The Alps are Europe’s most populous, highest, and largest mountain range. This mountain range is a collection of great mountain systems in south central Europe that form an arc 1200 km (750 miles) from the Gulf of Genoa to Vienna’s Danube River. The Alps formed between 23 million and 34 million years ago, resulting from a massive tectonic collision beneath southern and central Europe and northern Africa.
And if you’ve ever been mountaineering in Europe, you’ve almost certainly encountered the Alps! This massive mountain range spans vast land and is truly breathtaking to traverse.
Here are fun facts about the Alps to spice up your appetite for a hike.
The Alps in Numbers
The Alps are a mountain range in Western Europe that spans several regions and countries. It serves as a border between Italy and France and a barrier between the Po Valley in Italy and the lowlands of Germany, France, and Eastern Europe’s Danubian Plain. Consider the following numbers to demonstrate the grandeur of this topography:
- The land area is 207,000 square kilometers.
- 128-225 km in width
- 1,094 kilometers in length
- Most peaks are 1,829-2,438 meters above sea level.
- Mont Blanc’s highest point is 4,810 meters above sea level.
- The Matterhorn’s 3rd highest peak is 4,478 meters above sea level.
- The 2nd highest peak in Monte Rosa is 4,634 meters above sea level.
Stretch With a Crescent Shape
The Alps are a crescent-shaped geographic feature of Central Europe that spans 800 kilometers (500 miles) from east to west and is 200 kilometers (120 miles) wide. Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, and Switzerland are part of the range.
What’s the Weather Like Up There?
Extreme. The Alps’ climate varies depending on where you are in the mountains. Because of its central location in Europe, it is influenced by four major influences that influence the rest of the continents.
The west brings in the moist and relatively mild Atlantic air. The alps receive cold polar air from the north. From the east, the weather is more varied, with continental air masses bringing cold and dry weather in the winter and hot weather in the summer.
The air in the Mediterranean flows northward from the south. The daily weather in the Alps is also affected by cyclonic storms and the wind’s direction as they pass over the mountains.
Of course, the physiography of the Alps causes the most variation in weather. Because the surrounding peaks protect the valley bottoms, they are generally warmer and drier. In the winter, all precipitation above 1,500 meters falls as snow, accumulating to depths of three to ten meters.
The Very First Winter Olympics
Mont Blanc is the Alps mountain range’s highest peak. Chamonix, the town next to Mont Blanc, hosted the first Winter Olympics.
Beware of Avalanches!
Avalanches can be fatal for anyone traveling through or staying in the Alps. Avalanches are most likely to occur between November one year and June the following year. So, if you want to be safe, travel in the summer!
A Large “Four Thousanders” Family
The “four-thousanders” are a group of about a hundred peaks in the Alpine region higher than 4,000 m (13,123 ft). The Alpine mountain range contains high peaks like Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.
Ancient Humanity Appears to Have Origins Here
People are thought to have lived in and explored the Alps for over tens of thousands of years. According to evidence, paleolithic people lived in the area up to 60,000 years ago.
Divides Europe Into Two Regions
The Alpine crests separate European regions and are the supply of many of the continent’s major rivers. The Alps separate Europe’s marine west coast climates from the Mediterranean regions of Italy, France, and the Balkans.
The Alpine Way of Life
With the Alps spanning several countries, it is only natural for civilizations to establish human settlements throughout the region. Despite accounting for only 11% of Europe’s surface area, the Alps provide up to 90% of the water that flows into the lakes and rivers in lowland Europe. These waters are used in more than 500 hydroelectric power plants, which generate up to 2900 GWh of electricity.
Although livestock farming is still a common source of income in the Alps, indigenous raw materials such as iron ore have also aided in developing industries in the Mürz and Mur valleys of southern Austria since the nineteenth century. Hydroelectric power usage has also resulted in electricity-dependent industries such as chemicals, aluminum, and steel manufacturing. Tourism has also been thriving recently, with an increasing number of visitors worldwide.
