Snow joke: mild weather brings chaos to start of ski season

Thrill-seekers are told to aim high for any hope of catching some decent action on the slopes

"Had enough of ski resorts with no snow?" asks an ad in the current easyJet inflight magazine. It was placed by the resort of Val Thorens in the confident expectation it would open on the third weekend of November. But that was postponed because the resort – like much of the Alps – has experienced the warmest and driest autumn for decades.

From the Pyrenees to the Balkans, the unseasonably warm autumn means many mountains are bare. Rosemary Leonard, a British skier in Switzerland, reported with only slight exaggeration: "No snow anywhere in the Alps – bad news for early-season skiers."

Resorts in the Alps are looking much the same as when last season ended, with patches of green, brown and raw rock rather than a coating of snow. The upmarket French resort of Val d'Isere has no snow on the lower pistes, and at higher altitudes the last snowfall was just three inches on 9 November.

Resorts across Andorra were due to open last Saturday, but that has been postponed by at least a week; the country, which has Europe's highest average altitude, had two inches of snow three weeks ago, and nothing since.

But other ski resorts are reporting an optimistic start. Hemsedal in Norway opened at the weekend with its traditional "snow dance" ceremony, with fresh falls also reported in other Norwegian resorts and in Sweden.

Patrick Thorne of skiinfo.co.uk advised anyone hoping for a pre-Christmas break to "aim high, in latitude or altitude, or go to North America".

Resorts from New England to California were open through the Thanksgiving weekend. Yesterday at Killington in Vermont, conditions were described as spring-like, with "sunshine and soft snow," while Mammoth was reporting an excellent snow base that began building early in October. Revelstoke in British Columbia was not due to open until next weekend, but opened for a "sneak peek" on Saturday. By yesterday it had received 10 feet of snow since winter began.

Some skiers camped overnight at the foot of the mountain on Friday in order to make the first runs when it opened. The ski industry has endured a torrid few years. Recession combined with the weakness of sterling has deterred all but the most committed skiers and boarders from getting their annual fix.

A hard core of one million regular British skiers is usually augmented by several hundred thousand people trying the sport for the first time. Their absence has hit Eastern European resorts hard: Bulgaria and Romania are regarded as beginners' territory because of their low prices compared with more traditional resorts.

Even the UK is faring better than some parts of the Alps. Patrick Thorne of skiinfo.co.uk reported: "Snow on the hills here in Scotland this morning."

White stuff: where to go to find snow

Alyeska, Alaska

Barely above sea level, has had more than 12 feet of snow since the start of October. More is forecast over the next three days.

Mount Elbrus, Russia

Claims the lowest temperatures and deepest snow in the skiing world. At 18,510 feet, it is the highest mountain in Europe.

Trysil, Norway

Opened this weekend. "We had good snowfall over the past few days," reports Ben Nyberg of SkiNorway. "The forecast is looking excellent with colder weather on the way."

Whistler, western Canada

Has had five feet of snow in the past week; yesterday was declared a "Gore-tex day" in the British Columbia resort because of extremely strong, cold winds.

Zermatt, Switzerland

A year-round resort thanks to its high-altitude glaciers – the ski area was extended this weekend to 45 miles of pistes. "We've got snow, great snow," claims the management.

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