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Zermatt (and Cervinia) 2017/18

 Poster: A snowHead
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@Perty, similar experience to you today. Only 3 runs open but pistes mostly in good nick. Bit gusty though (got taken by suprise by one on my first run and blown over Embarassed)
I saw strong winds forecast for early am, I would not be suprised to see a late opening. Bergfex is suggesting a foot of fresh overnight, but with the high winds I wonder if any of it will stay on the pistes...
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Quote:

The radar returns have been hitting a wall all day just as they approach from the NW. I never knew how relatively dry the area was until I started studying the radar and models a few weeks ago.


I have noticed exactly the same. It really is a dry little enclave, with an annual snowfall just a fraction of, say, the Arlberg. I suppose the upside is that it holds its snow well and one might expect lots of sunny days later in the season.

I am there on Dec 15, so I shall be watching this thread with great interest.
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mitcva wrote:
Quote:

The radar returns have been hitting a wall all day just as they approach from the NW. I never knew how relatively dry the area was until I started studying the radar and models a few weeks ago.


I have noticed exactly the same. It really is a dry little enclave, with an annual snowfall just a fraction of, say, the Arlberg. I suppose the upside is that it holds its snow well and one might expect lots of sunny days later in the season.

I am there on Dec 15, so I shall be watching this thread with great interest.


Zermatt averages about ~450cm snowfall a season.

St Anton is around ~700cm.

Both get 10-30% less snow than they did just a few decades ago, due to global warming.
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Whitegold, where do you get those figures? And is that value for Zermatt from a specific location? I have found very little reliable information on annual precipitation and snowfall in the Alps. And there's a lot of variation between different elevations and even from one ridgeline to another.

There's no way that the town of Zermatt averages 450cm of snowfall per year, so I assume that measurement is from somewhere higher up in the mountains. Since it rarely rains above 3000m near Zermatt, I see the snow problem being more of a lack precipitation instead of warm temperatures. We need more data to determine the impacts of climate change on high alpine snowfall. The lower elevations are likely to see less, but it's not clear if the higher elevations will see the same problem. There are lots of resorts in the US that have been seeing higher than average snowfall seasons in spite of warmer than normal temperatures.
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@altaski8,

There are no reliable agreed figures. Lots of websites claim Zermatt gets 750 cm of snow per year. But I would treat that number as sceptically as I’d treat those bandying around low numbers.

Zermatt has a couple of things going for it. First its height means that from early on in the season until quite late any precipitation falls as snow rather than rain. Plus its height again and the fact that a high proportion of the ski are is north facing (Cervinia is south facing) means that whatever snow it gets it tends to hold onto – there is a lot less melt. Cervinia’s height tends to trump its south facing until late in the season – for example it tends to be more pleasant skiing in Cervinia in December but better skiing in Zermatt in April.
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Here is a snippet from the Swiss federal office of climatology:

"The Alps accommodate a high complexity of microclimates commonly changing within a few kilometres depending on the slope or a valley’s orientation. So-called intra-alpine dry valleys as Valais (Rhone Valley) or Engadine are topographically shielded to the north as well as to the south. These regions not only get a lot of sun (the Kleines Matterhorn above Zermatt and the Diavolezza in the Upper Engadine with 2000 to 2500 sunshine hours per year) but also accommodate the driest place in Switzerland (Ackersand in the Matter Valley with about 500 mm per year)."
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@mitcva,

That is interesting about Ackersand. I didn’t know that. As a regular (OK, addicted) radar watcher I am not too surprised. Ackersand is located in the lower Matter valley near Stalden (where the valley splits into two to go to either Saas-Fee or Zermatt. It is very sheltered. Plus any precipitation coming from a northerly direction runs straight up the valley until it hits the massive wall of the Swiss-Italian border (and therefore hopefully dumping on Zermatt). Anything coming from a southerly direction (if it has made it over the border) runs even more easily down to the Rhône valley at Visp. Very little comes from a “pure” East or West direction so there is always an inclination to run up or down the valley. As I say I observe this on the radar.. But I can also watch it happening in real life from our apartment in Täsch (I am more interesting than that makes me sound – honest).
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As an off-piste, powder lover, I'm starting to think I should have booked a trip to a snowier area like Engelberg or Andermatt, or one of the many smaller areas along the northern part of the chain. I knew Zermatt wasn't a snow magnet, but I didn't know the degree to which it suffers. Snow retention is nice, but if that's your concern you can ski indoors. I like the early season snow security of high elevation, glacier areas... but with lifts opening left and right, that was probably not the best decision. In the end, the scenic appeal of the area won out. It's just a shame you can't match that with great snow.

