The 2011/2012 season has to have been one of the snowiest winters for years. It snowed, then snowed and then snowed some more. In fact, the winter was so long, that we were still seeing snow-filled photos of Val d'Isere in June.
But how good was it really? Some reports stated we were having the best snow in 20 years, including rumours that in February Meribel had more snow than Val d'Isere for the first time since the '60s.
Overheard in Meribel " For the first time in over 20 years better snow than Val d'Isere" Get there this weekend— Alpine Action(@AlpineActionski) January 3, 2012
Overheard in Meribel " For the first time in over 20 years better snow than Val d'Isere" Get there this weekend
So, rather then discussing hearsay and rumours, let's have a look through the snowfall records of the past four seasons to see how good a winter it actually was. To make it simple, I'm sticking to three of the big resorts, but tweet us @igluski if you would like to know more about your favourite resort.
Val d'Isere — one of the most popular and snow-sure resorts in the world. From 2007-10 in December, the average snow depth ranged 61-141cm, giving an average of 103cm of snow. Considering this is the first month of the season, that's not too shabby. 2011 started in similar fashion, with a respectable 137cm snow — some 34cm above the previous 4 year average — and most of it fell in little over two weeks!
January offered an average of 133cm of snow over the four previous winters, with a low of 86cm and high of 144cm. In 2012, that previous high was smashed, with an monumental 180cm of snowfall. February's average snowfall from 2008-2011 was 130cm, with March offering a slightly higher 140cm of snow, whereas February and March 2012 boasted 172cm and 167cm respectively.
The biggest surprise was the end of season snow. AJ, our Head of Sales, always says the best time to hit Val is late March and April. There is usually a good snow-pack for off piste and the sun is out for the après party. The records back the claim up — the month of April from 2008-2011 offered an average of 104cm of snow, which is pretty good considering spring is coming into full force. However, April 2012 offered an unusually high level of snowfall at 144cm — with spring skiing in Val d'Isere definitely at its best for a long time.
St. Anton has boasted great snow for years due to the Arlberg's micro climate. St. Anton regularly sees snowfall of more than two metres in a month, and in the past four years has even seen the figure breaking the three metre mark on four occasions — three of them were last season. Though the resort often has less snow in the village than Val d'Isere, its slopes are more than comparable with the snowiest in Europe.
St. Anton, in the season just gone, had an average snow of 92cm which fell behind the previous December's 102cm. Though come January, record levels of snow arrived and just kept on arriving all the way through the season. January 2008-2011 had seen an average of 104cm of snow; this was blown to pieces with the phenomenal 310cm of snow that fell this year, with up to 458cm on some of the upper slopes! The previous three seasons had seen an average of 134cm in February and 156cm fall in March. 2012 obliterated recent records with 328cm in Feb and 256cm in March — for a resort based at 1,300m that's an incredible amount of snow.
So much snowfall arrived in St. Anton that some peak boasted around five metres of snow at the summit and much of the off piste was a no-go to novices — due to the depths and the snow pack that had formed. 2008/09 had seen fantastic snow, but last season really was one to remember in the Arlberg.
Cervinia, which is on the Italian side of the Matterhorn and linked with the Swiss resort of Zermatt, is another resort to have benefitted from a bumper season of snow. The Italian resort started will with 141cm of snowfall in December, which is pretty much on par with the resort's average snowfall of 146cm over the three previous winters.
Heading into the peak season months of January through until March, and Cervinia really held its own last season — boasting among the most snow in Italy and more that it's more renowned Swiss neighbour. In January the resort offered 204cm of snow on its slopes, compared the previous average of 154cm. February was still going strong with 187cm, compared to the 2009-2011 average of 161cm and March rounded off a great season with 155cm, whilst April boasted 170cm. Although, the concluding months of the season didn't quite reach the highs of 2008-09.
The snowfall was actually similar to the 2008/09 winter, but less windy, colder days and nights — and a handful of bumper weeks — really made the 2011/12 season stand out.
Some people were expecting a bad season due to the La Niña effect, and though Whistler — as it always does with this storm pattern around — benefitted from its third record breaking season in a row, Europe in general had a cracking season.
The best snow was found in France, Austria and sections of Switzerland, with parts of Italy and the USA being the main areas to struggle for good snow. Mt. Hood in Washington state is generally known as the snowiest resort in the world, but the off-piste Mecca of Engelberg regularly matched and even beat the North American resort, meaning for much of last season the snowiest resort on the planet was in little Switzerland.
For me, the season has merely proved that weather patterns come and go and the mountains are still getting amazing levels of snow. Roll on 12/13.
July 30. 2012 18:06
Brilliant piece Steve, very interesting to see the difference between resorts, you always imagine that most of Europe has the same amount and the difference is between us and the US. One things for sure, you need regular dumps like last year to bring about a great winter, not just one big dump early season like we had in 10/11.
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