This is an archive of the old PisteHors.com website
Review of the 2008-2009 ski season in France
Snow cover in 2008/9 was very good in all the French mountain ranges, especially in the Pyrenees, the border areas with Italy and Corsica. The Pyrenees and Southern Alps saw periods of severe natural avalanche activity that closed ski areas and damaged infrastructure but despite some injuries no-one was killed by these incidents.
Spring skiing at the New Year
The border region with Italy also saw excellent conditions. However reports from ski tourers in the south said that a number of episodes of high wind had rendered the snow’s surface crusty, irregular and difficult to ski. Our experience in the North was that some routes following ridgelines and summits had been stripped of snow by the wind.
October and the first skiable snow falls in the Jura
Winter was notable for a sustained period of cold weather compared to the last two seasons. It was not particularly cold but temperatures were frequently below average from December to February.
A good winter was followed by a very warm spring that led to a rapid thaw below 1800 meters. From the second half of May ski touring was only possible in those areas that had seen abundant snowfall during the winter. In the Hautes Alpes the month was the warmest since 1948 and compared to 2007/8 dry with 50% less precipitation.
The Ecrins in mid May
In the Northern Alps the early snowfall and sustained cold weather were responsible for good ski conditions at mid altitudes. Despite below average snowfall over the season, conditions were close to normal thanks to the sustained cold weather.
The season started very early with snowfall to low altitudes in October. November brought snow to the Southern Alps and finally to the Savoie and Isere from the 22nd November. By the end of the month snow cover was above average in the range from 2000 meters.
Snowfall in the Northern Alps from December to March was below average. 73% at la Plagne in the Vanoise at 1970 meters. And 64% at the Col de Porte in the Chartreuse at 1325 meters. Periods without snow were generally cold, temperatures at the Col de Port were 2°C below average. The exception was a warm spell from the end of December to mid January in the Northern Alpes and during February in the Southern Alps. This brought spring skiing conditions to sunny slopes over the New Year (see video, above).
Spring Skiing at Christmas
The border with Italy saw a lot of snowfall due to powerful weather fronts blowing in from Italy. Six in total, an extremely rare event. During mid December this brought 150 – 200cm of snow. There were further storms on the 6th and 24th January, 6th February, 5th March and 1st April. Isola 2000m in the Mercantour had 7 meters of culmilative snowfall. Montgenèvre at 1850 meters 719cm snowfall but measures only date from 1992, Saint-Véran in the Queyras saw more than 600 cm, 30 year record. These weather fronts often pushed northwards bringing snow to Mont Cenis and Val d’Isere so that Bessans in the Haute-Maurienne had over 6 meters of snow.
In the Pyrenees snow cover was exceptional. At 1700 meters they were the best for 20 to 30 years with skiable conditions from the start of November to the end of April. The October cover was enough to form a base over most of the range with more than 100cm at 2000 meters altitude. If the ski resorts had opened it would have been possible to ski during the autumn half term holidays. The picture wasn’t uniform, in the far east of the range there was only real snow cover from the second half of January.
Snow cover at la Mongie
Snow cover was above average all season from 1800 meters. Three large falls brought record levels at altitude. On the 25th January there was 50-70cm of snow. The start of February saw a further 100-150cm and another 50-70cm fell at the start of March. Over the season around 8 meters of snow fell at 1700 meters in the west of the range equaling the record set in 1993-4. The average over the last 20 years is 5 meters. It was the 7th coldest winter for 30 years.
Farming Powder in March
Corsica had early and plentiful snow but it was rarely skiable below 1200 meters. By mid December it was possible to ski from 1400 meters with over a meter of snow above 1600 meters. There was around 450cm of snow recorded at 2360 meters in the Rotondo massif in the second week of March, more than at any other location at that altitude in France.
Jura, Vosges, Massif Central
Despite some falls in October, the Vosges, Jura and Massif Central only had permenant snow cover from the 21st November. By mid December the Jura had 60cm at 1100 meters and the Sancy (le Mont Dore) 110cm at 1500 meters.
The Jura saw an alternance between rain/snow in December with dry spells. January was largely dry and cold. There was fresh snow in February and the start of March and it was at this period that maximum snow depths were achieved. Snow cover was generally good with maximum snow depths around normal. Lower down there was skiable snow from 900 meters (limit of many trailheads for ski tourers) from the 22nd November to the end of March. Between 110-130 days, twice as long as average. There was snow for 150 days on the summits to the delight of cross country skiers.
Fresh Powder in January
The Vosges saw good snowfall at the end of December with a high pressure until mid January when a period of frequent snowfall set in. Snow depths were excellent from mid February to mid March. There was 50 days of snow cover at the Ballon d’Alsace, one of the best winters since the 1960s and as good as 2005-6 and 1998-9.
Vercors snow cover, good but the end came early
The Massif-Central also had a long season with 112 days with snow on the ground at le Mont Dore. 4th best season since 1959. The Monts du Cantal saw 135 days of snow cover at 1250 meters equaling the 2006 record and the third coldest winter for 20 years, behind those of 2005 and 2006. There were 24 days with snowfall at 1000 meters which is above average.
Posted by davidof on Sunday, 15 November, 2009 at 11:58 PM
Great article. Interesting though that official piste patrol records in Isola 2000 show 10.4m cumulative snowfall for 2008-09, also at resort level. Not sure why there is such a discrepancy with Meteo France here. Either way, the resort had a truly specatular season, smashing their all-time winter snowfall record.
Posted by on Friday, 20 November, 2009 at 01:21 PM