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Mega snow dumps. Alps v Pyrenees

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
The Pyrenees seem to do very well with huge deposits of snow a few times a season. From my own(limited) experience when it snows in the Pyrenees it really snows.

I've been lucky enough to spend 6-7 full or part seasons in the Alps but only just a handful of short trips to the Pyrenees yet most of those trips have been powder fests. Don't get me wrong, I also have plenty of happy Alpine powder memories but % wise for me anyway the Pyrenees have delivered more consistently.

Does anyone else have any observations or facts on Alps V Pyrenees snow falls over a season?
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
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Contrary to popular belief, Western Europe never gets huge amounts of snow.

Most stations in the Alps average 200-600cm a year.

Even the snowiest resorts in the Alps (like Lech, Austria) only get 500-1000cm per year.

You gotta go to Northern Japan or Western US for deep pow, where 1000-2000cm annually is commonplace.

The Pyrenees (on the whole) are very dry.

It is quite far south and near to sunny Spain.

Most resorts only average 100-500cm of snowfall a year.

Soldeu, for example, averages 250cm per annum.

Once every few years, a giant storm rolls in off the Atlantic (like this week).

But they are rare.

Overall, the Alps get 50-100% more snow than the Pyrenees.
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I've witnessed first hand 3-4 huge storms (1m+)and heard of many more in recent years so you are not correct there for certain!
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alasdair.graham wrote:
I've witnessed first hand 3-4 huge storms (1m+)and heard of many more in recent years so you are not correct there for certain!

for once he/she is right, generally the pyrenees are dry in comparison to the alps. Youve been lucky is all i can say
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Lech averages 9m a year, snowiest in Europe.....Pyrenees too far south to get anything like that surely?
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Markymark29 wrote:
Lech averages 9m a year, snowiest in Europe.....Pyrenees too far south to get anything like that surely?

to far west as well compmetely misses all the cold northerly wind whipping down from Scandinavia.
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I would agree that the Pyrenees tend to get their snow in bigger but less regular dumps than the northern Alps. The southern Alps however can also get some big dumps interspersed by dry spells.

Proximity of the northern (western) Alps to the usual position of the jet stream may be a factor. Also the proximity of the Pyrenees and southern Alps to large, warmish bodies of water.

But over an average season I think many parts of the Alps are snowier than many parts of the Pyrenees (with many exceptions).
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I was skiing with a guide in Val d'Isere this week who told me that the Pyrenees have had better snow recently. This is probably not typical though.
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I’m fairly sure that Cauterets in the Pyrenees was the snowiest ski resort in Europe or maybe the world a few years back. And anyone who says the Pyrenees is dry obviously doesn’t live here! The locals call my département the Pyrenees-Aquatique for a reason!!
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I can dig up some data on average yearly snow depths in some Pyrenean ski areas - but not until I've finished ripping up this latest snowfall (which resulted from Winter Storm Gloria which tore through the western Mediterranean up from Africa, not from the Atlantic).
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I wasn't suggesting the Pyrenees get more snow, just when it snows it snows more at once possibly.
The accumulations for the season come via a handful of huge snow events rather than 5/10cm's here and there?

I'm well aware the Alps get snowmaggedon type events as well obviously.
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Anecdotally I think that might be the case.
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Lech is not snowiest of the Alps.
Its neighbour Warth is: 11 meters/season
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Quote:
Its neighbour Warth is: 11 meters/season
This is due to the phenomenon of the "lake effect" from Lake Constance which significantly increases the snowfall in the area when the weather comes from the N.W direction https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/10.1175/MWR-D-16-0032.1
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@geoffers,
Thanks for that link. Really interesting. Explains why there are localised effects beyond just position at the centre of the alps. Reminds me of the north sea and Irish Sea ‘streamers’ we sometimes get in the uk with certain wind directions and temperatures. snowHead
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Both Lech and Warth are favoured by the Lake Constance effect.
The difference of 2 m is explained by the few mountains that separate Warth and Lech (Warther horn and Karhorn, and Mohnenfluh)
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Few years ago I was in Bareges and it snowed and it snowed, that was the same year that there were photos of the chair lift in Cautarets submerged under the snow-fall.

What was apparent that dear little old Bareges simply did not have the infrastructure to deal with that volume of snow, it was not too bad for us as we resorted to touring lower down as the resort was closed down and then later in the week all non-locals were evacuated.

There was indeed a lot of snow, but it was very heavy which is often what people say about snow in the Pyrenees as it carries a lot of moisture, but that can be the case for the Southern Alps as well with a Retour D'Est, it all depends on the time of year, and if a storm is followed by a couple of clear nights that will often see the moisture sucked out of the snow-pack.