Permanent Snow Coverage
The Alps have a permanent snow blanket above 2750 meters (9,000 feet) and numerous glaciers. The glaciers that covered 1,817 square kilometers (702 square miles) of the Alps in 1876 had downsized to 1,342 square kilometers (518 sq miles) by 1973, resulting in lower river run-off levels.
The Alps are home to 30,000 species of wildlife, ranging from snow fleas to brown bears. In the craggy landscape, a wild goat, the ibex, and the goat-like chamois are incredibly agile, and marmots hibernate inside underground galleries. Mountain hares and ptarmigans, a type of grouse, dress in white for the winter.
Arrival of Hannibal
Hannibal is said to traversed crossed the Alps with a herd of elephants, many of which perished in the mountains. Caesar and other Roman leaders frequently traversed the Alps during the empire’s expansion. The roster of armies that crossed the Alps, however, is endless.
The Alps have been a source of minerals for thousands of years. During the Hallstatt culture, Celtic tribes mined copper in the eighth to sixth centuries BC. Later, the Romans mined gold in the Bad Gastein area for coins.
Crystals such as amethyst, cinnabar, and quartz can be found all over the Alpine region.
White Friday Avalanche
Heavy snowfall and an unexpected thaw in the Alps created ideal conditions for avalanches during the winter of 1916. An avalanche struck Austrian barracks on Mount Marmolada during the Italian Front of World War I, killing 270 soldiers.
A 5000-Year-Old Mummy Discovered
A mummified man was discovered in the Alps near the Italian/Austrian border in 1991. The mummy is thought to be over 5,000 years old.
The Alps are one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with resorts such as Oberstdorf, Bavaria, Saalbach, Austria, Davos, Switzerland, Chamonix, France, and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, receiving more than one million people annually.
Tourism is essential to the Alpine economy, which receives more than 120 million people annually, most of whom participate in winter activities, although summer visitors are also significant.
In the early 19th century, the tourism sector began when Europeans visited the Alps, journeyed to the mountain bases to admire the view, and stayed at spa resorts.
During the Belle Époque, large hotels were constructed; early 20th-century cog railways took tourists to ever-higher altitudes, with the Jungfraubahn terminating at the Jungfraujoch beyond the perpetual snow-line after passing through a tunnel in Eiger.
Winter sports were gradually introduced during this time: the first figure skating tournament was held in 1882 in St. Moritz. Downhill skiing became a popular pastime among English tourists in the early 20th century, when the first ski lift was erected above Grindelwald.
Three Olympic Winter Games were hosted in Alpine locales during the first half of the 20th century: 1924 in Chamonix, France, 1928 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and 1936 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
The winter games were canceled during World War II. Nevertheless, further Winter Games were hosted at St. Moritz (1948), Cortina d’Ampezzo (1956), Innsbruck, Austria (1964 and 1976), Grenoble, France (1968), Albertville, France (1992), and Turin (1964). (2006).
The first Lauberhorn Rennen (Lauberhorn Race) was held on the Lauberhorn above Wengen in 1930, and the first Hahnenkamm was held in Kitzbühl, Austria, in the same year.
Both races continue to be contested on consecutive Saturdays in January.
The Lauberhorn is the most difficult downhill race at 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) in length, with competitors reaching 130 kilometers per hour (81 miles per hour) within seconds of exiting the starting gate.
During the post-World War I era, ski lifts were constructed in Swiss and Austrian towns to accommodate winter tourists, but summer tourism remained significant; by the middle of the 20th century, the popularity of downhill skiing increased dramatically as it became more accessible, and in the 1970s, several new ski villages, such as Les Menuires, were constructed in France.
Prior to then, Austria and Switzerland were the traditional and most popular winter sports destinations. Nonetheless, by the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, France, Italy, and the Tyrol began to witness a rise in winter tourists.
From 1980 to the present, ski lifts have been updated and snow-making equipment have been placed in a number of resorts, resulting in concerns about the loss of traditional Alpine culture and questions about sustainable growth.
Since 2015, the number of ski resorts and piste kilometers has decreased due to climate change.