[Forecast courtesy of wePowder]
The Alps are under the influence of a low pressure trough that’s turning from west to north. It’s been raining and snowing in the northwest and north of the Alps since Friday.
At the same time, the sun is dominating the southwest and southern alps. The snow line was again high with rain up to high elevations (1700-2300 meters) during the night from Sunday to Monday. Cold air arrives from the north today (*Monday morning). Once the cold air enters the mountains, the snow line will drop rapidly! The cold air then squeezes the last snow from the humid air and more and more valleys in the north of the Alps become white. But with all the fresh snow, rain from the last days, not to mention strong winds– the avalanche danger has increased in large parts of the northern Alps to HIGH (4 on a scale of 5).
In this forecast:
- A lot of snow in the high alpine, greener than normal lower on the mountain
- Monday: northern Alps will get snow and rapidly dropping snow line
- Everything about the snow line
- Strong winds cause acute avalanche danger
- Christmas Day: sun and fresh snow in the northern Alps
- Where to go?
- Another northern Stau?
It has been snowing and raining from time to time in the northwest and north of the Alps since seven days. A lot of snow came down in November as well, so we can’t complain. The high alpine in the Alps has a snow cover that is thicker than normal, although the differences in snowpack between elevations can be quite large.
Local knowledge is a must and anyone who is riding with locals or a mountain guide in the coming days will reap the benefits.
In addition to a lot of snow, the wind has been strong the last few days. In one valley you can ride great lines above 2000 meters, while the other valley has almost no snow– or a snow cover that’s been soaked up to 2500 meters.
The above video is from La Grave with a bizarre amount of snow on the glacier (thanks @martijnschell for sharing). The snow cover is much thicker than normal in large parts of the Alps above 2000 meters. But on the other hand, the valleys are much greener than normal. In large parts of the Alps there is clearly less snow below 1500-2000 meters than is normal for the time of the year.
Monday: northern Alps will get snow and rapidly dropping snow line
On the map at the top of the post, you can clearly see how the high-pressure area Hugo is coming in from the west. Storm Tete has already passed through the Alps but between Hugo and Tete there is a powerful northern current that has the ability to transport cold air to the northern Alps. The air pressure may be high, but it should still snow heavily. In the forecasts from Thursday and Sunday I have already explained in detail why it can still snow heavily with such an air pressure.
Warm air is trapped and pressed against the Alps by the rapidly incoming cold air. In addition, the mild and very humid air is stuck and forced to rain and snow empty.
Everything about the snow line:
Some basic physics: cold air is heavy, warm air is lighter. In a situation without mountains the cold air pushes the warm air up, it rises, cools down, condenses and it will rain and/or snow. But now we are dealing with a complex situation where various layers of air are mixed together. Because of the mountains and the deep valleys below them, it’s hard to predict where the cold air enters the valley and where accumulations will fall. Therefore, it’s very difficult to predict the snow line for the Monday.
In general, you can say the following: the snow line was stay high in the Sunday night and will drop over the course of Monday. This will happen first in the eastern portion of Austria, and will be joined by the Switzerland and the rest of Austria by the end of the day.
Snow levels will also drop in Wallis and the northern French Alps. In the east I expect the snow line to drop to 300 meters, around the Arlberg to 1000 meters and on the border between Wallis and France to 1500 meters. For the northern Alps this means that in most ski resorts it will turn white at Christmas, but that one village will see cold air sooner than the other village.
Secondly, there is the amount of snow that will fall. For the entire northern Alps there is a thick pack of snow falling above 1700-2100 meters, with quantities between 50 and 100 cm, locally also more. But if you go further to the west (French northern Alps, western Wallis) you will at most see 20-40 cm (locally maybe 50 cm) coming down. The high alpine will get a lot of snow again.
Low and mid-mountain areas will get much less snow. Although there is cold air and it will be white in most ski resorts in the north, the amount of snow that falls when the cold front enters is quite different. In the east (where the cold air flows in faster) I expect more than 20-50 cm of fresh snow above 1000 meters. More to the west, this amount will only fall above 1600-1800 meters and with less moisture
Strong winds cause acute avalanche danger:
Rain, lots of fresh snow and lots of wind result in acute avalanche danger. The avalanche danger is now HIGH (4 on a scale of 5) in many regions. The right knowledge is more than useful when you’re riding off-piste. Always check your local avalanche forecast and adjust your plans to it. (Tip: on wepowder you will find a link to the local avalanche forecast at each village, but you can also visit this page). As mentioned, a good ski, snowboard or mountain guide makes a difference, especially on days like this.
Christmas Day: sun and fresh snow in the northern Alps
It will be sunny in the Alps from Christmas Day onward. It was already sunny in the southwest and south, but the sun also appears in the French northern Alps and the northern Alps during the holiday. Only in the far eastern portion of the Alp will you see some new snow after Dec 25th.
PA#4: Where to go?
Powder chasing during Christmas? That is certainly an option. With the snow that still falls today, Christmas will be good. But where to go? Around Chamonix and western Wallis there is certainly some snow, but personally I wouldn’t opt for those areas. Those looking to get deep must head to the Arlberg region or the other glaciers in Austria.
There is also a lot of snow coming down north of the northern alpine ridge in Switzerland. But pick areas with enough terrain above 1800-2100 meters. Exceptions are the northern Stau regions of the Salzburgerland and Styria . The cold has flowed in faster here and you can also ride powder on lower alpine meadows.
This is the PowderAdvice for the next couple of days:
- The north and northeast of Graubünden
- The highest resorts in Vorarlberg, especially the Arlberg region
- The Arlberg, Silvretta Arena and the glaciers of the Kaunertal, Pitztal en Sölden in Tyrol
- The Hohe Tauern (the resorts in the south at higher altitude) and the alpine meadows in the north of the Salzburgerland
- The north of Styria
When the storm has passed there will certainly be other high altitude resorts in the northern Alps that should have something to offer– especially if you follow the recipe above and if you’re flexible enough with your planning. Good luck with your powder chase!
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Another northern Stau?
It will be sunny from Tuesday, but there is a chance that we will see a small northern stau on the north side of the Alps from Friday. With a northern current the north of Austria and later also the north of Switzerland might be in the line of fire. All still uncertain, but who knows.
Stay stoked, Morris