Don’t panic - the snow will come!

23rd December 2014, by Dave Watts

Very sparse snowfalls in the 1980s have led to a meassive increase in snowmaking

Very sparse snowfalls in the 1980s have led to a meassive increase in snowmaking

There has been much scaremongering in the national media about the lack of snow in the Alps and pictures of bare slopes in the run up to Christmas.

Sure, after some hefty November falls, warm weather and sunshine has meant that many low resorts have struggled to open in the run up to Christmas – and some may not be open for the big day itself. But all the resorts we featured in my September feature on Good resorts for pre-Christmas skiing have plenty of well-covered pistes to keep you interested.

And there may well be a widespread snowfall this coming weekend.

Worrying about lack of snow is a natural occupational hazard among keen skiers and boarders and it is something that has pre-occupied me ever since I got hooked on skiing back in the 1970s.

But I’ve learned not to worry because, as Charles Dickens’ Mr Micawber said ‘something will turn up’. It usually has in my experience. I remember pitching up in Wengen for New Year in the 1980s after seeing press photos of bare slopes, to be greeted on our first morning by fresh overnight snow in the village and great skiing above. The same happened a few years ago in Courchevel 1650 in April with a Daily Mail Ski reader trip when we arrived to bare slopes and sunbathing weather; the next morning it was a winter wonderland again.

The late 1980s saw a couple of winters with very sparse snowfalls in the Alps, which did keen skiers a favour in two main ways. First, it put North America on the UK skiers’ map and prompted a couple of specialist tour operators to start up because of the more reliable snow over there. Second, and more importantly, it made resorts take snowmaking much more seriously and increase their capacity hugely to minimize the damage to their business in poor snow years.

Snowmaking is now standard in nearly all resorts and means that, so long as it is cold enough to make snow, you can be assured of good cover on the pistes that are supplied with it. In the first edition of Where to Ski and Snowboard, published in 1994, the SkiWelt (Söll, Ellmau etc) in Austria had only 12% of its pistes covered by snowmaking – now it claims 82%. Selva in the Sella Ronda region of the Italian Dolomites was one of the first resorts to take snowmaking seriously and had 44% covered even back in 1994; now it claims 95% and I have had great skiing there even in snow drought years. Wengen and Grindelwald share a very picturesque but low ski area in Switzerland and were very slow off the mark with snowmaking In 1994 only 5% of pistes were covered and I stopped going there regularly for holidays because of that; but now they say 40% of pistes are covered and my recent visits there confirm that it makes a huge difference.

So choose a high, snowsure resort or go mid-winter to one with a good snowmaking system and you should not be disappointed with the piste skiing. But going early season (including Christmas and New Year) has always been something of a lottery.

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