A snowstorm has finally blanketed the Alps after a winter heatwave ruined the holidays of thousands of skiers.
Dozens of resorts were forced to close or partially shut due to the ‘extreme’ warm weather for the time of year, with the region’s snow-capped peaks reduced to grassy mounds.
Last week, the ‘heat dome’ produced temperatures ranging from 10 to 20 Celsius (50 to 68 Fahrenheit) from France to Western Russia – with several temperature records broken over the New Year weekend.
But finally, the snow started to fall on Monday and will continue to sweep across the continent down to valley floors below 3,000ft, as photos show the dramatic change to the wintry landscapes.
MORZINE, FRANCE: The resort has finally welcomed snow after record temperatures reduced slopes to patches of grass and mud (pictured today)
MORZINE, FRANCE: The same resort is pictured on Wednesday last week when the lack of snow ruined skiing holidays for thousands
Up to 3ft of snow is expected on the high slops of the French Alps by the second half of this week, with 2ft expected today.
Glacier 3,000 near Gstaad in Switzerland recorded 20 inches of fresh snowfall in the first 24 hours of the storm in a welcome relief to tourists and businesses.
But in the lower lying area around the resort, it remains less than 20 per cent open due to the mild and wet weather, and it will take days for snow to settle and slopes to reopen.
The rest of the week is due to stay cold with occasional snowfall up to the weekend, although there remain fears that at lower altitude, the snow will turn to rain.
In the popular Three Valleys region of Courcheval, Meribel, Val Thornes and Les Menuires, around three quarters of the slopes are open thanks to its high altitude.
LA FECLAZ, FRANCE: The small boutique resort is pictured today blanketed in snow after the winter heatwave finally came to an end
LA FECLAZ, FRANCE: Last week, skiers were forced to travel along thin patches of ice due to the lack of snow
And in Austria, the main resorts of Skiwelt, Ischl and Saalbach preempted the snow drought by piling snow onto the pistes throughout autumn, meaning many of the slopes have remained open.
In France last week, less than half of all slopes were open as of last week, according to Domaines Skiables de France, a professional body which groups 250 ski lift operators across the country.
Several winter sport events were also cancelled, postponed or moved because abnormally warm temperatures stripped mountain slopes of their snow covering.
In the Alps, the Tignes resort has been forced to cancel the Andros Trophy, a car and motorbike race on ice, on January 13 and 14.
In Contamines, further north along the Swiss border, the Telemark World Cup due to be held this month has been postponed to February.
GSTAAD, SWITZERLAND: Glacier 3,000 near the resort recorded 20 ins of fresh snowfall in the first 24 hours of the storm in a welcome relief to tourists and businesses (Gstaad pictured)
GSTAAD, SWITZERLAND: Tourists ski on artificial snow on the bare slopes of the Swiss alps at the world famous resort last week
The rest of the week is due to stay cold with occasional snowfall up to the weekend, although there remain fears that at lower altitude, the snow will turn to rain (pictured: Morzine)
The popular resort of Morzine is pictured last Wednesday with no snow at all on the mountains
Vlasic in Bosnia now resembles its usual wintry appearance with snow settled over the mountains
On January 3 in Vlasic, there was more grass than snow during the rare wintertime heat
In Chatillon-de-Michaille, a dog sled race called the Retordica due to be held this weekend has been cancelled.
Walter Veit, president of the Austrian Hotelier Association, which represents mostly high-end hotels, said bookings have so far remained stable but may slump more than usual in January due to the warm weather.
Resort operators say they have seen fewer day trippers, while some have reduced ski pass prices to make up for the closed slopes.
In central Italy, ski resorts have closed with tourist operators from affected regions appealing to the government to find a solution.
They have called for help with ski instructors out of work and cancelled hotel reservations.
Saint-Gervais in the Northern Alps has finally been covered in white powder after the warm weather
The Saint Gervais resort, pictured on December 29, was forced to close many of its slopes
Finally, the snow started to fall on Monday and will continue to sweep across the continent (pictured: Bjelasnica, near Sarajevo)
An aerial view shows melting snow on a ski slope, at a ski centre in Bjelasnica, near Sarajevo
In Switzerland, about half of ski stations had to close fully or partially, especially smaller ones at lower and medium altitudes, as of last week.
Tourism officials said bookings in the mountains were the same as during the festive season last year, though day trips to the mountains were down eight percent.
Turnover of ski lift companies dropped nine percent year-on-year because of the mild weather, according to the organisation which represents 350 of the 500 ski lift operators in Switzerland.
So far this month, at least seven countries – including Denmark, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic – have seen their warmest January weather on record.
Frustrated skiers have posted videos slaloming down narrow slivers of ice flanked by grass and sharing their annoyance over the lack of snow on the slopes.
Stopped chairlifts are seen in a sky resort in Annecy on December 27
The chairlift of ‘Le petit chamossaire’ sits closed due to the lack of snow in an alpine resort on December 31
People ski up a thin sliver of snow using a T-bar lift in the German resort of Lenggries on December 28
AThe Bergisel ski-jumping hills in Innsbruck, Austria, are pictured on January 2
The heat dome – which is created when an area of high pressure stays over the same area and traps warm air underneath – has also sparked further warnings about climate change.
An estimated 1.7 million Britons were set to ski this winter, according to travel trade body Abta, with the busiest period coming over the February half term.
Arnaud Lemercier, manager of the ski runs at a resort near Grenoble, described his ‘disappointment’ after being forced to close the slopes.
‘It’s heartbreaking. The slopes are no longer skiable. We reached the end,’ he told France 3 regional television.
‘This is the first time that we have opened the pistes only to close them again in the middle of the season. There is a lot of disappointment among the staff.’
He said the resort has taken mountain bikes out of storage as an alternative activity.
Wim Thiery, a professor of climate science at the University of Brussels, said the same jet stream that pulled cold air from the Arctic into the US has fanned warm air from subtropical zones into Europe.
Warning about the impact of climate change, he called on people to cut the use of fuels that trap heat in the atmosphere.
‘By the end of the century [it’s] just going to be over… skiing in the Alps as we know it,’ he said.
‘In the future, these problems will get worse because the snow will continue to melt as long as the climate warms.’