Snow Conditions – it isn’t always about altitude…

From White-Peak Ski Holidays

If I had a pound for every time I had to explain to someone that snowfall patterns aren’t always linked to altitude, I would be a very rich man!

I live and work in the Portes du Soleil ski region of France & Switzerland, which is located in the Northern Alps of Europe, and I forever have to tell people the following facts in order to convince them that there will be snow here:

Fact: This area has had a good long ski season every year for as long as I can remember – from mid December until the end of April. There is usually good snow outside of these dates but the lifts are often not open.

Fact: Last winter (04/05) was a fantastic season – it didn’t stop snowing for most of January and February, and there were plentiful snowfalls throughout March and April as well. Other, so called “snow sure resorts” had a terrible season last year.

Fact: At the start of the season three years ago, people were being brought into the Portes du Soleil by bus, travelling over 2 hours each way because their high altitude snow sure resorts had no snow.

Fact: These occurrences are not isolated incidents. When you look at snow fall and snow depths throughout a typical winter season, it is often lower altitude domains which consistently get the best conditions.

The Portes du Soleil ranges in altitude from 1000 m to 2465 m – not as high as many resorts in the French Alps. Why then, does the area get such good snowfall?

The answer is simple – location, location, LOCATION! As mentioned previously, the area is in the NORTHERN French Alps. It is also located in between Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva. All these factors create prevalent weather patterns which tend towards heavy snow falls interspersed with glorious sunny days (hence the name “Portes du Soleil”).

It isn’t just the Portes du Soleil which is blessed by such favourable weather patterns – the Grand Massif, also in France (and at a similar altitude to the Portes du Soleil), and many of the low altitude ski regions in Austria far outshine the resorts with skiing over 3000 m.

You don’t need to take my word for it. You only need to take a look at the Ski Club of Great Britain’s historical snow records to see how well the Portes du Soleil performs against other ski areas.

So why are so many Brits misinformed about the snow surety of different resorts?

I believe it all stems from the fact that Britain doesn’t have any mountains so many Brits don’t understand how they “work”. Throughout the 80’s and early 90’s large tour operators were able to convince the great British public that “higher means better” which helped them sell their holidays into the horrible concrete apartments and hotels which they had block booked and needed to fill.

Late 90’s onwards and enter the information (or misinformation) age. People are now able to sit at work looking at snow depths and snow falls on the internet, and everyone has the potential to become a bad amateur meteorologist! Often, knowing half the story is significantly worse than knowing nothing.

Over time, throughout the British skiing fraternity, the myth grew stronger that in order to guarantee good snow, it was absolutely essential to go high. And this myth still prevails today, except amongst those who have discovered where the good skiing can be found.

It is also worth pointing out that it is only the Brits that believe this rhetoric. The French, Dutch and Germans all tend to go skiing in more traditional resorts at lower altitudes. Is this just to escape the Brits on holiday? No, it is because they know where the good snow is likely to be.

I started this article with facts, but I am also going to finish with a few as well:

Fact: In ski areas such as the Portes Du Soleil in France and the Kitzbuhel region in Austria, because most of the lower slopes are pasture land, depths of 10 cms are often all that is required to open the pistes, compared with higher altitude resorts where a metre or so is needed to cover the rocks.

Fact: When the weather closes in and it is snowing, you can still see and ski powder below the tree line in such areas.

Fact: When the weather closes in and it is snowing, you might as well forget going over 2500 m anyway.

Fact: When the skiing becomes spring-like, at lower altitudes the snow softens quickly to give good skiing for most of the day, whereas above 2500 m the pistes can often be ice until well into the afternoon.

I am sure that lots of people will read this and think I am talking rubbish. The only way to change the mind of some people is to get them here for them to see with their own eyes. Personally, I don’t care if this article changes people’s preconceptions or not. I’ll continue to ski in the resorts where the French ski, and as a result, I will probably ski on better snow than many of my fellow countrymen.

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Heavy snow and cold temperatures forecast for much of the European Alps…

from All Mountain Ski Chalets:

Although temperatures have been cold for the last couple of weeks, and snowmakers have been busily making snow, the real white-stuff has been in very short supply. This all seems set to change with temperatures plummetting by midweek and heavy snow forecast from midweek until well into next week. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain, many snow starved resorts will be following the forecast’s carefully!

Hopefully enough snow will fall to kick of the ski season in style across Europe…

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Ridiculous snow conditions…


“Ridiculous”, that is how Météo France have described the snow conditions in the Alps for mid-November. Despite a covering of 5-10cm of snow above 2000 meters it is one of the poorest starts to the season for some time. Even Val Thorens, at 2300 meters, the highest resort in Europe, has delayed its opening until the 26th of November at the earliest. Normally one can expect Val Tho to open the first weekend of the month.

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The ski chalet explosion…

from All Mountain Ski Chalets:

Independently owned and run ski chalets are not new. They have been around for many years. Over the last 5 years, however, there has been an increase in relatively inexperienced people selling up in the UK, and moving to the mountains to run catered ski chalet businesses.

When independent catered ski chalet operators first appeared on the scene, the owners and hosts tended to be passionate skiers who, after living for many years in a resort, had finally found a way to upgrade their situations from “ski bums” to “legitimate business owners”. They worked hard to develop their businesses built around their love of the mountains, their knowledge of the local area and of course their skiing ability.

Given that many of these original “ski chalet pioneers” had cut their teeth working in restaurants and hotels in ski resorts, cuisine was also high on the agenda. Before long, the independent catered chalet holiday became synonymous as a way of staying with hosts who knew the mountains like the back of their hands, could show you the best places to ski, and would serve up top class cuisine after a day on the slopes.

Over recent years a dirge of reality TV programs in the UK have focused on alpine businesses and made them look like attractive business propositions. Under closer inspection, it isn’t difficult to see why such a business could look so attractive to an outsider.

Anyone can buy a large house and run a B&B from somewhere in France. The trouble is it may be hard to quantify how many people visit the area, what the future trends for visiting the area might be, and even how long a season might last. In a ski resort, to some extent you can take away a lot of this uncertainty. The ski seasons are quite well defined, and the ski industry is still a rapidly growing market.

Couple this with many equity-rich property owners in the UK and it becomes obvious why there has been such a rush to jump on the bandwagon and move to the mountains.

All of this means that there are now a number of ski chalet owners that hide behind professional looking websites with no experience of running such a business. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many, if not most of these new businesses thrive on hard work and enthusiasm and attract repeat customers year on year. But be warned. Just because a couple of accountants were good at their professions in the UK, and just because they spent a million euros on a chalet, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the sort of people who know how to make a holiday work, or indeed the sort of people whose home you would want to stay in for a week.

A week’s catered chalet skiing holiday is not cheap, especially for a large family, and with so many apparently good, professional chalet businesses around, it can be difficult to know if you are choosing the right one. Two very important things to look for are recommendations/word of mouth and independent chalet reviews.

Firstly, recommendations and word of mouth are both invaluable! If a friend who you trust recommends somewhere to you, then book it. Try and find out where other people have been on holiday, and whether or not they enjoyed it.

Secondly, try a website such as All Mountain Ski Holidays which has a ski chalet review section and see what others think of a place. Sites like All Mountain Holidays have made it relatively easy for new chalet businesses to get up and running. However, the same medium should also be used to build the reputation of good quality chalets which deserve it.

If you stay somewhere, and you love it, let others know about it and encourage others to do the same for you!

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