AFTER the prodigious snowfall of recent weeks, this ski season could be set to be the best yet.
Shortly after 7am on December 16, the pisteur charged with measuring the snowfall at the permanent weather station just above Courchevel 1850 shook his head in astonishment. Then he crouched down on the edge of the piste to check and recheck the figures.
It couldn’t be true, but it was. In just 10 pre-Christmas days more snow had fallen in the Trois Vallées than during the whole of last season.
At other resorts across the Alps an avalanche of similar records has since tumbled – and still the snow has continued to fall in prodigious quantities.
As the skies clear this weekend – for a few days at least – the level on top of the Valluga above St Anton is nudging the 600cm mark, with the snow piled 200cm deep in the town itself.
No one can remember anything that dramatic since 1999 – and then only in late February.
A trawl through historical snowfall figures shows that in general across much of the Alps up to four times the average for mid-January has fallen.
In most places, conditions for skiers over Christmas and New Year were nothing short of magnificent. January is skiing like a dream with all sorts of last-minute deals with discounts of up to 30 per cent currently available. The prospects for families over February half term look particularly promising.
However, the number of available holidays has dropped by as much as 30 per cent over the past three years. If you’re planning on a peak season trip in February or over Easter you need to book now.
So in terms of snowfall is this the best season ever? Well, let’s not get too carried away because there’s still around 75% of it – 15 weeks – to run before the last lifts close. So far it appears to be an epic season, on the same kind of groundbreaking scale that North America experienced last year. But in these increasingly strange climatic times almost anything could happen.
Just remember that during the fourth week of last April in the French Alps it was hotter than the Med. People were opening their pools and playing golf in the mountains long before the last skiers left. The biggest snowfall of the first six months of the year didn’t arrive until June.
But realistically, even if it doesn’t snow again between now and Easter and even if temperatures soar to last year’s spring levels, high resorts such as Tignes and St Anton could now survive more than adequately on the cover they already have.
So certainly I’ll happily concede that overall, for all sorts of reasons, it’s the best start to a European ski season in much more than a generation and one that has probably saved a whole chunk of the ski industry from financial extinction.
What makes it all the more remarkable is that this record snowfall was so utterly unexpected. Autumn across the Alps was both the driest and the mildest in 148 years.
The Swiss reported that temperatures had not been as persistently high at altitude since November 1864. To put that in perspective, that’s seven months before Sir Edward Whymper famously conquered The Matterhorn and the American Civil War was at its height.