The warm-cold rollercoaster that will end with an northern Stau?

By meteomorris on 21 December 2018 · 7

We are on the eve of a rollercoaster whose outcome certainly will not result in a white Christmas everywhere. Warm and cold fronts alternate at a dizzying pace in the next 120 hours. The zero degree level rises in the direction of the 2400 meters one moment, to drop again to 1500 or even 900 meters 24 hours later. The jetstream winds its way into Europe, with warm air regularly raising the mercury. The northern Alps are most likely to get some cold air during the Christmas period, the low mountain ranges of the western Alps (French Alps, west of Switzerland and northwestern Italy) remain mainly under the spell of mild air. If you want to experience a white Christmas, it is best to opt for villages at high altitudes. Especially for the western Alps: choose villages around 1800/1900 meters. Because the northern Alps benefit more from the cold fronts, there is still some snow coming down on the lower parts of the mountain on our way to Christmas.

A white village is fun, but fresh or at least dry powder snow is even more fun. Who wants to ride powder with Christmas has to pick a ski area at higher altitude. And it is already very good for the time of the year in those places. The snow cover above 2000 meters is equal to or higher than the long-term average in many areas in the Alps. Below the rollercoaster to Christmas:

Friday: incoming warm front
Friday: incoming warm front

From Friday to Saturday: very mild

A very active warm front moves into the Alps from the west with precipitation for the northwest of the Alps. The wind is powerful (from the southwest). The snow line rises rapidly towards 1900 meters or higher. The snow line first fluctuates around 900-1200 meters to rise later in the inneralpine areas. The Alps are dealing with mild air and it is warm everywhere in the night to Saturday, with rain to high altitude in the northwest of the Alps.

Temporarily cooler on Saturday
Temporarily cooler on Saturday

Saturday: cold front

Cold air is gently touching the north of the Alps during the course of the Saturday. The precipitation moves to the north of the Alps and the snow line then drops towards the 1600 meters. Cold dry snow, incidentally, only falls above 1900-2200 meters. On the southern side of the Alps (including the French Southern Alps), the sun will shine, but with a northern Föhn.

And warm again
And warm again

Sunday to Monday: rising temperatures

Mild air flows into the northern Alps again in the course of Sunday. The cold air that shook the northern Alps on Saturday afternoon is being pushed away by a southwestern current. The humid air that shakes the northern Alps on Sunday causes rain in the valleys and snow above 1800-2100 meters.

Incoming cold air
Incoming cold air

Christmas night: cold front for the north with a (small) northern Stau as a result

Something very interesting is about to happen on the 24th of December. Cold air reaches the northern Alps. Cold air descends over the eastern flank of a high-pressure area towards the Alps. The air pressure is high, the air is relatively dry and normally it produces little snow, but ........

The mild and humid air of Sunday afternoon is still just north of the Alps and is trapped between the cold air that descends from the north to the Alps on the one hand and the Alps on the other. That cold air presses that damp air against the Alps and the result is snowfall deeper in the valleys in the night to Christmas. This results in a lot of snow in the current calculations, with which Christmas morning has a white start in many ski villages on the northern side of the Alps.

But we are not there yet. There are still some variables that can change up to and including Christmas. That northern Stau might change as well.

  • Friday: storm is coming, still enjoy the powder and return home when the snow line rises rapidly
  • Saturday: a great day in the northwest with a fair amount of snow above 2200 meters. The cooling results in the best perspective at the end of the afternoon. Best picks are the higher regions of the French northern Alps and the west and north of Switzerland.
  • Sunday: mild again, but the fresh snow and the somewhat lowered snow line from Saturday make Sunday morning quite okay on the northern side of the Alps. The snow line rises again in the afternoon.
  • Monday: exciting. Is the northern Stau coming?

I'll ride some powder in the Arlberg today, with eight of my Powfinder friends. Check out the pictures below. And check out the video that Patrick made in Leukerbad last weekend. We can't complain! Great snow, blue skies and a great start of the season!

Earn your turns
Earn your turns


Guide Irian van Helfteren leads the way
Guide Irian van Helfteren leads the way

If the northern Stau will kick in, Christmas Day good be as good as the pictures and video above!

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Stay stoked, Morris


  • giovannilofaro
    giovannilofaro op 21 December 2018 · 12:40
    What an amazing forecast - both for quality of the description and the prospects it brings! Thank you as always, guru Morris.
    For this weekend, would you recommend La Thuile-Courmayeur (south alps but north facing and high enough?), or better Chamonix or Verbier (less snow and still a bit warm)?
  • ecsjones
    ecsjones op 21 December 2018 · 14:48
    Pouring rain in Verbier currently
  • meteomorris
    meteomorris op 22 December 2018 · 09:58
    @giovannilofaro thank you. Sorry for my late response. I have been on the road the last 36 hours. I would suggest Courmayeur.

    @escjones thank for your report. Especially during these weather events I am grateful that you share your report since ski resorts won’t share conditions like this on their channels. Keep them coming!
    May the powder be with you.
  • rossymcg
    rossymcg op 22 December 2018 · 16:23
    where did you ski in the Arlberg? i had the best time of my life this past season skiing untracked day after day in the Arlberg
    *message edited by rossymcg op 22 Dec 2018 16:36 (1% bewerkt)
  • Verbier01
    Verbier01 op 23 December 2018 · 08:33
    Thank you Morris. We are in Courmayeur and conditions are so so. High freezing line and avalanche risk 4/5 are limiting the off piste. Heading to Chamonix and Verbier in the next few days....
  • meteomorris
    meteomorris op 23 December 2018 · 10:01
    @Verbier01 If you are willing to drive a bit than you should go to the resorts in the Swiss Alpennordhang or Haut Valais. They will get more significant more snow than Cham and Verbier. As of Tuesday bluebird and probably 50cm+ higher up.
    May the powder be with you.
  • juancarlosdominguezlemoine
    juancarlosdominguezlemoine op 23 December 2018 · 19:02
    In Crans Montana we are water skiing.


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