The French Alps have been dry and sunny during the early season, but nowhere is the situation as serious as in the Massif Central in France, where some resorts have not seen a snowflake in a month. While the higher altitude resort in the Northern French Alps saw a snowy November, they too have been plagued by a prolonged period of stable weather. Seeing no storms until after the new year, December 2016 will be the “calmest” on record for the region.
The lack of storms has been caused by a large blocking high pressure system parked over central Europe, similar to the ridge that has aggravated skiers in California and the Western U.S. for the past few years. Lows coming off of the Atlantic have been unable to penetrate this zone, leaving some areas completely bare:
Many of the resorts worst affected are small, do not have sufficient snowmaking to ensure an opening, and will miss out on holiday traffic which can account for up to 25% of their revenue.
The northern resorts aren’t doing much better. This webcam image from Compagnie du Mont Blanc in Chamonix overlooking the Mer de Glace glacier shows almost no snow cover at 1900 meters:
The news is not all bad on the European front, however. Some resorts in Italy and southern France are sporting great conditions, as a series of Genoa lows have impacted the region during December. These are ultra moist systems that develop in the Mediterranean and dump abundant moisture on the South-Eastern end of the Western Alps, most of which region is in Italy, some in Southern France.
The Cham-meteo forecast for Chamonix shows some serious temperatures inversions, and therefore pollution, for the valley:
In conclusion, this situation is pretty gnarly and, since Europe is one of the best places to ski ever, I hope things get better during the second half of winter. The Alps generally have good snow conditions, incredible terrain, and a wonderful culture that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet.