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I am planning to spend about a week in Italian Alps in late October. The idea is to hire a 4WD and drive along (ideally) the whole Italian-Swiss border slowly, stopping a lot to "smell the roses" (walking, hiking in the parks, climbing established viewpoints etc.). Occasionally I would drive into Switzerland but will mostly be staying at the Italian side of the border. Nights will be spent at backpackers (are there many?).

I have done this kind of thing a lot in New Zealand, and also a bit of Canada and the US, but never in Europe.

What potential hazards are there? For example:

  • Dangerous animals (e.g. wolves, bears?)
  • Dangerous people?
  • Ice and snow on the roads (in late October)?

Are there places that should be avoided?

  • 3
    You probably don't even need 4WD. I've spent more time in the French and Swiss Alps, and never encountered any public roads that would need one (some accommodation might be down a short dirt track, but even that's fine in a normal car) – Chris H Sep 3 at 15:54
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    One month ago a dangerous bear in the wild in Alto Adige was featured in the news for a while (you can google for "orso M49"). It ate a few sheep, but hurt no humans, and overall it was a very unusual event for Italy. – Federico Poloni Sep 3 at 21:19
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    Driving “along” the border is going to be quite difficult, as borders in the mountains have a tendency to follow ridge lines, and most roads in that area would be rather orthogonal to the border, so you would probably have to backtrack quite a distance down the valleys to move to the next one. For instance, there’s no crossing between St Bernard and Zwishbergen, and the shortest route between the two is about 250 km, and requires to go nearly as far as the plain where Turin and Milan are. Things vary on different sections of the border, but you’ll probably have to plan carefully. – jcaron Sep 4 at 8:08
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At this time of the year, the risk of heavy snowfall is low, but you never know. Of course, the risk increases as you go higher, so it depends on your actual route.

Many of the passes and roads on or near the border are well over 2000 meters high, and some may be closed as early as October. Grand St Bernard Pass and Stilfser Joch / Passo dello Stelvio are examples of passes that are open only until September (though not everybody seems to agree on the exact dates). Note that some passes described as "open all year" may actually close based on current conditions.

Another possible risk (though very low) is that a road would be closed due to falling rocks, mudslides, or other obstructions. Not dangerous per se (the chance you would be caught in the event itself is really really low), but you might get stuck somewhere you hadn't planned.

You probably want to:

  • have a car with snow tires
  • have chains in your car (and know how to use them)
  • always have enough food and drink in your car to last a day, just in case
  • make sure you always have a charged mobile phone (note that you may not always have a signal, though)
  • download the detailed maps for your area in Google maps
  • have a paper map of the appropriate level of detail
  • make sure you always know your position
  • let people know of your travel plans, and update them if they change.

If you actually go trekking/hiking/climbing in the mountains, you definitely want to make sure you have the right equipment to do so (nobody wants to see someone trying to climb the Matterhorn wearing flip-flops). You may want to consider buying or renting a Personal Locator Beacon in case of an emergency (if you fall and get injured somewhere along the way). See this discussion for some recommendations.

You may want to check The Great Outdoors SE for additional recommendations.

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    I'd recommend not to use Google maps - public roads are on the map, but in some valleys nothing else, labels are often wrongly placed, paths are missing altogether. E.g. opentopomap.org is a good map or the Garmin maps from freizeitkarte-osm.de – asdfex Sep 4 at 14:06
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I live in the Swiss side of Alps (Valais / Wallis), as far as I know there is no bear here, I'm not sure about the possibility to meet a wolf, I'd not say it's 0, but close to 0% chance to meet one.

There are no dangerous people, come on we are educated in Europe, the only dangerous people you would meet will be in dangerous districts of some cities.

No snow at low altitude, you have to go very high.

(you should also tag Europe as French and Swiss people living close to / in the Alps may also be able to answer your question)

  • 3
    Well, I'd disagree with no snow at low (what is low?) altitudes. Late October, mountain, anything can happen. I've seen reports of quite heavy snowfall even as low as 700m in the northern parts of the Alps, in September. – Paul Palmpje Sep 4 at 6:37
  • It's less and less common, we have had snow at christmas (at 1000m) maybe 1 or 2 times the last 10 years. I don't want to let him think there will be snow if the possibility is low. It does obviously snow more at higher altitude but very seldomly that early. – user98567 Sep 4 at 10:32
  • I think this answer is not good. There is no link / source about the assumptions. There was a bear in Valais and there is wolfes. But I agree, there is almost no chance you see one and if you see one, there is also almost no chance to have problem. – LaurentG Sep 16 at 11:38
  • There is always a very very small chance to see a wolf, but for sure out of 1000 person living in Valais it's most likely that not even 1 person ever saw one in Valais so it doesn't makes sense to consider it (that would really sound like paranoïa), it's like saying there is a risk of Nuclear issue or a risk of Tsunami in Italy or considering the idea to bring winter clothes in Australia. – user98567 Sep 16 at 12:07
  • @PaulPalmpje Half September, no snow at all at 850m (where I live), tho you can see a little bit of white gold at 2000m. – user98567 Sep 16 at 12:10
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I think the answer of jcaron is already pretty good. The official weather forecast service of the government (MeteoSuisse) gives some additional information about the first snow in automn in Switzerland. Unfortunately the page is only available in german, french and italian but not english.

There is no precise information about somewhere in the alps in Valais. But there is some information about Arosa, this is located to the extreme east of the country. Even if this won't be the same in Valais, it is probably quite similar, since the altitude is the most relevant for the snow. For Arosa at 1878 m above the sea, the first snow in automn falls in average the 10th september.

First snow in Arosa (1878 m)

Actually based on my own experience, I think you can expect snow at almost any time of the year above 1500 m. Though, in september and october, it is still quite unlikely under 2000 m and the snow won't stay for a long time.

Your best help will be to look at the weather forecast, they always announce snow falls under 2000 m, since this is relevant for car driving on high routes. If it will have snow at the altitude of a route you plan to drive, just avoid it that day: take another route, wait 1 or 2 day and it will be probably gone at that time of the year.

Also a good information is the website of the TCS (a car driver association), on this webpage, they show the current situation of all passes. You will see if one is closed or if there is some restrictions (e.g. "truck forbidden", "chains mandatory").

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