A cold front is heading to the northern Alps in the night from Thursday to Friday. This will bring snowfall and low temperatures on Friday and Saturday, but right now it's mild and sunny in the Alps. High pressure will take over again after the cold front has passed and the temperatures will rise again thanks to the jetstream that's positioned too far north. Real storms are kept at a distance. The weather might change somewhere in the middle of next week, but that's more speculation than something that's set in stone right now. In this forecast:
High pressure is present above the Alps and mild air came in from the Mediterranean the last 48 hours thanks to the current from the southeast. It feels like Spring in the Alps with cold nights and sunny and warm days. The sun is already higher in the sky (mid-February) and she's having more and more influence on the snowpack because the sunrays directly hit the snow.
But that only applies to the slopes where the sun rays can penetrate the snowpack directly. The rise of the temperature is not as high on more shaded slopes in forests where the sun can not directly hit the snow and you can still find some fresh powder there.
It will be a sunny day in the Alps today with rising temperatures thanks to the sun.
The sun will stick around till Thursday. The night from Wednesday to Thursday will be cold and clear, but the night of Thursday to Friday will be clouded and you can expect some snow to come down in the northern Alps. The nights will be clear and cold in the rest of the Alps.
You can see a blue line on the map above. This will bring snow to the northern Alps especially on Friday, but also on Saturday. The snowline will drop to 1400 meters in the west of the northern Alps (Switzerland and the north of the French Alps), but will even drop to 600 meters in the east (the east of Austria).
The models are still arguing a bit about where the most snow will come down. The European model puts the center of gravity around the Swiss resort of Engelberg and the Bernese Oberland, with the Salzburgerland and Styria as runner up. The European model is forecasting 5-20 cm of snow for the moment.
The American model however forecasts the most snow in the east of the Alps (15-30 cm of snow in the Salzburgerland and Styria). I hope to tell you which model will be right tomorrow. You'll probably be able to make a powder turn (or two) on Saturday(afternoon).
Peak season has started in the Alps. A new batch of skiers and snowboarders will arrive in the Alps (especially the French northern Alps and Austria) on Saturday and it will be busy on the roads. This might not be the perfect day to travel. You'd better arrive on Friday if you want to ride some powder on Saturday. But to be honest, it won't be that epic, it will be crowded and you'll pay a lot right now. I'd save my money for a real PowderAlert.
Alright, so you're in the Alps this week (maybe with your family). Where can you still find some fresh powder?
Let's start with a general message: the Alps have a difficult winter, the snow cover is relatively thin and there are very weak layers deeper into the snow cover. Because of the crowds the next couple of weeks there might be the temptation to venture deeper into the backcountry. These slopes probably won't be tracked, but obviously there are weak layers in the snow cover over there as well. Thanks to the significant rise of the temperature the next 48 hours and the mild temperatures that are forecasted for next week there will be some tensions in the snowcover. This could result in an avalanche cycle with big avalanches coming down. With the rising temperatures the next couple of days this is a realistic risk.
If you don't have you no knowledge about snow, avalanches, the steepness of slopes, etc... just stay on the slopes. This is an explicit call to anyone who doesn't have the right knowledge and experience to stay on the slopes. If you doubt whether you know anything about it, start with Chapter 1 of Mountain Academy. The first chapter ends with a test.
You can definitely can still ride some powder with the right knowledge. Think of shady forests where the sun hardly ever comes. The moisture can radiate here especially during clear nights. Please note: the snow cover in the trees is not thick enough all over the Alps. You'll find the best conditions in the Italian Piedmont, northeastern Italy, the southernmost areas of Switzerland and the forests of the southern French Alps right now.
The conditions are fine to go for a tour below 2000 meters. Above that altitude you have to think about that weak old layer deeper in the snowpack. The wind also transported lots of snow the last couple of days. Ride conservative lines (not steeper than 35 degrees and preferably less steep). Make sure there aren't any steep faces above you and keep in mind that the snow cover might get more unstable during the day due to the sun.
The temperature will rise in the Alps after the snowfall on Friday and Saturday. The jetstream will turn to the west (and will probably end up too far north) and mild air will reach the Alps. You can see some clouds coming in on the north side of the Alps from time to time. There's some hope though, because the weather might change in the middle of next week.
Ride safe the next couple of days. It's still only mid February. There are more powder days to come.
Stay stoked. Morris