Andermatt skiing conditions

No, this isn’t a glitch! I’m using my website about Fiesch to host details of the meteo links which I find useful for anticipating skiing conditions in the area around Andermatt.  I’ve divided this page into three sections: sites which I use some time in advance, those for the evening before, and links to check in the morning before going skiing.  If you know of any others which you think I might consider adding, please email me!

Forecasting the weather here is notoriously difficult due to local quirks.  Andermatt sits on the border between the north and south sides of the Alps, and could be considered to belong to either.  Its allegiance to the north side is supported by the observation that it experiences föhn in winds from the south.  However, the really big dumps of lovely powder occur most frequently when storms arrive from the south side, particularly with south-westerly winds, because in those conditions the snow tends to spill over the main ridge and settle on its lee side.  When there is widespread heavy snowfall on the north side, Andermatt usually gets its fair share, but if the precipitation is scanty and scattered, much of it may be shed on lower areas to the north before the clouds reach the Urserntal.  Another key local feature is that on the first day after a cold front has delivered great powder, cool moist air forced to rise over Gemsstock by a north wind often keeps the upper section foggy all day, leading to frustrating conditions.  In these circumstances, the Nätschen side may provide much more fun due to significantly better visibility, and northföhn often produces sunny conditions in Airolo.  Finally, it is worth remembering that the snow is much more easily spoiled by wind and sun on the routes on the back side of Gemsstock (such as Guspis and Gafallen → Unteralp) than on the north-westerly and north-easterly flanks (e.g. Felsental, Giraffe and Hans im Glück).

You may notice some overlap and duplication in these links, with several showing the same parameters.  This is not only to work around the occasional unavailability of certain sites, but also because variability often correlates with unreliability.

Looking ahead

For general synoptic charts, I favour the UKMO’s.  Those at Weatheronline extend much further into the future (with increasing unreliability!) but I only use them as a starting point for forming a positive or negative opinion of the general prospects in a week or two, certainly not for trying to identify good or bad days that far ahead.

The meteo page on the Swiss TV/Radio website provides a simple general overview of the weather situation over the next five days, and a link to the latest TV forecast.  In my experience, their general chart of Switzerland tends to predict much more cloud and precipitation than actually occurs, but the forecasts for specific locations, e.g. Gemsstock, showing a projection of conditions every three hours for forthcoming days, are more accurate.

For snowfall predictions, I look at Snow-forecast and Meteoblue.  However, neither of these takes into account the local features (e.g. wind direction) which can have an important effect on the amount of snow which is likely to fall in particular places.

A sophisticated wind forecast is available on the Meteoblue page showing speed and direction at various altitudes for five days ahead.  I tend to focus on the 750hPa/3000m level, as my impression is that the diagrams can underestimate the influence of valley effects lower down.

Although not a meteo site, the Federal Office of Topography deserves a mention here for its high resolution maps, which can be overlaid with a huge variety of useful layers, e.g. ski touring routes and slopes over 30o (as in this link).

The evening before

Once again, starting with the synoptic chart and Swiss TV/radio forecast helps to put everything else in context.  A translation of the SRF forecast into English may help if you are unfamiliar with German weather terminology.  Predictions for the evolution of cloud cover, precipitation, temperature and wind strength at Gemsstock over the course of the day are shown on the SRF and Meteoblue, though the latter often seems to forecast more cloud and precipitation than actually happens.

I check out the SLF bulletin at this stage.

If wind could be an issue, predictions of wind speed and direction at various heights over the course of the day are often helpful; as 3000m is the altitude of Gemsstock, I find this level the most relevant.  Then a chart of observations and predictions from weather stations shows wind speed and direction throughout Switzerland – clicking on individual arrows brings up a prediction for each location until the end of the next day; obviously those from Gütsch are most relevant to the area around Andermatt.

I check Meteocentrale’s chart of the north/south pressure difference across the Swiss Alps if concerned about föhn or the likely strength of any wind blowing through the Gotthard area.

If there’s unsettled weather around, charts at Search.ch are (in my experience) the most reliable at predicting when and where precipitation or cloud is expected to arrive or clear through.  For details of clouds at different levels, I look at a cloud cover forecast divided into “tief”, “mittel” and “hoch” (corresponding to less than 2000m, 2000m-6000m, and over 6000m above ground level).

Particularly at weekends (when the cabins may start running earlier due to an event, such as a race) or if planning a ski tour from Gemsstock, I check the SkiArena website to reduce the chance of being caught out in the morning by an unexpected variation of the cable car schedule.

On the day

I usually revisit key “evening before” sites to make sure nothing important has changed.

Unless heading elsewhere, I always recheck the SkiArena website and Aktuellster Wintersportbericht to try to determine which lifts and pistes are open, and if any variations to the usual schedule are planned.  The latter page also shows the amount of new snow which has fallen locally in the previous 24 hours, and the expected temperature, wind speed and direction in several locations.  However, these details are sometimes completely wrong, so should not be relied upon, especially if they contradict common sense.  Also, updates to the status of lifts and runs opening or closing during the day may not be applied promptly.

When there is fog or low cloud around, the local webcams may give a better view of its extent than one can gain from the village.

I don’t generally bother to look at data from the weather station in Andermatt when I’m here already, but if you’re trying to decide whether to travel from elsewhere this may be useful!