PA#2: up to 150 cm of fresh snow. What about the northern Alps?

By meteomorris on 19 December 2016 · 13

It started to snow in the Italian Piedmont early this morning. An active storm on the Mediterranean determines the weather in the Italian Piedmont and the resorts on the border of Italy and France in the next 72 hours. You can expect between 50 and 150 cm of fresh snow, with a snow line that's slowly climbing. This storm will bring us great powder days on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. There's a chance that the northern Alps will get some snow around Christmas, but the amounts and the snowline are still big question marks. In this forecast:

  • It's snowing in the Piedmont
  • Lots of snowfall the next 72 hours
  • What are the consequences of a slowly rising snow line?
  • Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are powder days
  • Snow for the northern Alps during Christmas?

It's snowing in the Piedmont

The last significant snowfall in the Alps was about three weeks ago. A monster storm dumped between 2 to 4 meters of snow in the high alpine caused floodings in northern Italy. And now it's snowing again in the Piedmont. Check out the radar image from early this morning below. It was already snowing heavily in the mountains above Genoa. The precipitation is coming down as rain (green) at the coast, but it starts to snow when you leave the Mediterranean coast. The snow line fluctuates between 100 and 300 meters above sea level, so only a short drive into the mountains will take you into a white landscape.

Radar Piedmont
Radar Piedmont

This front, which is hanging around in the Po-Valley right now, will be pushed against the Alps by the end of Monday morning (thanks to that eastsoutheast current) and that part of the Alps will get hammered.

Lots of snowfall the next 72 hours

As often on the southern side of the Alps, such a storm doesn't pass quietly. It's no different this time. The 'retour d'est' or 'Genoa Low' has always been an eclectic type of storm. They come in when they feel like it, are full of surprises and bring a lot of snow in a short time. Same story for this storm. The moisture from the Mediterranean Sea and the Adriatic Sea combined with the moisture from the Po-Valley is being bashed against the Alps the next couple of hours. This moiture is forced to climb from the Po-Valley to peaks like the Mont Viso, the Gran Paradiso and Monte Rosa in just twenty kilometers. There's so much energy involved that the immense drop of temperature results in a lot of snow. Especially the facts that the Mediterranean Sea is still relatively warm and the upper air at the start of the storm is pretty cold results in cold powder coming down on Monday.

It's snowing heavily between today and Wednesday evening. You can expect half a meter of snow (on average) to come down at 2000 meters. The higher you get, the more snow will fall.

Top 10 snowfall around 2000 meter
Top 10 snowfall around 2000 meter

But once the front passes the highest peaks of the Alps, there won't be that much snow coming down anymore. The air is dropping, the clouds slowly dissolve, the storm isn't pushed against the mountains anymore and it stops snowing. It is the explanation why it snows heavily on the peak of the Punta Bagna in Valfréjus, but there's no snowfall in the village during a retour d'est. It's for the same reason that you can take the Fréjus Tunnel and can drive from no precipitation at all at the French side (Modane) to heavy snowfall on the Italian side (Bardonecchia). Such examples show that the difference between the promised powder land and cosmetic white lines can be a mere 15 kilometers.

The same thing will happen around the Monte Rosa during this dump. Zermatt is situated in the shadow of the storm. The top of the Klein Matterhorn is red on our snow maps, but there's significantly less snow coming down in the valley compared with what's coming fown on the Italian side. Same story for the Monte Rosa ski area, where Alagna in the east gets considerably more snow than Champoluc. And this effect occurs in more resorts on the border with Italy in the next 72 hours. Abriès in the Queyras will get a lot of snow, while Ceillac (slightly more west in the Queyras) will get less snow.

What are the consequences of a slowly rising snow line?