The ideal situation (after a good dump for a base) is 20cms top-ups for a few months rather than storms.
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After a night of snow last year I heard a pisteur (originally from the alps)who was opening a slope describe it over the radio as fresh new snow but heavy, straight away over the radio another pisteur who was local replied, it’s not heavy it’s Pyrenean!!!
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@Pumba, Laughing

And here in Serre Chevalier in March/April after a dump and if it goes heavy real quick we call it "Serre-ment" Laughing
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Quote:
The central High Pyrenees regularly and on average every year receive more snow that the Alps due to their Atlantic – maritime climate.


https://www.mountainbug.com/pyrenees-skiing-myths/

Of course, receiving more snow than the Alps does not necessarily mean Pyrenean resorts enjoy consistently deeper snow pack than Alpine resorts.
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Anyone been out to the eastern Pyrenees? A friend of friend owns a place in Prades, which I believe is drivable to Les Angles and a couple of other resorts. Just wondering if it's worth a trip?
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Absolutely worth it right now. If now isn't the time to visit the eastern Pyrenees then I don't know when is. (Don't go expecting any untracked in Les Angles, though; we already killed it on Friday Razz. Best tree skiing I've had for a while; last season was boring for off-piste.) Later this week I'll be posting a full update on the Pyrenees Snow Report thread.
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JimSearle wrote:
Anyone been out to the eastern Pyrenees? A friend of friend owns a place in Prades, which I believe is drivable to Les Angles and a couple of other resorts. Just wondering if it's worth a trip?

It will be when they secure the huge rock that's threatening to fall off the hillside and take the road with it between Sauto and Mont Louis. You can keep an eye on traffic conditions here
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Yeah we were staying in the village just before (on the western side) of that problem. The road from there to Perpignan is in fact open according to the temporary signs placed there - but let's say "French-style" open... at your own risk wink
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Laughing yeah, I heard that you can skip around the barriers. They're going to install concrete ones soon according to a message that the prefecture stuck up on Facebook earlier today
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I assume they will be looking to open the road by the time the French school holidays/British half term starts?!
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You'd like to think so, I'd like to think so too!
The DirSO are saying the 31st as a reopening date. As I understand it there's a couple of hundred tons of rock that they have to remove from the mountainside before the road is safe.
It could have been worse if it was the section heading down towards the creepy hospital river crossing approaching Thues. They've pinned the cliffs above the gorge back together several times over at that point.
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Whitegold wrote:
Contrary to popular belief, Western Europe never gets huge amounts of snow.

Most stations in the Alps average 200-600cm a year.

Even the snowiest resorts in the Alps (like Lech, Austria) only get 500-1000cm per year.

You gotta go to Northern Japan or Western US for deep pow, where 1000-2000cm annually is commonplace.

The Pyrenees (on the whole) are very dry.



I have previously lived in Alta, Utah at 2800m for several seasons. It is one of the snowiest places in North America - at least of the places where snowfall is measured. And I do agree that Alta and many other places in the western US average more seasonal snowfall than anywhere in the Alps. However, from firsthand experience I would say the big dumps in the Alps are every bit as impressive as in Utah. 50cm+ events are not uncommon. They just happen less frequently. In mid-continent regions like Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, the snow is also less dense on average than in Europe (the high snow to water ratios are partly why the seasonal numbers are so high). This is better for skiing in my opinion, but it also causes more compaction of the snow. As a result, average snow depth and snow water equivalent of the snow is not so far off between the snowier regions of the Alps and North America. The greatest precipitation and snow depths occur in the California Sierra up through the Cascade range to BC. Here, abundant Pacific moisture meets the perpendicularly oriented mountains. The mountains of Norway are the only thing in Europe that can match the NA west coast for snow depth. Unfortunately the higher moisture content is not always great for skiing.
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 You know it makes sense.
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You can’t always ski the last 20mm of the snow .... so who cares anyway?
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under a new name wrote:
You can’t always ski the last 20mm of the snow .... so who cares anyway?

I care. Every extra mm increases the terrain you can ski. It covers rocks and debris, fills and widens chutes/couloirs, and shortens small ledges.
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@altaski8, interesting post. The stats for Mt Baker are pretty crazy - their worst season of the past 50 years was still over 700cm (which would be a great season in places like VDI or Zermatt).

Other point to bear in mind is where the snowfall is measured. Many of the Alps numbers are (apparently, I doubt this is well standardized!) for ‘in resort’ or village level. Ie. Warth’s 10.5m average is for 1500m.
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@clarky I agree, snow accumulations are not as carefully measured in the Alps as they are in NA. This is somewhat odd since the Alps are full of manned mountain huts, hüttes, and rifugios and the Rockies and Cascades are not.

