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How to know if a pass is open

May 25, 2024

Every spring, it’s the same question: is this pass open? Whether it’s the Furka, Galibier or Stelvio, cyclists can’t wait to find out when it will be possible to climb the Alpine passes again.

And why is that? To rediscover the incomparable feeling of riding in the high mountains. To enjoy it before the summer crowds arrive. To plan a cycling weekend. And, of course, to take photos of your bike in front of a snow wall.

Snow wall season is on

It’s often a surprise. You think a pass is open, you go for it and… no. One day, I met two cyclists who were about to embark on our local climb, the Col de la Croix. The weather was spring-like in the valley and the pass doesn’t even reach 1,800 metres. But it is a ski and sled run during the winter season, which lasts until mid-April. I saved them the choice between a big disappointment or a 10km walk in the snow.

This year, the winter was mild. Spring much less so, and the snow continued to fall in abundance above 2000m until the end of April. The Fluela and the Ventoux are already waiting for you, but you’ll have to wait a little longer for other passes such as the Nufenen and the Iseran. To help you plan your rides, here is a list of links to websites that list the status of passes in the Alps:

LocationWebsite
Switzerlandhttps://www.alpen-paesse.ch/
https://www.tcs.ch/fr/tools/inforoute-situation-trafic/cols-en-suisse.php
https://www.truckinfo.ch/en/evenements
Francehttps://www.cols-cyclisme.com/ouverture-cols.htm
Haute Savoiehttps://www.inforoute74.fr/#circulation
Savoiehttps://savoie-route.fr
Oisans
(Lautaret, Galibier, Croix de Fer, Glandon)
https://uk.bike-oisans.com/cycling/opening-of-the-mountain-passes/
Bormio
(Stelvio, Gavia, Mortirolo)
https://www.bormio.eu/en/alpine-passes
Austria and other alpine countries
(Italy, Slovenia…)
https://www.oeamtc.at/poi?page=4&country=Österreich&category=passroad
(choose "Verkehr" in the left column)
Alpshttps://www.alpenpaesse.de/verkehrsinfo
For motorbikes and only in German but a comprehensive overview.
You can also be notified of status changes.

Are there other useful resources? Don’t hesitate to let me know (alain@alpsinsight.com).

The Nufenen Pass is generally one of the last alpine passes to open.

I’d like to finish with a clear message: don’t venture onto closed passes. Of course, it’s so tempting to go over the fence and climb an empty mountain. The photos taken at the top will be sublime, with a delicious taste of the forbidden. And Instagram glory is guaranteed.

Yes, but it’s dangerous. A few years ago, I proudly shared photos of the Sanetsch pass before it opened. Vincent Pellissier, the Valais cantonal engineer, soberly commented: “if a road is closed, there’s a reason”.

That got me thinking. And yes, it’s not insignificant. Those beautiful walls of snow several metres high can collapse. Spontaneous avalanches can be triggered on sunny slopes. It’s not just ski touring that puts you at risk in the high mountains.

That’s why the passes don’t open immediately when the road is clear. The relevant authorities wait for the snow to stabilise and the fragile walls to collapse before giving the green light to traffic.

Here’s an anecdote: a few years ago, the Grand Saint-Bernard was opened on a Monday morning, only to be closed again the following afternoon. An avalanche had blocked the road, fortunately without causing any casualties.

At the Grand Saint-Bernard, the avalanche was 40m long and up to 4m high. Image: Valais police

If there’s an intrinsic risk in the high mountains when the road is open, imagine what it’s like when it’s closed and therefore unsupervised. So: do not ride on closed mountain passes.

And if you need more convincing, here’s what a Swiss cyclist had to say a few years back: “This danger is totally underestimated! There was an avalanche not far in front of me on the Pragelpass (editor’s note: a pass at 1’548 meters, so not a giant) in May a few years ago – triggered on a northern facing slope out of my sight… quite a scare… and 20 minutes on foot!”

OK, that’s enough I hope. Having said that, I remember that a few years ago, ceremonies were organised at the opening of certain major mountain passes and cyclists were allowed to ride there alone for a few hours. Unless I’m mistaken, this was the case at the same Grand Saint-Bernard, but this initiative seems to have been a collateral victim of covid. Will it come back? I hope so, because riding alone on a pass in spring is a magical feeling that cyclists deserve to experience.

Alain

Follow me on Instagram and head over to the blog to read more cycling stories. Looking for inspiration on where to ride? Check out our favorite road and gravel loops.

Comments 2

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you Patrick. This does sound very comprehensive indeed, I will add it to the list

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