What's new this year?

By Peter Hardy, Daily Mail

Last updated at 11:25 13 October 2003


Will there be snow in St Moritz?

After one of the hottest European summers on record, the big question now facing Britain's one-million skiers and snowboarders this winter is, 'will there be snow when I go?' Surprisingly, the answer is a qualified Yes.

This, despite serious damage to already receding glaciers all across the Alps that must now raise a serious question mark over the shape of the long-term ski map.

Patches of permafrost that have lasted for a million years disappeared in the mountains of the four main skiing countries over a single sunny weekend in mid-August, fuelling rumours that skiing as we know it will never be the same again.

Glacial resorts in Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, as well as France, were forced to close their summer ski areas as soaring temperatures turned surface snow first to sorbet, and then soup, before attacking the actual fabric of the glaciers.

Above Chamonix in France, giant ice boulders tumbled down the Mer de Glace. Ice bridges shattered, and giant Bergschrund crevasses yawned open.

At the top of the Grand Montets above neighbouring Argentière, the 200-step steel staircase that leads down on to the glacier was suspended in mid-air, 20ft short of the normal summer snow level.

But, like a week in politics, a month in mountains is a long time. Anyone standing in the Chamonix Valley yesterday with the snow blanketing the mountain down to 1,700m could be forgiven for thinking it was all a bad dream.

The same snowy picture was echoed across the chain of the Alps. With seven weeks to go to the start of the ski season, nature seems to have set furiously about the business of righting herself - although nothing can replace that lost permafrost.

Surprisingly, all this doom is not disastrous news for skiers. Progressive global warming should result in more - not less - snow at high altitude. In lower resorts this precipitation will fall as rain.

It is still too early to predict a bumper season up the mountain, but I am quietly confident. The humble climatic beginning looks promising.

However, my advice is to aim high, particularly if you plan to ski in December and January, or in April during the closing weeks of the season.

One place that should not be affected by temperature change is Europe's first 'new' resort in two decades which opens in December.

Arc 1950 is being built by Canadian resort developer Intrawest as its first foray into Europe.

It is named after its snow-safe altitude in the Les Arcs ski area in the French Tarentaise.

Whether that alone will be sufficient to entice regulars to such a bleak stretch of mountainside above the treeline remains to be seen.

Mainly British skiers have bought the first 320 apartments, each costing between £100,000 and £600,000.

The price is low by premier resort standards and comes with an attractive rent-back package. Contact Erna Low (0870 750 6820, www.ernalow.co.uk) for further details.

The buildings are far superior to those built by French property developers Pierre & Vacances and upmarket operators MGM, but the apartments fall short of the expected transatlantic luxury level.

Two blocks with two bars and restaurants have been completed. Owners this year will hope that snow transforms what has been a building site throughout the summer into an acceptable winter playground.

However, the first pioneering residents can take comfort from the fact that a new six-person chair-lift gives them direct downhill connection to the biggest story of the winter.

The £10 million Vanoise Express cable car, which opens on December 20, will link the giant ski areas of La Plagne and Les Arcs to create the new hyper-circus called Paradiski.

With 33,000 acres of skiable terrain, the area is larger than the celebrated supercircus of the Trois Vallées, although, at present, it has fewer lifts.

In skiing terms, big is not necessarily beautiful and even the owners admit that no more than 30 per cent of skiers in either resort is expected to use the link.

Innovation means a much more expensive combined weekly lift pass ('220 (£157) compared with '176 (£125) for Les Arcs).

Sneakily, too, Les Arcs has dropped the threshold for free passes for children, from under seven to under six years. This raises holiday costs for affected families by £100 per child.

Nevertheless, a handful of British tour operators have faith. They have been busily acquiring chalets close to the new lift in Plan-Peisey and Vallandry.

These include Esprit (01252 618300 www.esprit-holidays.co.uk), Ski Beat (01243 780405, www.skibeat.co.uk), and Ski Olympic (01302 328820).

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