All that said, I think it's possible to deliver a lot of snow to the area with a warm, wet storm from the west, maybe transitioning into a Genoa low. But that type of event isn't so good for the lower elevations.
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@altaski8,

Although I agree with some of your points sadly with today's problems with global warming etc its a bit of a lottery wherever you go. Saying that, as an off-piste / powder hound you can luck out with some fantastic heli-skiing (some of the best in Europe in my opinion) and some great itinerary runs and serious off piste if you know what you doing in Zermatt. I wouldn't be searching for powder early on in the season considering the track record of the past few years and before the base has built up but later on in March for example some of the back country is excellent.
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@Run28

Zermatt in March or April would be my preference with a deep base and more daylight. But this year my schedule only allows for the trip in December. I am always searching for powder. Early season storms can sometimes deliver the biggest events.

I think GW hurts the areas below 2000m the most. But for the high alpine it's not so clear. Precip. patterns change year to year and the statistics show good years and bad years dating back decades.
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@altaski8, when are you booked up? Even early season there can be some great off piste to be had but you really need to hire a guide (which comes at a cost obviously). Zermatt has great easily accessible off piste and itineraries but they are best enjoyed from late January onwards. For example the most iconic of the itineraries (on Stockhorn) don't even plan to open up until late January (it is rocky up there) and can be later in a poor year.
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@altaski8, oops you answered while i was typing! If you can afford a guide I would do that if you want to go off piste in December.
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Having spent most of my skiing life in North America, I cannot bring myself to hire an expensive guide when riding ski lifts. So I am resigned to skiing relatively safe terrain, conservatively, and with good "backcountry" practices.
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@altaski8,

I can understand that. There will be people going off piste in December. As you don’t know the area, the best I can say is don’t go anywhere where you are making fresh tracks. Zermatt and Cervinia are rocky, particularly up top and the top areas are glaciers and so have crevasses, which might be covered with snow bridges so you won’t necessarily see them.

If any of the itineraries (the yellow routes on the piste map) are open you’ll enjoy them. But there is a risk none might be open if the snow stops – there weren’t any open in December last year for example.

There are places people tend to get some reasonable side pisting. For example the Gornergrat (strictly Gifthittli) area down to Riffelberg. That tends not to be too rocky, is not a glacier and there are loads of people around. Also even without the Stockhorn area opening a lot of people ski off piste down from Hohtälli to Gant. Personally, much as I love that area once the itineraries open, I don’t (unless with a guide). It is fairly rocky and you really ought not to do it unless with a group – if you fall and hurt yourself there might not be anybody to find you! Coming down from Furggsattel lift loads of people ski off piste on skiers’ right (even though it is on a glacier) and quite a few climb up to the peak to skiers’ left of the lift station and come down there – but that area does tend to get more crevasses. Personally I’ve never done it without a guide. Also even if itineraries 67 and 68 are not open, you’ll see a lot doing it – but it is rocky. On the Cervinia side there is a lot of stuff either side of the high pistes that is really nice and tends not to get as skied out – Cervinia seems to attract a higher proportion of piste only skiers.

I hope you have a good time but please stay safe.
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altaski8 wrote:
Having spent most of my skiing life in North America, I cannot bring myself to hire an expensive guide when riding ski lifts. So I am resigned to skiing relatively safe terrain, conservatively, and with good "backcountry" practices.


You hire an "expensive" guide to keep you safe, and take you to the goods. Hope you have a good time, and ski some great pisted terrain. Who knows, you might get lucky and have a powder day where they don't groom the pisted runs. Had one day skiing at Zermatt the week before Xmas, where we skied some on-piste terrain after they had groomed it after lift closure and Zermatt received about 15cm-20cm of freshies late that night/early morning. Nothing like skiing hero snow in those conditions.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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Nowhere in the Western European Alps really gets big snow.

It is a myth drummed up by resort-marketing departments since the 1960s.

St Anton in a rare big year will get 1000cm. But that's as good as it gets.

Most resorts in the Alps get 200-600cm snowfall a year.

If you want proper big snow, you gotta go to Northern Japan or Northwestern US.

Japan is the Mecca. Dry fluffy snow of 1000-2000cm is commonplace.

This is Washington State, USA, in June 2011.

