I'm in Obergurgl this weekend and the conditions are pretty good above 2200 meters. The couloirs are in good condition, the snow cover is thick and stable and there are plenty of options to go touring. Where the rest of Austria is dying for snow, winter is definitely here. But today the wind kicked in and the temperatures are a little bit higher than the days before. 'L'ambiance est hivernale' as they say in France. I was at the Pitztaler Gletsjer a couple of days ago and there's plenty of snow to be found over there as well, but you could notice that the Pitztal is located a bit more north than Obergurgl. But both of the areas are resorts that are situated deep in the main alpine ridge and especially in this main alpine ridge it's winter above 2200 meters. The snow cover is thick and will stay there for the rest of the winter.
But...if you have a look at the areas that aren't situated in the main alpine ridge and you check the webcams it becomes clear that you can't find any real snow below 2000 meters. Okay, they had some freshies the past week, but the visual effect is greater than the effect it should have: a solid base for winter. Let's be honest: freeriding is not possible below 2200 meters and is not possible in resorts that aren't situated in the main alpine ridge. They need at least 2 to 3 dumps and the temperature has to drop to make freeriding possible. Because one dump will give you the feeling of winter, but it won't give you a solid base. So you'll have to wait patiently or you have to go to the main alpine ridge. And especially there they get more snow next week, that is followed by a northern Stau at the end of the week.
But before I continue with the weather, first the current snow conditions in the different regions in the Alps:
Actual snow conditions
I get a lot of questions from users about the current snow depths and we all know that the marketing machines of the ski resorts are working as hard as they can to convince us that they have snow. But for us, it's not really relevant how much snow can be found on the slopes, it's relevant what can be found beside the slopes. You'll find an overview of the snow line and the actual snow conditions (and how good that is for this time of the year) below. Click on the region name to get more information about the resorts, location etc. --- is really bad and +++ is really good.
Northern Alps east: --- conditions. Winter is still far away here. You can only find some snow above 2300 meters in the Hohe Tauern. Only the Kitzsteinhorn in Kaprun looks a bit like winter.
Northern Alps central: --- to + conditions. The snow above 2200 meters is pretty good and you'll therefor have to be in the main alpine ridge. You'll find a good snow cover in Obergurgl and this one of the best destinations in Tyrol at the moment. You'll also find good snow on the glaciers of Hintertux, Sölden, Stubai, Pitztal and Kaunertal, but keep in mind that the upcoming southern Föhn is not really good for the snow. Ischgl also has enough snow and that's basically it for this region. It's green everywhere below 2000 meters.
Northern Alps west: --- to ++ conditions. It's winter above 1800 meters. The snow cover is between 30 and 60 centimeters thick at 2200 meter and one meter thick above 2500 meter. The best conditions can be found in A****t and Engelberg. The snow cover is still too thin in the other resorts to cover the sharks.
Western Alps north: --- to ++ conditions. The conditions in general aren't that good, except the region around Zermatt, Saas Fee and Simplon. They had a lot of snow in November and you can find a closed snow cover of around two meters above 2200 meters. In the other resorts in France and Switzerland the snow cover is still thin with around 10-40 centimeters. You'll find a closed snow cover above 2400 meters. You'll have to go to Zermatt, the Monte Rosa and Simplon for the best conditions.
Western Alps central: -- to +/- conditions. The best conditions can be found in the Haute Maurienne and the Isère, especially on the border of Italy and the Hautes Alps. The snow cover is still pretty thin with only 10-40 centimeters, like in resorts such as Val Thorens and Tignes where they have some lifts running. You'll have to watch out when riding off-piste because of the thin snow cover.
Western Alps south: - to ++ conditions. You can find a base of 80-170 centimeters on northern faces and 60-110 centimeters on southern faces above 2300 meters. The actual snow line can be found above 1800 meters, and the snow cover above 2200 meters is thick enough to ride down on natural snow. The most snow can be found in the Queyras, Mercantour, Pelvoux and Devoluy.
Southern Alps west: - to ++ conditions. The actual snow line can be found around 1800 meters, but the riding is good from 2100 meters. You can find around 40-100 centimeters at 2200 meters and 100-160 centimeters on 2500 meters.
Southern Alps central: ++ conditions. It's winter above 2100 meters. They had 4 to 7 meters of snow in November and above 2100 meters you can find a closed snow cover that is two meters thick at 2400 meters altitude.
Southern Alps east: - to ++ conditions. The conditions are improved because of the snowfall begin december and you'll mostly find a closed snow cover above 2100 meters.
Snow for the higher alpine
Relative warm air is dominating the Alps at the moment and this will continue till the weekend of the 20th December. Two fronts will pass that will bring some snow on Monday/Tuesday and Wednesday/Thursday. But the temperatures are high and the snow line can be found around 1900 meters, so this means that this dump is mainly for the high alpine. The most snow will fall in the main alpine ridge in Switzerland and Italy, and the front from Wednesday/Thursday will also bring snow to the higher resorts in the Swiss alpine ridge (like Engelbert). Cold air only reaches the Alps on the 19th, but a high pressure area is waiting to come in as well. The chances of a white Christmas in resorts at lower elevations are getting smaller and smaller. Cold weather is good for the snow cannons at lower elevations, but they obviously aren't interesting for us freeriders. Nope, we have to go to the higher alpine the next ten days. More details tomorrow.
Most important risks the next couple of weeks
*You'll have to keep in mind that crevasses on glaciers are a serious risk. The season only just started and the snow bridges (if they are there anyway) are still thin.
*You can find good snow at higher elevations, but this basically means you're riding on a rocky surface. Watch out for sharks that are hiding just below the surface.
*And yes, watch out for avalanches. The wind kicked in the last couple of days (causing drift snow) and there is surface hoar present. The weight of only one skier or snowboarder can be enough to trigger an avalanche. Please read the daily avalanche bulletin and bring the appropriate gear (beacon, shovel, probe).
Most important risks with the next snowfall
*Cold air will come in next weekend, but the snow cover below 2000 meters is thin or there's no cover at all. The small amount of snow that will fall is probably not enough for some powder runs.
A new update tomorrow.