Snow brings chaos to Europe, but skiers rejoice

A sleigher enjoys the freshly fallen snow at the Feldberg mountain, north-west of Frankfurt on Dec 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A sleigher enjoys the freshly fallen snow at the Feldberg mountain, north-west of Frankfurt on Dec 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A man looks at the snowy landscape on Dec 28, 2014 near Oyonnax, near the Swiss border west of Geneva. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Heavy snowfall brought both chaos and joy across Europe, with some 15,000 people stranded overnight Sunday in the French Alps while skiers revelled in the fresh powder blanketing slopes.

A winter storm left thousands of Britons without power, sent trucks sliding across icy highways in Germany and caused airport delays and traffic disruptions across the region.

In the Savoie region in the French Alps roads were iced over or buried under snow, creating havoc for holidaymakers rushing to and from ski resorts for their end-of-year vacations.

Savoie authorities said nearly 15,000 people had been housed in emergency shelters, while others were forced to spend the night in their cars.

"It took us 10 hours to go 130 km," said Kevin Clavel, who was stuck in his car with four passengers.

On the flip side the abundant snowfall has created idyllic conditions for skiers and resorts who have anxiously been watching bare slopes as temperatures remained unseasonably warm in recent weeks.

But the heavy snows also brought the threat of avalanches, and one person died Sunday after being buried in a torrent of snow in the southern French Alps.

Icy conditions also caused the death of a 27-year-old man whose car slid into a ravine in the Belledonne mountain range.

France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve urged drivers "to exercise the utmost caution" and asked those who could delay their trips to do so.

The snow storm also caused disruption in Britain, where more than 100,000 homes were left without power and airports suffered delays.

In Germany heavy snowfall was also welcomed in the Alps, and turned the picturesque Black Forest region into a winter wonderland where children delighted in building the season's first snowmen.

Police, however, reported dozens of weather-related accidents on Autobahn highways and country roads, with trucks sliding across icy lanes and creating a 20-km long traffic jam near the western city of Stuttgart.

The country's biggest airport, Frankfurt, cancelled 20 of Sunday's more than 900 scheduled flights and reported widespread delays as runways had to be cleared of snow and jets de-iced.

As temperatures plunged in Italy, more than half the country was covered in snow, to the delight of ski resort operators from the Alps down to the lesser-known mountains of Abruzzo, east of Rome.

The cold snap is expected to dig in across Europe into the New Year, with temperatures in Britain likely to drop as low as minus 10 degrees Celsius next week.

Despite the chaos, the arrival of fresh white powder was a boon to European ski resorts, which had been unable to fully open during the key holiday season.

"What joy! It is a gift from the sky," said Gilbert Blanc-Tailleur of the Courchevel ski resort in the French Alps.

"Snow is coming. Winter is finally here!" said the La Bresse ski station in the eastern Vosges mountains on its website.

In Austria ski resort operators also breathed a sigh of relief as much of the country was blanketed in white.

The Oesterreich daily declared the ski season saved on Saturday, headlining with: "Hurray! The snow is here."

Meanwhile in France, winds also wreaked havoc, with storms packing gusts of up to 160 km per hour forcing the temporary closure on Saturday of France's port of Calais on the English Channel and the suspension of car ferries to and from Britain.

A few kilometres outside the industrial northern city, thousands of illegal migrants living in makeshift camps struggled through a second night of freezing temperatures.

"The conditions outside are hellish," said David Lacour, the director of Solid'R, which is running a care centre to help migrants survive the cold.

"The storm blew away a lot of tents - some now have nothing." Up to 2,300 migrants are thought to be in Calais and surrounding areas, where they live in flimsy tents waiting for a chance to get to Britain.

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