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Nice early season bonus: from tomorrow (Wednesday 15th) they are opening the pistes from Trockener Steg down to Furgg (64 and 66). Other areas still scheduled to open Saturday 25th).
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JohnMo wrote:
For example the most iconic of the itineraries (on Stockhorn) don't even plan to open up until late January (it is rocky up there) and can be later in a poor year.

Is it because its rocky there or because its glaciated and needs time for the crevasses to be filled in?
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Whitegold wrote:

This is Washington State, USA, in June 2011.



Ha! Great pic. I rode my bike up Chinook Pass July 4th weekend of 2011. There were 4-5 meter walls of snow on either side of the road once they cleared it. People were skiing that stuff all summer long!

Zermatt is still a great place to ski and experience, even if they don't get the snow accumulation we get here in the PNW. Yes, I've been spoiled my whole life to live in such a great area of snow accumulation. But I still love going across the pond every now and again to soak up the vibe and ambiance of the Swiss/French Alps, and the Arlberg and Tyrol. And other than one year, of going to Europe, I've generally been fortunate to get in a few pow days while there.
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JohnMo wrote:
Nice early season bonus: from tomorrow (Wednesday 15th) they are opening the pistes from Trockener Steg down to Furgg (64 and 66). Other areas still scheduled to open Saturday 25th).


Excellent news - many thanks for the update JohnMo.
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In my opinion - it would be a lifetime mistake to ski in Zermatt and not hire a guide and ski a major tour like the schwarztor....Do not think of Zermatt as even a distant relative of alta....Zermatt is a place where a single off-piste itinerary can take most of the day, may involve a rappel or two and end at the finest lunch you've ever had in the mountains. Alta skiing is fun; great in it's own way, but this is a different thing. More just being in the big, big mountains. You can't have that experience without a guide. Have it. As many times as you can.
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Went to Zermatt last March. Going back in February. Last year I checked this thread and the meteoswiss radar daily and noticed the same thing as everyone else. The snowbands just evaporate as they reach Zermatt. Seems to be happening again this year. Dont know why it is. Definitely not as snowsure as snowbird/alta which is where I do most of my skiing. Regardless, it is an experience not to be missed. We did 5 days with an off piste guide and the skiing, even in a lousy snow year, was absolutely spectacular. Would take it over Snowbird/Alta any day. Not to mention the lunches Smile
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DCG wrote:
JohnMo wrote:
For example the most iconic of the itineraries (on Stockhorn) don't even plan to open up until late January (it is rocky up there) and can be later in a poor year.

Is it because its rocky there or because its glaciated and needs time for the crevasses to be filled in?


It is because it is rocky. It needs a decent build up to get it sufficiently covered. They tend to be fairly conservative in when they open the Stockhorn itineraries. Sometimes they'll let you over there earlier with a guide as there are some ways down that have fewer large rocks as long as you know your way.

Even when it is open you need to be careful. However for me it is the best "run" (it is not a piste) there is: over 1300m (4300 feet) of vertical drop down ungroomed snow.
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Am I right in thinking that this ensemble (link below) suggests the possibility for a period of snowfall at Zermatt in the last week of November? Presumably, the white line is the average, or median, or whatever?


http://www.wetterzentrale.de/maps/GFSENS06_46_8_205.png
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Yes re the white line (Mittel). But the various runs are still showing such large variations that you can't have any confidence in what might be coming. The best you can say is that there is very unlikely to be anything other than a flutter of snow for the next week and then after that there "might" be snow
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Thanks. Being a bear of little brain, I would be grateful if you could explain why the white "Mittel" line for the snow seems to be bottom of all the relevant coloured lines, rather than somewhere in the middle, as it is for temperature.
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The mid and long range models don't look great at the moment. The storm track looks to stay pretty far north after a possible northern stau that I suspect will shift east and primarily affect Austria. In the long range there might be room for a storm from the west, which would probably be warm but possibly good for the high alpine.
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mitcva wrote:
Thanks. Being a bear of little brain, I would be grateful if you could explain why the white "Mittel" line for the snow seems to be bottom of all the relevant coloured lines, rather than somewhere in the middle, as it is for temperature.


I don’t know how they calculate das Mittel. This thread below is very good for explaining the ensembles generally:

http://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=14852
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@JohnMo, I also enjoy those itineraries from Stockhorn but was disappointed one year when they were closed in mid January (despite good snow) as the cable car to Rote Nase wasn't scheduled to start running until after 15th Jan.
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Many thanks.