As we (unfortunately) often see on the southern side of the Alps the snow line rises slowly during the dump. The snow line will be around 100-300 meters on Monday, but it will end up around 1200 meters in the south and 1600 meters in the north of the Piedmont by the end of the dump on Wednesday. Dry snow will come down above 1800 meters. This means that the snow below 1500-1900 meters will get heavier on Wednesday. Fortunately the sun will come out pretty soon. The night of Wednesday to Thursday will be clear and this gives the snowpack the opportunity to radiate its moisture, so you can expect Thursday and Friday to be great days. Fresh powder, sun, dry air (as in low humidity) and not that crowded yet in the resorts.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are powder days

Tuesday will be the day with the most fresh snow coming down, it will snow lightly on Wednesday, with the possibility of the sun coming out during the day. Because the clouds aren't pushed against the Alps anymore it's possible that the temperature will rise in those places where the sun comes out. Nevertheless you can ride great powder on Wednesday. Thursday will be even better. After the nocturnal radiation and low temperatures Thursday will be the day to ride powder above 1800 meters. And because the trees in the Piedmont go up to 2200 meters you can even do some treeruns!

Friday will be a beautiful day again with lots of sun and the urge to ride those parts of the mountain that are still untracked will increase. Please keep in mind that a lot of surface hoar developed on northern faces the last couple of weeks or that the wind transported a lot of snow, hardening the snowpack. Those are perfect sliding layers for avalanches. Therefore:

  1. Take an avalanche course and keep on learning.
  2. Always go out with an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe and know how to use them.
  3. Read the avalanche forecast.
  4. What are the risks specific to your resort that day?
  5. Simply don't ride the parts of the mountain with increased danger levels.

If you don't have the knowledge, start with Mountain Academy today!

Snow for the northern Alps during Christmas?

Some snow came down on the north side of the Alps. It wasn't much, around 1-5 cm. That resulted in some nice webcam images, but that's basically it. The northern Alps still need a lot of snow.



In addition, these small dumps aren't good for the snowpack. Many thin layers of snow results in an unstable snowpack. It is waiting for the big dumps before we can ride powder on the north side of the Alps. And those big dumps aren't visible on the maps right now. There's a little storm in the forecast right after Christmas, but unfortunately the jet stream is too far north and that means that the air temperature is too high. That Christmas storm should bring a cold front to the Alps and snow deep into the valleys, but those amounts of snow aren't visible on the maps yet.

Snowfall around Christmas
Snowfall around Christmas

It's time to start dancing again for the northern Alps. But if want to ride powder, you'd better jump in your car and drive to the Piedmont. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be great days. If you don't live in northwest of Italy, here's how to get there:

  • From the north of France: Fréjus tunnel. Once you come out of the tunnel it's only an hour drive to Sestrière. It's all highway up to Oulx.
  • From the south of France: Col de Montgenèvre or the Tende tunnel. You can easily reach Montgenèvre (where the snow probably is pretty good already), but the further east, the more snow. Abriès in the Queyras is also a good option and further south Isola 2000 might also be a good choice.
  • From Wallis: You can reach the Monte Rosa region and Champorcher with the Simplon pass or the Tunnel de Grand-Saint-Bernard.
  • From the north of Switzerland, Austria and Germany: take the Gotthardtunnel or the Brennerpass to Milano. You can choose between the north of the Piedmont (Monte Rosa) or the west of the Piedmont (Sestrière). It's a bit of a drive, but you'll find natural snow, no artificial ribbons.

And if that sounds like an adventure, don't hesitate and drop your questions in the comments. There's no such thing as a powder roadtrip! More details tomorrow!

Stay stoked. Morris


  • meteomorris
    meteomorris op 19 December 2016 · 13:13
    This is how the snowpack is at the moment at the Piemonte

    May the powder be with you.
  • sebseb
    sebseb op 19 December 2016 · 13:56
    MeteoMorris! thx for all the info! which resorts in the Piedmont would you recommend for skiers arriving only on the monday following the storm ? Thx !
  • tarekbayazid
    tarekbayazid op 19 December 2016 · 15:48
    Hi Morris, thanks for such clear and awesome descriptions. Question for you, am staying in Chamonix right now, but have a car and am willing to drive 90 min tomorrow. Would Pila make the most sense? Seems to be on the cusp of where it could snow really big, or just a few CM. it'll be storming out so definitely just a piste day (and probably below treeline) but will it have the best chance for pow on piste?
  • fatnskinny
    fatnskinny op 19 December 2016 · 16:12
    it is important to mention actual conditions at the resorts you are promoting.
    For example, several of the resorts in Piedmont you mention in your report actually have no snow below 2000m at the moment.
    Absolutely no snow! Frozen ground and just like summer.
    You are encouraging people to go ride off-piste terrain on the first snow of the year.
    At these resorts, skiing during the storm cycle this week could be very risky riding; rock and branches will be a major issue.
    And because of the lack of base, the avy risk will surely be very high, even with all the gear/avy bag.
    Even a minor slab will send the rider into all the rocks and small trees/bushes.
    Early season and late season are the main times people get injured/killed.
    For example, over the last ten years, there have been a couple of deaths at Montgenevre in very similar conditions. Also at Puy St Vincent.
    It is important to stress such facts in your reports; otherwise you are contributing/promoting risky behaviour.

