Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Western Austria Snow and Avalanche Information

I've been in Austria for almost a month and thanks to a little help from my friends, especially Lukas Lehner here at the University of Innsbruck, I'm finally beginning to get a handle where to find weather, snow, and avalanche information.  I'm interested in a lot more than the avalanche report, but also mountain snow and weather observations, and there are multiple sources for those. 

In part, the complexity of finding all this information reflects the jurisdiction of European countries and Austrian States.  I will focus today on western Austria, which includes the Tirol and Voralberg. 

Source: WIkipedia
Tirol is the German spelling and I will use that here.  Curiously, the Tirol is divided into two pieces, despite it being one state.  As I understand it, this is an artifact of the World War I armistice, which ceded the Südtirol (South Tirol) immediately south of the Alpine divide to Italy. 

Multilingual avalanche forecasts and information for the Tirol, Südtirol, and Trentino are available at https://avalanche.report

Source: https://avalanche.report
I've found this to be an excellent source of information, and they provide access to high-resolution weather and snow analyses produced for the Tirol by ZAMG, the Austrian Weather Service.  These include analyses of snow height (sometimes called snow depth in the U.S.) and fresh snow.  Below is an analysis for this morning.  The contrast from north to south is apparent with the deepest snowpacks in the mountains north of the Inn Valley including immediately north of Innsbruck and in the Arlberg region in the northwestern part of the analysis.  One can also access observations from some observing sites. 

Source: https://avalanche.report
Further west, avalanche forecasts and information is also available for Voralberg, the westernmost Austrian state, at https://warnung.vorarlberg.at/vtgdb/dist/index.html#//lwd/lagebericht.html.  This site focuses on risks other than avalanches, but does provide access to some snow and weather observations in the region.

Source: https://warnung.vorarlberg.at/vtgdb/dist/index.html#//lwd/lagebericht.html

Those sites are very useful, but other sites provide access to more data or analyses in alternative formats.  ZAMG provides analyses from their INCA model at https://www.zamg.ac.at/incaanalyse/.  This allows one to get a broader perspective on the Austrian Alps and, at least this winter, the remarkable snowpack that exists throughout the northern Alps. 

Source: https://www.zamg.ac.at/incaanalyse/
Snow and weather observations are available from several sites.  I don't know if there is any one site that integrates this information like MesoWest does with weather data in the U.S.  For the Tirol, one option is Hydro Online (maybe start at https://apps.tirol.gv.at/hydro/#/Schneeh%C3%B6he/?station=101501).  An example of a snow height graphic for the season, displayed relative to data from the period of record, is provided below.  This site is in near the German border at 1670 in the Lech Valley.  Snow depths are near the highest in the period of record, although there must have been a huge storm cycle there one year that pushed them to a full 5.5 meters in late February.  Click on the Schneehöhe Jahr tab if you go to the link to see the annual trend. 

Source: https://apps.tirol.gv.at/hydro/#/Schneeh%C3%B6he/?station=101501
Another option is https://www.lawis.at/station/. Below is the seasons observations from the same site presented above.  They provide a very nice interface with detailed topographic maps.  The site is the red dot in the image below, so you can get some perspective on the characteristics of the site.  

Source: https://www.lawis.at/station/
One thing that I've found challenging is that the border between Tirol and Voralberg lies in Arlberg pass and the Arlberg region, which I like to look at because it is one of the snowiest regions in Austria.  As a result, I find myself switching from site to site quite a bit.  

By and large, there is a remarkable amount of data to play with, which is really great given the incredible spatial variability in weather and snow that exists in the Alps.  


  1. Thanks. Super interesting. Somewhat unrelated-I know that the alps ski areas do not avalanche control everything "inbounds" like US ski areas, only ski runs. But there are some things that are not clear like the skiroutes, iteneraires, ski touring routes, and some now have freeride areas. Have you been able to determine which are secured for avalanche or not?

    1. I don't really know the answer to your question, but nearly everything I have read suggests off piste should be treated as uncontrolled (i.e., backcountry). Most of the route information I have read here suggests that a freeride route simply is one where you access it primarily by lift, whereas a touring route is accessed primarily by skinning. I would not assume a freeride route is controlled.

      Of course, even in bounds in the U.S., while the odds of an avalanche are low, they are not zero.


  2. Hi Jim,

    Really enjoying your posts from abroad. Have fun!