Incidentally, I am a sort of middling intermediate who prefers to pootle along looking at the scenery rather than facing a challenge. Red 69, under the Matterhorn, looks like my kind of run - but just how challenging is the short steep bit three quarters of the way along?
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DCG wrote:
@JohnMo, I also enjoy those itineraries from Stockhorn but was disappointed one year when they were closed in mid January (despite good snow) as the cable car to Rote Nase wasn't scheduled to start running until after 15th Jan.


It rarely would be open before then. Last year was really bad - it was late Feb before it opened!! Very bad for the area: there are people who come from late Jan on with the main aim of skiing the itineraries and the Stockhorn ones are the best.
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mitcva wrote:
Many thanks.

Incidentally, I am a sort of middling intermediate who prefers to pootle along looking at the scenery rather than facing a challenge. Red 69, under the Matterhorn, looks like my kind of run - but just how challenging is the short steep bit three quarters of the way along?


I prefer off piste but I am very happy doing pistes as well. Piste 69 is fantastic. However they seem reluctant to open it. Unlike the Stockhorn itineraries that I’ve been discussing it is not so obvious why. You start on glacier but the crevasses are managed well on that glacier. And as it is very high Alpine you come down over rock. But that is the same for all of the pistes round there. Lots of people ski it in any case but strictly they are doing it off piste and until it is officially opened there are no markers.

As regards difficulty. On a clear day with good snow you’ll be fine. But do the other reds round there first (eg 66 and then 70). 66 is easiest then 70 then 69 so you can gauge whether you can move up from one to the other.
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Many thanks. Never been to Zermatt before, Looking forward to it.
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I'm off to Zermatt in a month's time. Never heard of this problem with snow before - hopefully it won't be an issue - seems to me that it has a better snow record than most resorts.
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iainm wrote:
I'm off to Zermatt in a month's time. Never heard of this problem with snow before - hopefully it won't be an issue - seems to me that it has a better snow record than most resorts.


It's high enough that the upper mountain holds its snow well. Does tend to get windy up there above 3,200 meters though! But what place doesn't get a spot of wind at those altitudes?!
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iainm wrote:
I'm off to Zermatt in a month's time. Never heard of this problem with snow before - hopefully it won't be an issue - seems to me that it has a better snow record than most resorts.


Zermatt has a fairly good snow record.

It has the last remaining truly 365-days-a-year skiable glacier in the European Alps.

Its non-glacier season lasts Dec to Apr and always has plenty open.

Zermatt just doesn't get the mega pukes seen in places like St Anton (by Euro standards).

It is on the drier western / southern end of the Alps.
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iainm wrote:
I'm off to Zermatt in a month's time. Never heard of this problem with snow before - hopefully it won't be an issue - seems to me that it has a better snow record than most resorts.


Don't worry. Zermatt has an excellent snow record. It benefits in that it tends to pick up on snow from whichever direction it comes, including some great dumps from the south that makes Cervinia so good. Sadly it is impossible to have a sensible discussion about relative snowfalls because it immediately gets hijacked by some who want to slag off a particular resort or region for reasons best known to themselves. Best just to keep an eye on what is there and what might be coming. It has been a great start which means everything is opening on time or even early. Temperatures have been low so snowmaking has been pumping away which means the pistes will be perfect for those who prefer pistes (which those of us who prefer off have to remember is the vast majority of skiers). There is no snow in the pipeline for the next week. After that there are definite possibilities but it is too far out to be confident.
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JohnMo wrote:
iainm wrote:
I'm off to Zermatt in a month's time. Never heard of this problem with snow before - hopefully it won't be an issue - seems to me that it has a better snow record than most resorts.


Don't worry. Zermatt has an excellent snow record. It benefits in that it tends to pick up on snow from whichever direction it comes, including some great dumps from the south that makes Cervinia so good. Sadly it is impossible to have a sensible discussion about relative snowfalls because it immediately gets hijacked by some who want to slag off a particular resort or region for reasons best known to themselves. Best just to keep an eye on what is there and what might be coming. It has been a great start which means everything is opening on time or even early. Temperatures have been low so snowmaking has been pumping away which means the pistes will be perfect for those who prefer pistes (which those of us who prefer off have to remember is the vast majority of skiers). There is no snow in the pipeline for the next week. After that there are definite possibilities but it is too far out to be confident.


+1
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The hard facts (numbers) don't lie.

Zermatt gets 50-80% less snowfall than the best Japanese and American resorts. And 20-50% less than the best European resorts.
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