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The incredible snowfall record of Chatel

Chatel's unique microclimate lends it some of the best snow conditions on record in the Alps

Châtel is a ski resort in Portes du Soleil, one of the largest ski areas in the world, including 13 ski resorts and crossing the border between Switzerland and France. The size and variety of the area attracts skiers and snowborders from across the globe; you can ski a circuit that encompasses most resorts in the area in a single day, barely removing your skis and board, starting from and returning to a luxury chalet in Châtel

Though the Portes du Solieil reaches great heights, it lies at a lower altitude than other alpine resorts. The highest skiing in the area is at 2 500 metres, more than a thousand metres lower than the highest ski resort in Europe, Zermatt in Switzerland. The top lift station in Châtel is slightly lower, at 2 200 metres (although still 200 metres higher than popular resorts Chamonix and Morzine). Despite the relatively low altitude, Châtel claims one of the best snow records in Europe, with reliable snowfall from November till May

Châtel lies between Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva, within the microclimate these two monstrous landmarks create. It could be a case of 'lake-effect snow', where cold winds pick up energy and moisture as they blow across the surface of a comparably warm lake, creating snow as the wet air gets excited and moves higher. The effect is heightened if the downwind side of the lake is mountainous, forcing the charged, wet air into higher, colder atmosphere. This can cause narrow, very intense precipitation i.e. lots and lots of snow.

Châtel's snow history clearly demonstrates the favourable effect of its unique position. This is best seen in comparison with the highest altitude resort in the Alps, Zermatt, which reaches heights of 3820 metres. Although Zermatt is 1 620 metres higher than Châtel (near enough double the alititude), Zermatt has a considerably lower annual snowfall. The snow history of each resort is shown in the graphs below. 


Highest Point: 2 200 metres

Average Annual Snowfall: 400cm 

snowsure resorts


Highest Point: 3 820 metres

Average Annual Snowfall: 300cm

snowsure resorts

Though Zermatt had much deeper snow than Châtel in the 2009-10 season, Châtel's snow history shows that the resort has consistently recieved regular top ups of fresh snow over the past three years. Rather than recieving periods of heavy snow followed by long pauses of warmer weather, where everything turns to unskiable slush, the snow depth in Châtel grows consistently throughout the season. Steady growth indicates perfect skiing conditions: the combination of regular snow fall and cool temperatures in Châtel leads to fresh powder covering a firm foundation of packed snow.   

As the graph shows, Châtel has prime conditions every year. This could be due to the microclimate; the weather plays by different rules in Châtel. Even when the rest of the Alps is hit by a poor season, Châtel can still be snow sure. Paolo from Alpine Connection claims that 'in 8 years we've never had a non-skiing week, from open to close of season' .  

Chatel stays snowsure in generally poor seasons for reasons besides its unique microclimate. Glen from Alpine Quests explains that as '80% of Chatel's mountains are pasture, grass or vegetation, we only need 20cm of snow to make them skiable as opposed to the 50cm required by many higher resorts to fill in dangerous gaps between rocks. Chatel can cover all slopes with cannons in 20cm of snow in 48 hours if necessary'.

Chatel is one of the last resorts to close in the Portes du Soleil, open until the end of April along with neighbouring resort Avoriaz. As it is open throughout Easter, Chatel is a great choice for families looking to fit in with the school holidays. Paul from Mountain Air Holidays states 'We have lived and worked in Chatel for 10 years and have found that no matter what amount of snow falls each winter the quality of the snow and pistes in Chatel has always been superb from beginning to the end of the season. I believe the excellent snow record, backed up by an amazing job done by the team who maintain the snow and ski area ensures all visitors to Chatel consistently enjoy great ski holidays'.

The team in Chatel put a lot of work into piste maintenance. In recent years, they have begun scanning the depth of the snow on the piste, relaying this information to the piste bashers who can then use it to ensure even coverage across the piste. Also in the past few years, seven million euros have been spent on snowmaking in Chatel. Ironically, there has been no need for artificial snow over this time, but the equipment offers a great safety net for future years. They also don't use any chemicals - just air and water. 

Chatel's excellent snow conditions and piste maintenance leads many professional and olympic skiers to train in the resort. Similarly, expert skiers choose Chatel over other resorts, making ski instruction in Chatel first class, delivered by true aficianados. Darren from Alpine Breaks confirms this as he says 'ski instruction in Chatel is excellent, never had a complaint about them. Our instructors are here as they love skiing, not just for something to do or for the holiday atmosphere.'  

Roll on the ninth year of snowsure skiing in Châtel in the 2013/14 season... If you're looking to stay in a snowsure ski resort this season, browse these chalets in Châtel

Other Stories in Portes du Soleil 


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