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 storm dumped masses of snow on mountain roads as a rush of end-of-year holidaymakers headed to and from ski resorts in the Savoie region in southeastern France.
Bleary-eyed families made their way to 83 emergency shelters opened across the region after up to 18 hours stuck in traffic, while some were forced to spend the night in their cars.
Savoie authorities said 15,000 people had been housed in the emergency shelters.
“It took us 10 hours to go 130 kilometres (80 miles),” said Kevin Clavel who was stuck in his car with four passengers.
The icy conditions also caused the death of a 27-year-old man whose car slid into a ravine in the Belledonne mountain range.
Snow and freezing conditions continued into Sunday, according to France’s meteorological services.
France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in a statement urged drivers “to exercise the utmost caution” and asked those who could delay their trips to do so.
The snow storms across Europe also caused disruption in Britain where more than 100,000 homes were left without power and airports suffered several delays.
‘Winter is finally here’
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 — which this year experienced its warmest year since records began 247 years ago — ski resort operators also breathed a sigh of relief as much of the country was blanketed in white, with more snow forecast on Sunday.
Last week Semmering near Vienna was forced to cancel two skiing World Cup events due to lack of snow and temperatures too mild even to operate snow cannons.
But the Oesterreich daily declared the ski season saved on Saturday, headlining with: “Hurray! The snow is here.”
Swiss ski resorts were also coated but, as in France, authorities there warned of a severe avalanche risk after the heavy snowfall.
Wind closes Calais port
Meanwhile in France, winds also wreaked havoc, with storms packing gusts of up to 160 kilometres (100 miles) 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.