News Headlines     |     


Was the snow as good last winter as some say? - By Fraser Wilkin
Tuesday July 17, 2012 - Email this article to a friend

There were some epic falls but it perhaps wasn't quite as good as some say and others remember. PlanetSKI has been crunching the numbers with the snowfall expert, Fraser Wilkin. His findings may surprise you.

One thing that fascinates me about the Alps is just how unpredictable the climate is.

No two winters are ever alike - which is just as well considering how little snow fell in some of the major resorts in 2010-11.

Another duff season might have brought parts of the industry to its knees.

But, as it turned out, there was a remarkable start to the winter after initial worries in the pre-season period of November.

After one of the warmest and driest autumn on record, it finally started to snow in early December. Just as well as the resorts were staring at bare slopes with just days to go to their openings.

Storm after storm slammed into the north-western side of the Alps, and by the end of the month Val d'Isere had clocked more than 4 metres of snow, nearly twice what it received in the whole of 2010-11.

Much of Switzerland and western Austria, especially the Arlberg, also got hammered, but Italy and the Southern Alps largely missed out.

That's not to say that there wasn't some decent skiing on offer, but the Dolomites in particular relied heavily on artificial snow - as they did for much of the season.

Chamonix, December, 2011Chamonix, December, 2011Further north, the blizzards continued into January and some resorts were cut off due to avalanche danger.  It wasn't quite as dramatic as the mainstream media reported, ski resorts often get cut off for short periods in winter as access roads are threatened by avalanche. This year there was more snow than normal and it happened at the weekend when most people were trying to get in and out; hence the headlines.

By the end of month some higher resorts reported near record snow depths, especially in Eastern Switzerland in resorts like Arosa and Davos.

Lower down, however, fluctuating temperatures led to some rain and meant more average conditions in resorts such as Kitzbuhel.

There was one last big dump for Austria in early February.

Otherwise the month was quiet but cold - exceptionally cold at times.

In Tignes, the temperature plummeted to -30°C,, a record at resort level, and a bitter east wind compounded the misery for half term skiers.

By contrast, March was balmy.

The sun blazed, temperatures soared and many resorts didn't see a single flake of snow.

Conditions on the southern side of the Alps deteriorated rapidly, but, further north the ample snow-pack held up well, especially at altitude.

Then, with resorts beginning to wind down, April saw a sudden return to winter.

It snowed on and off for much of the month, but not in the disruptive quantities seen earlier in the season.

As many resorts were closing there was excellent conditions on the deserted pistes.

Verbier, late AprilVerbier, late April













What a difference a year makesWhat a difference a year makes







April 24th, Last day of season in AvoriazApril 24th, Last day of season in Avoriaz













Stats and Summary:

 Resorts on the northern side of the Alps generally saw above average snowfall, but most of this fell in the first half of the season.

Val d'Isere, for example, had 6.9m of snow, 80% of which fell in December and January. Its long term average is about 5.2 metres.

La Plagne saw 7.4m (average 5.8m), but the snowiest resort in France was Avoriaz with 8.6m (average 7.9m).

Compare this to the Southern Alps where Isola 2000, which had been the snowiest resort in France for 3 years running,  could only manage 2.9m. Its average is 4.6m.

Elsewhere in Europe, the trend was broadly similar.

Snowfalls and depths in Davos were approaching record levels in mid-January, but almost back to normal by April.

In all, 8.8m fell on top of the Parsenn  at 2,500m), a little above average but unremarkable in the grand scheme of things.

The snowiest major resort in Switzerland was Arosa with 8.8m.

In Austria, Lech clocked 9m, its average is 7.1m.

Nearby Warth-Schroecken claimed 11.1m. This may sound like a lot but this is only just above average for what is statistically the snowiest corner of the Alps.

This year's winner, however, was Obertauern with a massive 12.2m, some 4m above average.

Compare that to nearby but low-lying Kitzbuhel which managed just 2.6m - bang on average.

It also saw plenty of precipitation early in the season, but fluctuating temperatures meant that some of it fell as rain.

Without exception, all southern resorts saw below average snowfall.

West was best, but even high altitude Cervinia could only muster 3.8m and the Dolomite resort of Arabba saw just 1.9m, about half of its long term average.

But how does 2011-12 stack up against other so called bumper winters?

For me it was good but not great.

It seems that every time there are big snowfalls we get over excited, and headlines like "Is this the best ski season ever?" (Jan 2012) were premature and wide of the mark.

Yes there were record breaking snowfalls, but they were concentrated into the first 2 months of the season and caused a lot of disruption.

What's more, most southern resorts missed out and the Dolomites especially were reliant on artificial help for a large part of the winter.

Elsewhere, the snow petered out in February and powder hounds had to wait until April to get their next serious fix.

Memories are short and I would argue that 2008-09 was better overall.

Back then the Southern Alps had their greatest winter ever and, although snowfall was closer to average in the northern Alps, it was very consistent and seemed to fall at exactly the right times.

In short, you would be hard pressed to find another winter where conditions were so consistently good across the entire Alpine chain.  

Portes du Soleil, 1500m, mid-AprilPortes du Soleil, 1500m, mid-April













Closed runs so perhaps ski somewhere elseDecember, Le Tour, Chamonix













What next for next season?What next for next season?













If you want to see what some of the conditions were like across the winter then see the PlanetSKI You Tube Channel that has out weekly video snow reports that we filled from some of the 40 or so resorts we visited last season.

Fraser Wilkin has worked in the ski industry for 15 years and is a freelance travel journalist specialising in Alpine weather and snowfall.

Follow him on twitter @FraserWilkin

Fraser WilkinFraser Wilkin







For the spirit of the mountains

Related Articles

SKIING CONTINUES IN USA (Thursday May 23, 2019)
WINTER MEETS SPRING (Monday May 20, 2019)
IT AIN'T OVER YET! (Wednesday May 15, 2019)
WINTER IS BACK... AGAIN! (Tuesday May 14, 2019)

With thanks to our main sponsors...

Platinum partners

Bronze partners