French ski resorts opt to open early thanks to significant snowfall

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
French ski resorts opt to open early thanks to significant snowfall
Skiers sit in a chairlift at the Val Thorens French resort on its opening day in November 2022. (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP)

Ski season is off to a good start in the French Alps, with several resorts maintaining their opening dates and some even pushing up the start of the season thanks to heavy snowfall in recent weeks.


While many feared that French ski resorts may have to delay their openings again for the 2023-2024 season - as they did during the previous year due to warm temperatures and a lack of snow - several ski resorts have decided to open early this year.

Thanks to an unexpectedly large amount of snowfall in late autumn, resorts like Val Thorens in the Trois Vallées ski area in Savoie will be opening certain runs earlier than planned.

Certain runs in Val Thorens will be open from November 18th this year, in comparison to the November 26th last year.

The 2 Alpes resort, in Isère, announced on their website that they will open runs between 2,600m and 3,400m in altitude from November 25th.


In the northern Alps, two cross-country ski areas have already opened - one in Bessans and another in Flaine, according to BFMTV.

Meanwhile, other popular Alpine resorts, like Courchevel and Meribel, were on track to open on time during the first weekend of December.

READ MORE: From high altitude to family friendly: 15 of the best French ski resorts

What is the weather situation?

There is a 'remarkable' early snow cover in the Alps, particularly at elevations above 1,800 metres, meteorologist Gilles Matricon told French weather network La Chaîne Météo.

Denis Roy, a meteorologist from Météo France, told Le Figaro in mid-November that "we have not seen such a rapid start to the snow cover in a very long time." 

Between October 18th and November 12th, France recorded an average of 215.4 mm of rain, representing a record amount for a 26-day period in France.

The heavy rainfall has caused major flooding in the northern Pas-de-Calais département, which was still on the orange weather alert on Tuesday, but it has also dumped large amounts of snow on the Alps.

READ MORE: Rain in northern France raises fears of new flooding

In terms of the snow cover, the snow layer was at least 1.30m at elevations above 2,500m, significantly higher than seasonal averages, according to Matricon. 

At altitudes of 1,800 metres, BFMTV reported as of mid-November that the "snow layer has reached 20 to 40cm depending on the mountain range".

Despite the excitement around ski season, there are some concerns related to heavy snowfall. La Chaîne Météo said on November 11th that the risk of avalanches was "high" in the northern Alps. The weather service reported that the situation was being monitored.


Temperatures were also expected to warm up starting on Tuesday and into the weekend, bringing rain and possible snow thaw.

However, according to Jérôme Grellet, the chairlift director Val Thorens, this is "pretty typical for the start of the season".

"It allows the snow to be compacted, packed and smoothed, and with a cold snap we'll have an underlayer that will hold for the whole season and ensure cohesion between the terrain and the successive layers of snow", Grellet explained to BFMTV.

What about other mountainous areas?

Aside from the Alps, other mountainous parts of France, like the Jura and Massif Central regions have also seen heavy snowfall during the first half of November.

The Vosges continued to see warm temperatures, and thus little snow.

In the Pyrenees, the snow cover was consistent "only above 2,500 metres" according to La Chaîne Météo. Similarly, the other mountain ranges of the Jura, Vosges and Massif Central only had their summits covered as of mid-November.


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