Swiss weekend ski and winter sports report, 17-19 February

Avalanche danger growing, says federal office

Dutch prince “stable” but not out of danger after Austrian avalanche

Very steep slope above Ardon, canton Valais

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The weekend promises every skier’s dream: fresh powder on top of an excellent base throughout the Alps and Jura, warmer weather and mostly sunny skies.

There is a down side: the risk of avalanches is growing, thanks to the combination of warmer weather and significant layers of fresh snow.

Prince Johan Friso, 43, the second son of Dutch Queen Beatrix, is in stable condition in an Innsbruck hospital after being buried under an avalanche for 15 minutes.

He was skiing off-piste with three other people when the avalanche, reportedly 30 metres wide and 40m long, occurred.

He was wearing an avalanche beeper, which allowed rescuers to reach him quickly and he was resuscitated at the scene, but doctors say he is not yet out of danger.

Several members of the Dutch royal family were on holiday together, including the queen, reports the BBC.

Weather forecast, snow conditions

Frosted Jura (photo, Shirley Curran)

Saturday: sunshine and highs of 6-8C, with the Valais Alps the warmest area until you get to Ticino, says MeteoSwiss. Rain or snow in some areas on Sunday, but less likely in Valais. Get in your day on the slopes Saturday.

More snow appeared during the week than was forecast, so there’s a good fresh layer in most resorts. Alpine areas north of the Rhone had 10-25cm Wednesday and early Thursday, with peaks in the centre and some parts of the Vaud Alps getting 25-50cm.

The avalanche risk level is 3 for Saturday, but note that WSL, the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, is providing a longer than usual bulletin for this week. Three skiers were caught by an avalanche in Obwald Friday.

The WSL notes that “Snowdrift accumulations can be easily triggered in some places and should be circumvented. Experience in assessing avalanche hazards is essential. In all regions of this danger level, particularly on steep, south facing slopes, the avalanche hazards are subject to a daytime cycle. The likelihood of avalanches being triggered is somewhat lesser in early morning, but subsequently escalates in line with the daytime warming cycle.”

More snow expected Sunday in some areas means the avalanche situation will “remain tense” according to WSL. Avalanche-prone areas are above 2,000 metres in western parts of the Alps, but they are found “on steep slopes in all aspects above approximately 1,600m; in the western part of the northern flank of the Alps the danger zones are above approximately 1800 m.

Alpine resort highlights

Crans-Montana  Next weekend is the FIS Men’s World Cup downhill races, with super G and giant slalom, so plan ahead to watch them tear down the National run.

Gstaad  Curling tournament: the Curling Schweizer Meisterschaften from 17-25 February, your golden opportunity to see top Swiss teams. Also consider next weekend’s snow games, with a lot of family activities.

Verbier  Take along a costume – it’s carnival time! You’ll find this true throughout the Alps, starting Friday 17 February, but Verbier is taking it seriously with a procession followed by a ball Saturday night.

Jura resorts

by Shirley Curran

Conditions are superb in the resorts in the Jura mountains with this week’s falls of snow added to what was already an exceptional cover and the cold weather holding up. However, it is no longer bitterly cold up there, just very pleasant with all the lifts running and queuing very rare. Of course, you have a choice of Jouvencelles/La Dôle (the Franco-Suisse resort), Les Rousses, St Cergue and all the Monts-Jura resorts. Even charming little Menthières is boasting exceptional snow conditions.

And don’t forget about ice-skating!

For those who want something beside skiing, or who are staying on the plain, here’s a little help if you want to talk intelligently about ice-skating, from EPFL in Lausanne: Ice skates glide across the ice because … check out the quiz and its informative answer page.

La Loge (photo, Shirley Curran)