winter snow forecast

Winter is Coming: Snow Forecast for Italian Alps 2016/2017


Autumn snow arrives below 1000 meters in the Italian Alps

Early Snow

Last weekend the white stuff made an early debut in more than a few spots. For those who don’t care for the winter, I’m afraid I can’t muster up too much sympathy. Last year the snow came late leaving the ground brown and scratchy in many mountain zones used to a softer, whiter setting. The first snow I experienced this year made me even more curious as to what the winter snow forecast calls for.

Will La Nina bring powder days to the Alps ? How much snow will we get?

In an attempt to turn hope and optimism into something more scientific, I looked into what the meteorological types were calling for.  We all know forecasts, especially long term ones are iffy at best, but I thought I would seek out signs of good fortune for the coming season.

I sought evidence to assure me that the Alps be as they should in winter, white and cold and bloated with snow. With weather in the mountains being a hard call, these predictions may be closer to a palm reader’s promises than actual proof of powder. But I have always found comfort in a positive outlook for snow.

In search of an Italian Farmer’s Almanac

There is no Farmer’s Almanac for Italy. At least that I know of, maybe someone can fill me in if . It could be quite nice to have one here. Robert Thomas founded The Old Farmer’s Almanac in 1792 He noted that with this American classic reference book “Our main endeavour is to be useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor.”

So without a useful bound guide, I scoured the internet for promises of a snowy winter. What I discovered is that no one really knows.

Of course no one knows, and this seems especially true for the Alps.  Even in places filled with radars and models and other sciency tech stuff, plotting out where the snow falls (or doesn’t) , it seems the Alps are off the proverbial radar.

La Nina and the winter

It could be a La Nina (little girl) year. On the bright (or cloudy side as the case may be), those who do attempt to address the Alps say that the suspected La Nina of this year could portend powder our way.

Certainly snow seekers in many spots felt that last year was some sort of heartless punishment, at least early season. We hope that this year turns out to be filled with the fluffy white stuff.

Blasting News, an Italian news site, posted the odds on October 16 of a 60% chance of La Nina. The site referenced meterologist Mario Giuliacci who cites Japan Meteorological Agency  for the  odds on La Nina possibilities. This is in contrast from the more negative outlook by the NOAA which says La Nina will not visit and Italy can expect a milder winter.


Courmayeur webcam showing October snow

The little girl means nothing

MeteoMorris, founder of Wepowder does a great job of trying to find a correlation.
We can assume that a guy with a site named for snow is digging (pun intended) for evidence of major dumpage. In his post  on this winter’s  forecast, he looked into a correlation between La Nina and snow in the Alps (spoiler alert- there really isn’t any). His research indicates that  the relation  between La Nina and alpine snow is as thin as last year’s coverage.

As for a divine prediction for a white winter, it seems it is still up in the air.  We will get what we get. For those who want to find the  latest weather  info you can search for a  bolletino neve.  A couple of good one-stop-shop references include: Neve Italia’s Bollettino Neve ( in Italian) and J2Ski . These sites also offer info on the number of  impianti,  (lifts) open.

Here’s hoping that winter arrives soon and may the snow come with frequency and abundance!




image credits:

snowflake form Noun Project Janina Aritao


Mountain Culture: Italy’s Alpine Smugglers

Mountain Culture: Italy's Alpine Smugglers Schmuggler im Tessin 1950#Contrabandists in Ticino 1950

Spalloni: Big shoulders for big mountains

Mountain Culture & History: Italy's Alpine Smugglers

Spallone (plural spalloni), literally means big shoulders, (now you see the beauty if the idiomatic expression in the title).  The term used to describe the contrabbandieri, the smugglers who worked Italy’s borders with Switzerland and Austria. The Alps form an effective and imposing border, but those with the knowledge and the gumption, could sneak their way across when needed. The spalloni earned their living hauling heavy loads of contraband on their backs. They would seek out virtually impassable, steep and dangerous trails in order to minimize the risk of being caught by customs officials.

Mountain Culture Italy's Alpine Smugglers
Mountain Culture: Italy's Alpine Smugglers

Gear and Clothing for the illegal hikes

Up through the 19th century these smugglers earned their big shoulder name by carrying goods strapped to their backs in large woven jute baskets called bricolle. A knife was always kept within easy reach in case the bricolle's straps needed to be cut.  The knife allowed the smugglers to dump the packs for a quick get-away, should officials be encountered on the trail. There were no Vibram soles to ensure grippy footing, instead they covered their shoes with hand-stitched canvas coverings called peduli. These covers were used to soften the sounds of their footsteps so that  they could sneak across borders undiscovered.

For the spalloni, smuggling was a two way street (or trail). Up through the Second World War, they would carry coffee from Switzerland to Italy and return to Switzerland stocked with Italian butter. Rice and salt were also transported. Post war, the spalloni's hot items were cigarettes. Maximizing their long and arduous journeys, they loaded their packs with 30kg (66 lbs) of illegal goods.


In some communities, entire mountain villages were involved in this alternative form of trade. Mountain Culture- Italy's Alpine smugglers spallone-contrabbandieriBorder patrol and spalloni were officially on opposite sides of the law, but they also cooperated. Customs officials often turned a blind eye to the spalloni who may have been their neighbors or friends. The smugglers would do their share to help too; when needed, they could put their valuable knowledge of the mountains to less criminal use.  A deadly avalanche  in 1941 resulted in the spalloni helpingin the search and recovery of the bodies of three border guards who had been buried by the snow.

Certainly there is a romantic view of the spalloni today, who were often admired for their resourcefulness and courage. For those who want to reenact the journey of the spalloni, the Piemontese town of Crodo,  offers the Senitieri degli Spalloni (information in Italian).  This weekend on the trails complete with bricolle, 2016 edition took place onJuly 2 and 3.

Most 21st century spalloni tend to be less outdoorsy and no longer deal in coffee and butter. Stuffed backpacks and foot traffic have been replaced by cars carrying cash. Modern day Italian spalloni seek to hide their money from the always extended hand of the  Italian government. The journey is still risky, with customs agents periodically catching those attempting to smuggle  tens of thousands of euros in cash into Switzerland. Perhaps the old traditions can be profitable again, offering an alternative to those nosy border guards checking cars. In retrospect, it is likely that those who were nabbed trying to smuggle cash to Swiss banks would have been better off getting some retired spalloni to dust of their peduli and load up their bricolle.


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