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Swiss ski season kicks off with bumper snow levels

Skiers were enjoying bumper quantities of powder as the season officially got underway in many places. Around half the resorts had already opened early owing to the conditions.

Arielle Olson at Verbier ski school said: "The snow is excellent with lots of powder. It is very different from last year. We just hope it continues like this."

Even Verbier, one of the relatively lower resorts in the south west of the country, with runs rising from 1,500 to just less than 3,000 metres was able to open early on November 19. It was reporting 1.22 metres of snow at 2,200 metres.

Swiss-based Meteo Risque, which provides a service warning skiers of the dangers of avalanches, said the snow was the best for mid- December for ten years with more than two metres already on higher slopes at between 2,000 and 2,500 metres.

A spokesman said: "It’s superb and the base layer is very solid. The conditions have been very favourable."

Gstaad in the canton of Berne and Zermatt in the canton of Valais beneath the Matterhorn also reported excellent snow.

Many parts of the Swiss Alps had already seen record snowfalls in November, according to information from the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.

Conditions are widely different from this time last year when the warmest November on record left many resorts across Europe struggling with poor snow cover.

It was followed by the shock report a year ago from the Paris- based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, on the effects of climate change predicting that the 670 top ski resorts across France, Austria, Switzerland and Germany would reduce to 500 with just a one degree change in temperature.

The official national weather service MeteoSwiss confirmed snow levels in both the Alps and the Jura were above normal for mid- December. It said the cold, dry weather meant it was predicting a white Christmas in the mountains if not in the valleys. dpa