Heavy snow closes Austrian ski stations

Heavy snowfall has hit large parts of Austria, closing several ski stations and holding up deliveries of road salt needed to clear blocked roads.

Heavy snow closes Austrian ski stations
A military helicopter monitors the situation at the Austrian-German border at Kufstein after heavy snowfall in Austria on January 10, 2019. Photo: AFP

The west and centre of the country have been carpeted in as much as three metres of snow, cutting off some areas.

“We can say statistically… that such quantities of snow above 800m altitude only happen once every 30 to 100 years,” Alexander Radlherr from Austria's Central Institution for Meteorology and Geodynamics said Thursday.

While demand for road salt has shot up, there had been “big problems in organising deliveries” due to numerous road closures, a spokeswoman for salt manufacturer Salinen Austria company told the APA agency.

In addition, some of the company's 500 employees have not been able to get to its headquarters in the mountainous Salzkammergut region.

Several ski stations in the regions of Styria, Upper and Lower Austria have also had to close, out of fear of avalanches, trees toppling under the weight of snow, or being cut off from the electricity network.

Much of the country is on its highest avalanche alert level, with seven skiers and snowshoe hikers having died since Saturday and two hikers missing.

Most of the victims perished in avalanches but emergency services say two of them died when falling into deep snowdrifts and suffocating.

Hundreds of soldiers, firefighters have been working alongside other public employees and volunteers to clear roads and roofs buried in the snowfall.

Brigadier Anton Waldner, army commander for the Salzburg region, told AFP that this year's exceptional snowfall had left his men with a “difficult situation”, as soldiers worked to clear snow off the roof of a school in the town of Lungötz in huge two-metre high blocks.

His forces were carrying out seven such operations and 300 men were on standby, Waldner said.

Meanwhile the country's tourism sector is also feeling the chill.

“We are fifty percent down on our short-term bookings,” said Petra Nocker-Schwarzenbacher, head of tourism at Austria's chamber of commerce.

“Everyone's watching the weather,” she said.


What are the chances of a white Christmas in Austria this year?

Yes, it's a bit early for Christmas weather forecasts, but it hasn't stopped meteorologists making predictions. Here's what they have to say about the possibility of snow in Austria this Christmas.

What are the chances of a white Christmas in Austria this year?

In less than a month it will be Christmas Eve and the suspense is rising on whether there will be a white Christmas, especially at low altitudes, broadcaster ORF said.

The weather models do not yet reach that far, but ORF Vorarlberg meteorologist Thomas Rinderer has looked at the statistics in a bid to predict the snowfall this year.

FOR MEMBERS: Everything that changes in Austria in December 2022

On average, there is a white Christmas in Bregenz every three to six years. The last time was in 2011, so statistically speaking, a white Christmas in the Rhine Valley would be more than overdue.

However, the first long-term forecasts see a relatively mild winter overall, so it’s unlikely that an extremely cold winter is imminent. This follows the warmest October in Austria since records began although, according to ORF meteorologists, “surprises are still possible”.

READ ALSO: Austrian Christmas traditions: The festive dates you need to know

This is because even in a mild winter there can still be a lot of snow. 

The Copernicus climate change service of the EU is predicting winter will be dry from France to Germany, but the Mediterranean area will be humid. This can lead to precipitation moving up from Italy into Austria where it’s likely to become snow.

Last year, some parts of Austria (especially in the west) enjoyed a white Christmas after a cold December and plenty of snowfall. This year, many regions in the Alps are already coated in snow although temperatures are set to rise next week.

We’ll keep you updated on the forecasts in the coming weeks.