Poor skiing conditions can be blamed on an anticyclone which has been sitting across Europe for several weeks.
Switzerland’s showcase ski event at Wengen was cancelled on Saturday after 40 centimetres fell on Friday night. The snow was accompanied by winds of 100 kilometres per hour.
Despite the best efforts of the piste preparation teams, the event had to be called off – disappointing up to 30,000 spectators who had been expected to attend the event.
Along with the Hahnenkamn at Kitzbuhel in Austria, Wengen’s Lauberhorn is one of the “blue riband” events in world skiing.
The Lauberhorn downhill race course is the longest in the world at almost 4.5km. Skiers reach speeds of 160kph, but even so, it takes around two and a half minutes to complete the gruelling course.
Ironically, the cancellation follows concerns about a lack of snow, both at Wengen and across the European Alps, in general. The Christmas and New Year period, when the resorts are usually fully booked, yielded the worst snowfall since 1864, according to the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.
To counteract increasingly erratic winter snowfall, many resorts are turning to technology, not to solve their problems, but at least to mitigate them.
Half of all Swiss ski runs can be topped up with artificial now; this rises to 70 percent in neighbouring Austria. But artificial snowmaking is expensive, requiring large amounts of water and electricity. There is no substitute for the natural “white stuff”.
This is the third December in a row with very little snowfall across the region. Historically, snowfall is much more consistent after the turn of the year.
The forecast for the next 10 days suggests further falls of snow, particularly across the southern Alps, the Dolomites and Balkans. Northern and western Alpine resorts in France and Switzerland may not see as much snow as they would like.
The reason is the large anticyclone situated across Europe. Under this area of high pressure, air is generally subsiding, which means that it is warming and drying out. Within it, there is little potential for significant precipitation.
It is unusual for an anticyclone to persist for such a long time. It has spread from Eurasia, where cold air has been present for several months.
This unusual weather pattern is itself, in turn, the result of the warming of the upper part of the atmosphere in the Arctic. This has caused atmospheric instability across the region, allowing warm air to push northward, and cold air to plunge southward.