From non-scientific, firsthand experience, I suspect orographically favored NW slopes in Tyrol and Vorarlberg get more snow than is widely known. There are microscale effects that are not detected with the coarse snow observation network. I have also seen this effect in Alta where snow accumulations can vary widely across 500m distances depending on elevation, exposure, and wind direction. At Alta there are automated snow sensors on almost every ridge and peak, mostly for avalanche control info.
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moody_git wrote:
You'd like to think so, I'd like to think so too!
The DirSO are saying the 31st as a reopening date. As I understand it there's a couple of hundred tons of rock that they have to remove from the mountainside before the road is safe.
It could have been worse if it was the section heading down towards the creepy hospital river crossing approaching Thues. They've pinned the cliffs above the gorge back together several times over at that point.


Laughing I know exactly where you mean given that description! We travel that road daily when going skiing in the Pyrenees as a family (as my parents' house is not far from Villefranche) and that hospital has been the source of much imaginative tales passed on to my children Wink
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Intriguing! I'll have to pay it a visit next time I'm in that area Shock
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altaski8 wrote:
Whitegold wrote:
Contrary to popular belief, Western Europe never gets huge amounts of snow.

Most stations in the Alps average 200-600cm a year.

Even the snowiest resorts in the Alps (like Lech, Austria) only get 500-1000cm per year.

You gotta go to Northern Japan or Western US for deep pow, where 1000-2000cm annually is commonplace.

The Pyrenees (on the whole) are very dry.



I have previously lived in Alta, Utah at 2800m for several seasons. It is one of the snowiest places in North America - at least of the places where snowfall is measured. And I do agree that Alta and many other places in the western US average more seasonal snowfall than anywhere in the Alps. However, from firsthand experience I would say the big dumps in the Alps are every bit as impressive as in Utah. 50cm+ events are not uncommon. They just happen less frequently. In mid-continent regions like Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, the snow is also less dense on average than in Europe (the high snow to water ratios are partly why the seasonal numbers are so high). This is better for skiing in my opinion, but it also causes more compaction of the snow. As a result, average snow depth and snow water equivalent of the snow is not so far off between the snowier regions of the Alps and North America. The greatest precipitation and snow depths occur in the California Sierra up through the Cascade range to BC. Here, abundant Pacific moisture meets the perpendicularly oriented mountains. The mountains of Norway are the only thing in Europe that can match the NA west coast for snow depth. Unfortunately the higher moisture content is not always great for skiing.



West US just annihilates Europe.

In quality, the light, creamy snow of Wyoming can't be found anywhere in the Alps.

Moistened by the ocean, dried by the desert, dumped in the hills.

In quantity, nowhere gets near the ~1600cm averages found in Washington.

A quick scan of skiforum photos almost always shows big faceshots from the US and Japan, very few from Europe.

Europe is too far south and too close to the sea.

Gets less snow, or wetter snow.

Most times, an Alps snowfall means ankledeep porridge, tracked out by ~10am.

Most Norwegian resorts tend to get 200-700cm a year, roughly the same as the Alps.

The global snowfall quality pecking order is:

1. Japan
2. US
3. Europe
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Quote:

Europe is too far south

despite almost every single Alpine ski resort being further north than
Quote:

Wyoming
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@Whitegold, so where did Doug Combes (God bless him) decide was the best location to move to then, of course that's if you know who the feck he was, you trolling c**t

Plus Google Kris Erickson, a local Wyoming guide who bases himself in Chamonix as well as Morocco!
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[quote="Whitegold"]
altaski8 wrote:


West US just annihilates Europe.

In quality, the light, creamy snow of Wyoming can't be found anywhere in the Alps.

Moistened by the ocean, dried by the desert, dumped in the hills.

In quantity, nowhere gets near the ~1600cm averages found in Washington.

A quick scan of skiforum photos almost always shows big faceshots from the US and Japan, very few from Europe.

Europe is too far south and too close to the sea.

Gets less snow, or wetter snow.

Most times, an Alps snowfall means ankledeep porridge, tracked out by ~10am.

Most Norwegian resorts tend to get 200-700cm a year, roughly the same as the Alps.

