With the winter ski season in France’s famous three valleys set to swing into full action in little more than a week, some resorts are looking distinctly threadbare when it comes to snow.
Many operators are putting a brave face on things although one official resort briefing leaked to TNT suggests that not all in the Alpine garden is rosy.
Dan Fox, MD of skiweekends.com rightly points out that, “just like booking an early or late summer holiday, you pay less and know it might not be as warm and sunny, but you’ll make the most of it”.
The last bit is right on message with the hush-hush bulletin we have in our sticky fingers that urges officials to communicate positive messages and point disappointed ski-ers towards other resort activities.
But Fox says, “I was over in the 3 Valleys for our staff training and I can personally report that there is snow and people are skiing. We have guests off to Val d’Isère this weekend and more going to the Alps next week. There’ll be enough skiing to have a great time.”
That’s certainly seems to be true of super-high resorts like the 3 Valleys’ Val Thorens from where former Olympian and presenter of BBC’s Ski Sunday Graham Bell called to say there is snow up top.
That also fits with our intelligence source. “There are operators down here [in the lower resorts] who are arranging to bus frustrated skiers up there,” she confirmed. “Some lift pass offices are having to offer refunds.
“The forecast seems to be changing from minute to minute. For instance, snow was forecast for Wednesday, but hasn’t come. One small resort I know has 1300 beds booked for early birders at the official start of the season on 13 December and people there are not looking forward to having to having to deal with disgruntled guests for whom work and other commitments might make re-booking impossible.
“Shopkeepers are being urged to open to keep people busy but until the snow comes, no-one is sure if they will.”
Talking of snow coming, Arnie Wilson, who spent 15 years as the Financial Times’ ski correspondent and knows a little about the white stuff, says, “The snow will come, sooner or later. Have faith and stop panicking!”.
She’s just returned from Ischgl, Austria, and says she’s seen it all before. “Show me the snow god which conveniently and obediently obliges us with timely blizzards at the end of November so that we can all say, ah yes, that’ll be winter then, yes we can all go skiing now. Mother nature just doesn’t work that way. I’ve lost count of the number of autumns when ski resorts – almost desperate to reassure us – send us images of a few snow-covered peaks in the hope that this will reassure us that it’s going to be an epic winter.
“The truth is that climate change or no climate change it’s just not a given that the snow gods have to say “Let it snow!” in November or even December – or that skiers can necessarily get an answer to that age-old question “will there be snow when I go” if it’s still weeks before Christmas. We expect too much. My advice – chill out, skiers and boarders; be patient.”
In Verbier, Switzerland, local Warren Smith, who runs a ski academy, has a similar message, “it’s only the first week of December … chill out. We’ve just done a powder course in Cervinia (on Monday) and then spent a few days on the piste and doing Moguls in Verbier and up top it’s been bloody good.”
Britain’s number one female alpine skier Chemmy Alcott said, “Everyone always panics at this time of year – don’t forget it only needs a few days and nights of cool temperatures to make decent snow from the machines and a few big dumps to set the foundations for a great snowy winter!”
And Al Morgan, who collates snow stats for the Ski Club of Great Britain, says there is no need to worry but admits, “the main talking point … is that the temperature has dropped, some resorts will open this weekend but many are waiting for the drop in temperature.” That, he says, “will certainly be welcomed by all resorts wanting to open next weekend.
Frank McCusker, CEO of the Ski Club has the last word, “The season starts when the snow arrives and that is when Mother Nature decides. Snow is forecast to fall and there will plenty for all those heading out to the mountains for pre-season training and the Christmas period. If you are still wondering whether or not to go at Christmas – GO!