Global Warming? Spring Ski Touring in Early February


With temperatures like spring in the middle of winter, should we be worried for the future? Or have we been there before, done that spring ski tour in February - and worn the t-shirt?

The sun was shining from an ink blue sky and my puffa jacket was already stuffed in my backpack, as we set off at 9am for one of our favourite ski tours up to the Gardiole. It felt like early April yet it was the first week in February.

It was a warm, sunny climb of around 850m with Ullr, our mountain dog enjoying the walk, mostly on the hard snow surface, frozen overnight. We transitioned by the rock circle at the top of the Gardiole at 2753m to ski down. As we hoped, there was spring snow but also a mish mash of porridge, ridged wnd-blown and hardpack, not great for skiing let alone for Ullr, who kept sinking in the breaking crust.

So what is going on with this weather? The El Niño, as we predicted, has not given us the best season for snow in Europe, with it panning out to be the unseasonably dry February following a warm wet start to winter in the Alps, as forecast. 

It's alarming to think that, due to climate change, our snow-filled winters are reducing year on year BUT although it might seem that it's getting progressively worse, it's worth looking back to note that it's not uncommon to have alarmingly warm weather at this time.

Back on the 26th January, 2017, I wrote in our Ski Blog: "We took the lifts up to the top of the Grand Serre chair and descended over the ridge with transceivers on and airbags primed. We skied all the way down via Lac Partias to above Les Combes. And the snow? We had spring snow. We, also, had wind blown, sastrugi, hard pack, crud and, a bit of powder - sometimes all the above during one run of a dozen turns".

Sounds familar? Almost exactly what we had two days ago going up Gardiole.

A year earlier, on 25th January, 2016, Gav wrote in our Ski Blog, "Yesterday it was t-shirt and shorts in the afternoon as the temperature hit 29C in the direct sunshine and 13.5C in the shade".

So, though not ideal, a warm patch is not unheard of at this time of year. 

But, the end of this week is the start of a month of holidays as different French regions, other European countries and the UK have their half term breaks. Judging by the marked increase in visitors over Christmas/New Year and at weekends, many more people will be flying and driving to the mountains.

And that certainly ain't going to help the future for snow with global warming.