Alpine ski resorts plagued by lack of snow

Poor skiing conditions can be blamed on an anticyclone which has been sitting across Europe for several weeks.

Weather in Switzerland
Currently, the best skiing conditions are on the southwestern side of the Alps [Jean-Christophe Bott/EPA]

A lack of snow in the European Alps has become a common theme in recent years because of climate change.

But the current shortage of “the white stuff” owes its origins to something rooted in day-to-day meteorology rather than long-term climatology, namely an anticyclone.

This area of high pressure has been sitting across Europe for several weeks. On its western flank warm air has been spreading from the south across Iberia, western France and the UK. On its eastern flank, cold northerly winds have brought sub-zero temperatures, and some snow, to Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland.

In between, the high pressure has stifled the efforts of any weather system to bring significant snowfall. The air within an anticyclone is descending, which means that it is becoming warmer and drier, quashing all but the most active of frontal systems.

The period before New Year is often characterised by erratic snow. Yet many resorts are full over the Christmas and New Year periods as people pre-book their winter break, gambling on enough snow for skiing and snowboarding.

Snow cannons

In recent years many resorts have invested heavily in snow-making machines, but this is no substitute for the real thing.

The lack of natural snow, the use of snow cannons which produce snow that hardens very quickly, and greater concentrations of skiers on those pistes that are open, have resulted in an increase in accidents.

Currently, the best conditions are on the southwestern side of the Alps. The higher resorts in western Italy, such as Cervinia, Sestriere and the Monte Rosa region have significant snow, largely above 1,800 metres.

Similar conditions also extend across the border into France with good conditions at Val D’Isere, Tignes and Isola 2000.

Some of the major ski regions have invested in artificial snow to such an extent that large areas are open despite the lack of snow. The Ski Welt of Austria, which includes Soll and Ellmau, has more than 150 runs open, while the Dolomiti Superski area, which includes Val Gardena, has almost 1,000 kilometres of pistes open.

The prospects for snow before the end of 2016 are not great, with the anticyclone maintaining its grip. Some snow is likely in Austria and Slovenia, but other countries will have to wait until the New Year.

An active weather front might really get the ski season under way on the first Monday and Tuesday of the New Year.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies