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Alpine glaciers hit by heatwave
Monday July 6, 2015 - Email this article to a friend

Record-breaking temperatures in Europe are melting glaciers at an alarming rate and there are fears for summer skiing. The temperatures have now dropped slightly, but the heatwave is set to return.

The glaciers in the Alps have been hit hard by the current heatwave. 

There have been some of the highest temperatures in the Alps since the heatwave of 2003.

Geneva, Grenoble, Innsbruck and Basel have all seen temperatures of around 40ºC.

Ski resorts have seen high temperatures in town; Chamonix 35.7ºC, Alpe d'Huez 29.4ºC and Zermatt 30ºC.

For Alpe d'Huez it was the highest July temperature ever recorded.

Up on the slopes of the glacier resorts, all over 3,000m, the temperature has not even fallen below zero.

In Les2Alpes it has been +7ºC on the glacier.

With the freezing level as 4,400m in the western Alps the glaciers have been melting at an alarming rate in the past week.

Apart from the temperatures the length of the heatwave, more than a week, has been exceptional.

PlanetSKI has been in the French resort of Les2Alps this week where the melt on the glacier is all too evident to see.

Les2Alpes, FranceLes2Alpes, France
















Les2Alpes, FranceLes2Alpes, France
















"One ski instructor told me the glacier was melting at a rate of 10cm a day and the resort is clearly worried about snow levels holding up for the summer ski season that goes through to August," said the PlanetSKI content editor, James Cove.

The Signal area of the glacier was closed at the weekend due to the melting glacier, but colder temperatures at night recently have now meant it can re-open.

"Despite the warm temperatures there is still some decent skiing and snowboarding to be had for a while in the morning and the good snowfalls at altitude in May and June have helped preserve things," added James.

Les2Alpes, FranceLes2Alpes, France
















And the soft snow makes for good conditions in the snowpark from first thing in the morning.

"There are many people out enjoying summer skiing and snowboarding at the moment but concerns for the next few weeks are rising," said James.

Tignes, France Les2Alpes, France
















Les2Alpes, FranceLes2Alpes, France
















It is a similar picture over in Tignes, the other main French glacier open for summer skiing and snowboarding.

If anything it is worse in Tignes with some companies that offer summer skiing warning people of the rapidly deteriorating conditions.

The web camera images from Tignes show the deterioration on the glacier in the recent hot weather.

Here is what it looked like on its opening day at the end of last month.

Grande Motte, June 29thGrande Motte, June 29th












And here is the glacier this week.

Grande Motte, 6th JulyGrande Motte, 6th July













In recent days it has, at last, been cold enough to re-freeze overnight.

Tignes, FranceTignes, France
















"We've had a heatwave for the last 10 days, so it has really affected the glacier. The ski area closing time is actually at 12:00 instead of 1:15pm because of the heat. But skiing is still quite good and ski clubs and the French Moguls Team are training there," said a spokeswoman from the tourist office to PlanetSKI.

Tignes sees an average of 600 people per day on the Grande Motte glacier.

It has 10 lifts and 20km of slopes.

Like Les2Alpes is also has a snowpark with 1 snowpark with 2 blue kickers, 2 green kickers, 6 beginners rails + 1 black kicker and expert rails.

Some people are having fun on the slopes, but the time to do so is limited.

Tignes, FranceTignes, France













Tignes, FranceTignes, France













Summer skiing is underway in Zermatt in Switzerland. 

The resort sees an average of 1,400 people per day. 

It has not been quite as hot as the French Alps, but the heat has taken its toll.

"The snow conditions and still great despite the warm temperatures we face at the moment. In the course of the morning, for sure the snow is getting softer," said a spokesperson from the resort.

The area can be accessed from the neighbouring Italian resort of Cervinia and the Warren Smith Ski Academy has just begun it summer courses there.  

"Head high is the message, we have had an epic week at over 3,900m," tweeted the Warren Smith Ski Academy to us. 

It is warm but the glacier remains open with up to 40kms of slopes available.

The images below come from this week.

Cervinia, ItalyCervinia, Italy




















Cervinia, ItalyCervinia, Italy




















Below is a video from The Academy of conditions up on the glacier above Cervinia and Zermatt.

Over in Austria it has been slightly cooler.

Or perhaps that should that read less hot. 

The temperature has now fallen to -3ºC on the glacier in the resort of Hintertux overnight. It is usually one of the best in the Alps for summer skiing and more than 60 ski teams and clubs are currently in the resort.

The melt has taken its toll on the glacier.  

The resort is putting on a brave face following the hot weather.

"The slopes are frozen during night-time and so the conditions are really good for mid-July. We received lots of snow in June and in May," said a statement from the resort sent to PlanetSKI when we asked about current conditions.

However PlanetSKI has heard different reports from Hintertux and the web cameras give a slightly different impression with the temperature rising to +6.5ºC by lunchtime.

Hintertux web cameraHintertux web camera













"The hot weather is certainly damaging the glaciers and I would be surprised if some of the resorts are able to stay open to their planned August closing dates as the heatwave is set to return. It will not be as hot as earlier this week, but there is no snow forecast for the immediate future," said the alpine weather expert, Fraser Wilkin, from the web site

"Tignes has been especially badly hit," he added.

The hot weather will soon be back and the glaciers will continue to melt.

And warm clothing is not currently required at altitude in the Alps.

Les2Alpes, FranceLes2Alpes, France
















One resort in Switzerland, Andermatt, protects its glacier in the summer months with a special covering as we have reported here.

Gurschen glacier, SwitzerlandGurschen glacier, Switzerland











Meanwhile over in Whistler, Canada, a new pilot project has been set up to try to protect the Blackcomb glacier; see here for an earlier story on PlanetSKI about the project.

Here at PlanetSKI we will be monitoring the situation so do check back for further updates.

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