    Ps. I recall you writing a lot more about the risks two years ago on your site for your updates.
    It seems to me that you talk a lot less about this.
    Loose women and tight trees
  • fatnskinny
    fatnskinny op 19 December 2016 · 16:30
    Queyras also have no snow in trees.
    Abries, your "good option" is an example. Check out the photo:
    Loose women and tight trees
  • fatnskinny
    fatnskinny op 19 December 2016 · 16:35
    and, finally, huge wind is predicted in the Southern Alps.
    Already, many ski areas closed due to wind.
    Here is the photo of what is to come:

    Loose women and tight trees
  • meteomorris
    meteomorris op 19 December 2016 · 21:42
    @fatnskinny thanks for your feedback. I already warned people yesterday in my post about this:

    Avalanche warning
    The last snow in the Piedmont and the French resorts at the French-Italian border came down at the end of November. The old layer is smooth and hard thanks to the wind, or you can find a thick layer of surface hoar on top of the snow cover. You can expect the snow that will come down on Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday to slide down easily. Because there is no real base between the trees, you'll find the best powder above the tree line and you will have to be aware of the avalanche danger. More updates about that the next couple of days. (see:

    But it is good that you mention it again. It is because of this that I planned to give specific advise not earlier than tomorrow. The goal in my forecast today was to give people an idea of the driving directions and to give them specific advice tomorrow. It is not my goal to contribute in or even to promote risky behavior and will be more specific in my advice tomorrow.

    The wind maps you posted though is something we see regularly during a retour d'est. High winds near the cols and the main crest which accelerates into the French and Swiss valleys. On the Italian side the wind is less strong though. It's a typical 'Lombarde qui souffle' situation. Especially near the main alpine crest this might cause major slabs.

    @fatnskinny better so?

    @sebseb, I would recommend Sestriere or Monte Rosa (especially Gressoney)
    @tarekbayazid I would go to Champorcher on Saturday (they will not open earlier than saturday). Pila doesn't get that much snow from this storm directions, but does get a lot of wind (wind slabs!)
    May the powder be with you.
  • Fluc
    Fluc op 20 December 2016 · 10:46
    Hi there

    @sebseb @tarekbayazid, i stay with two friends in Gressoney from Wed - Fri next week.
    Let me know, if you come to Gressoney. We are looking for 1-2 Days with a guide there.

    Greetings from Switzerland!
    *Ride hard, stay easy*
  • Fluc
    Fluc op 20 December 2016 · 10:48
    @meteomorris, where can we find some avalanche report in english for Aosta Valley/Piemonte, any ideas?
    *Ride hard, stay easy*
  • Fluc
    Fluc op 20 December 2016 · 11:38 *Ride hard, stay easy*
  • DWF
    DWF op 20 December 2016 · 11:54
    140 cm to 2300 m but be careful it's slippery.... This is from 05 in France Photo Credit: Lionel Cabras. December 16th

  • fatnskinny
    fatnskinny op 29 December 2016 · 11:31
    after the big Southern dump last week there were two deaths in two different avalanche events and lots of reported close calls, including one documented event two days ago. Of note, two of the three documented events, including one fatality, were UIAGM guided groups:
    Loose women and tight trees
  • meteomorris
    meteomorris op 29 December 2016 · 18:41
    @fatnskinny, thanks. Heard it already through my contacts. Our thoughts go out to family and friends.
    May the powder be with you.


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