We have had a look at the Snow Data for some of the most popular resorts in the Alps, to see if this really has been the best season ever.
Updated 03/05/13: Added American and Canadian data.
The 2012/13 ski season has been an astonishingly epic one for snow. The season started early with, massive dumps arriving as early as the 3rd of December. Large quantities of snow in the first fortnight of December laid the crucial foundations for what has been an excellent winter.
According to Alyn Morgan of the Ski Club of Great Britain, "It’s been a fantastic season for snow across Europe. The very heavy early snowfall built good base depths and set the season up nicely compared to last year’s late start".
"Whilst the large resorts in the Alps all had good seasons, it was the less popular areas in Spain and Bulgaria that saw the greatest improvement on recent seasons. The Dolomites also had a fantastic season with lots of snow falling throughout."
Meribel, our most popular resort for British skiers, had a great winter. Based on the snow depth at upper levels this week, 2012-2013 was the most succesful season there since 1995. At higher levels in the resort, which has skiing up to 2950m, there is still a base layer of 210cm of snow and it’s now May! Last season was slightly better, with 225cm in late April, although this difference can be attributed to the recent warm weather.
Verbier, another very popular resort for British powder-hounds and royals, currently has a snow-base of 290cm on the upper levels. Although this is marginally less than the end of season last year, when Verbs had 300cm, it compares favorably with the end of the 2011 season, when the resort had a base of only 125cm. Thus this season has been fantastic, although marginally less snow was left by late season than in 2012.
Other resorts don’t conform to this pattern. Elsewhere in Switzerland, the super high resort of Zermatt has more snow now than it did last year, 220cm in April 2013 rather than 175cm in April 2012. Zermatt’s recent record was back in 2009 when by late April, the base layer up high was an astounding 400cm deep.
Another resort with its own snowy micro-climate is Chamonix. Proximity to Mt Blanc gives Chamonix massive snowfall at the top. In April 2008, the snow level above Argentiere was an astonishing 600cm, considerably more than any of the resorts up the Tarentaise valley, so this seasons current level of 270cm, although good, is not unusual.
Whistler has had a great season, as demonstrated by the fact Blackcomb mountain is open for skiing until May 26th. Yes you did read that correctly, there is skiing in Blackcomb until May 26th. Canada had excellent snow throughout the season, with the picture below taken in Kicking Horse in December 2012, when a metre of snow fell on the Iglu boys in five days before Christmas. Kicking Horse has had an eye-watering 7 metres over the 2012 to 2013 season, which puts the snow falls in Alpine resorts in humble comparison.
Whistler collects the abundant precipitation from the nearby Pacific Ocean and the snow dumps in absurd quantities on the resort. This season so far Whistler has collected 10 metres of snow. That's enough to bury your house. Compared to last year, Whistler has had less snow, but is still currently above average in terms of snow depth.
Elsewhere in North America, according to our rough meteorological calculations, Aspen, Colorado had a below average snow fall this year, with 155cm at upper levels, compared to 350cm in 2008. In Jackson Hole, our favorite resort in North America for advanced skiers, there is bad news and good news. The bad news is that the 2012 - 2013 season was not as good as the previews two years. The good news is this still gives you a respectable 213cm of end of season snow base to play with!
Back in the old world, Val d'Isere has just has its most successful season for snow depth at height since 1995. Early season this year, Val d’Isere had so much snow on the 18th of December that the link to Tignes was closed and the avalanche risk was raised to 5/5, meaning an avalanche could fall at any time and all skiers had to come off the mountain. Storms like this gave the 2012 - 2013 a strong snow-base. The Espace Killy of Tignes and Val d'Isere tends to accumulate vast quantities of snow because of its geography and height, but this season has been remarkably good for the resort area. Crucially the season saw consistent falls of powder from December to April.
According to ski instructor and Ski Club of Great Britain technique expert Mark Jones, who’s based out in Val d'Isere: "It’s the best season for fresh snow in 25 years.".
So the best season ever? Let's say the best season since the '80s! The key improvement with this season was not just lots of snow, but lots of snow regularly. There simply wasn't a single bad week to ski this season, even right to into the spring. Now here's to looking forward to next year.
By Bernard Goyder