  • MeteoGroup synoptic forecast chart for Saturday 15th November, showing the likelihood of low pressure areas passing to the south of the Alps at times this month, allowing colder north-easterly wind flows and snowfall to occasionally descend to lower levels. Some milder and drier days are likely in between, though, with very cold Arctic air tending to remain out across NW Russia for the time being.

    Forecast snow accumulation for the next 10 days over the Alps (cm). The French and Swiss Alps look best placed to receive the highest amounts.

    Graphs showing average snow depth (cm) for 4 popular Alpine ski resorts for the last 3 ski seasons. The large season to season variation can be seen, but most resorts have their best snow in January and February (data from

  • Alpine Snowfall
    06.11.2014 16:07

    At this time of year, keen skiers and snowboarders across Europe start to get itchy feet, scanning snow depth reports and snow forecasts for the many Alpine ski resorts with nervous excitement. After a long summer season without being able to participate in their sport, many are desperate to get onto the slopes as soon as possible, snapping up bargain November prices. 

    The variable nature of winter weather patterns across Europe, combined with an underlying warming trend in temperature over the last few decades, can lead to large seasonal variation in snow depth and snow quality at the low and mid-level Alpine resorts. A handful of high altitude complexes, including Tignes, Val Thorens, Ischgl and Cervinia, have reliable snow each year. Weather variables such as wind direction, frequency of cold airmasses from the north and east, and dominance of either low or high pressure systems can heavily influence the success of the Alpine ski season.

    Through last season, early snowfall and below normal temperatures in November were replaced by mild and dry weather through most of December, leaving many lower level resorts with a poor start. However, from Christmas Time onwards, huge storm systems and strong south-westerly winds battered north-western Europe, bringing copious snowfall to the southern Alpine resorts. However, the Austrian and northern Swiss Alps missed most of the snow, as they were sheltered from the persistent south-westerly wind flows. The season of 2011-2012 was rather poor in many resorts, with drier and warmer than normal conditions as high pressure dominated. By contrast, the season of 2012-2013 was fantastic across much of the Alps, with huge snowfalls in January and February in particular. 2009-2010 was similar, with winds frequently from the north-east. 

    Looking ahead to this season, autumn has so far been very mild over most of Europe, including the Alps. However, on 22nd and 23rd October, a shot of cold air from the north-west (behind the remnants of ex-Hurricane Gonzalo) brought some decent snow to the highest resorts. During the next 10 days, a couple of low pressure systems are likely to track south-eastwards from the UK and Biscay down across the Alps. Such a track allows colder air from the north and east to flow across the Alps, with snow falling below 1000 metres at times. Latest forecast models suggest the Swiss and French Alps may do best, with perhaps 100 to 150cm of fresh snow falling on slopes above 2000 metres over the next 10 days. 

    There is no sign of a significant cold spell for Europe in the next couple of weeks, so the low-level resorts will have to wait a bit longer, but this will still be welcome news for those keen to get skiing or boarding.

    By: Matthew Dobson