The global snowfall quality pecking order is:

1. Japan
2. US
3. Europe


It sounds like you don't have much firsthand knowledge. Luckily for you, I have plenty. The statistics look very favorable for some western US resorts, but reality is not quite so favorable. Scanning forums for faceshot pics is less reliable than actual experience. Some counterpoints:

1. Wyoming does not get as much snow as you think. Being so far from the Pacific Ocean, the climate is relatively dry. But as you mention, the dry cold air converts what little snow falls to low density powder, which is bliss for skiers. That said, the only truly snowy parts of Wyoming are in Yellowstone NP (a high elevation plateau) and the narrow Teton range. Jackson hole is less snowy than advertised. Most snow stations in the region report average annual snowfall between 200 and 300 inches, not the 450 that the ski resort reports. The problem is that Jackson hole is on the eastern side of the range (shadowed) and most of the resort is at a relatively low (for the Rockies) elevation. The resort stats are unofficial and highly dubious. The only place that might approach that is just west of the top of the Areal Tram.. but I doubt it. The only truly snowy resort in Wyoming is Grand Targhee, which is on the western side of the range. If they measured snow every hour at the highest NW facing peak in the Arlberg, the snow stats would easily match or exceed Jackson hole. And waist deep powder is not rare in the Arlberg, nor is it all that common in Jackson.

2. The Alps are quite a bit further north than Japan and Wyoming.

3. The Cascade volcanoes of CA, OR, WA, and BC Canada get incredible amounts of snow. But very few ski lifts actually access these highest elevations. Similarly, the glacier areas of Norway get massive amounts of snow, but nobody is there to measure it, and few people ski it. A lot of Norwegian resorts operate only in the summer since daylight is short in the winter, lifts are often buried, and the weather is harsh.

4. US and Canadian resorts are almost all avalanche controlled. Powder hounds are everywhere. This means that competition for powder is fierce and powder gets tracked out quickly. In Europe, there is very little in-bounds avalanche control and far fewer powder hounds. As a result, particularly outside the famous powder destinations, powder can last for days within reach of the lifts.

5. Snow is indeed wetter on average in the central Alps than in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado... but it is drier than in CA, OR, WA, and BC. Generally as you move eastward from the Pacific in the US, you get less snow depth and quantity but better quality (lighter). The same is true in the Alps as you move eastward or higher in elevation. You can definitely get light, fluffy powder in the Alps, particularly up high or further east. But it's not as consistently low density. One of the reasons why is actually because of stronger winds from frequent frontal systems in the Alps. The biggest reason why the Cottonwood canyons in Utah are the powder sweet spot is because in that microclimate, it's possible to get huge snow amounts without a big storm system... hence without strong winds. This preserves the light powder extremely well... even better than in Wyoming.

6. I haven't skied in Japan, so I don't have firsthand knowledge. But from reports and stats it seems like the biggest draw is storm consistency and frequency as opposed to massive snow dumps. And I have also heard that many resorts there, even in Hokkaido, suffer from warm temperatures and high water content on occasion as well.

7. Based on your criteria, you'll probably want to put southern Alaska at the top of your list.


Last edited by After all it is free Go on u know u want to! on Tue 28-01-20 0:35; edited 2 times in total
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Quote:

where did Doug Combes (God bless him) decide was the best location to move to then... Kris Erickson


They moved to Chamonix for the terrain rather than the snow though.

Quote:

US and Canadian resorts are almost all avalanche controlled. Powder hounds are everywhere. This means that competition for powder is fierce and powder gets tracked out quickly. In Europe, there is very little in-bounds avalanche control and far fewer powder hounds.


There is some truth in this. I'm not sure that avy control makes all that much difference. A lot of it is resort dependent though, I'm sure Chamonix gets tracked out way faster than Kimberly for instance. Also in North America there is so much backcountry skiing tourers have pretty much unlimited access to powder. I doubt the same is true in Europe where you are far more likely to have a chair not so far away.
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boarder2020 wrote:


There is some truth in this. I'm not sure that avy control makes all that much difference. A lot of it is resort dependent though, I'm sure Chamonix gets tracked out way faster than Kimberly for instance. Also in North America there is so much backcountry skiing tourers have pretty much unlimited access to powder. I doubt the same is true in Europe where you are far more likely to have a chair not so far away.

I completely agree that certain resorts attract more off-piste skiers. Many European resorts get tracked quickly. But in the US you don't need any special equipment to venture off trail... no beacon, shovel, airbag backpack. And you can have the confidence that the trails are likely safe and teams of ski patrol are ready to rescue you. In Europe you are more or less on your own to keep yourself safe. This makes a difference in terms of how quickly terrain gets tracked out.

In the US there is plenty of excellent terrain and great snow, but you generally have to skin up from an isolated valley to access it. I can not think of any place in the US where lift-accessible powder lasts even half a day.
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