The mean snow depth, the duration of continuous snow cover and the number of snowfall days in the Swiss Alps all show very similar trends during the observation period 1931-99: a gradual increase until the early 1980s (with insignificant interruptions during the late 1950s and early 1970s) followed by a statistically significant decrease towards the end of the century. Regional and altitudinal variations are large; high altitudes show only slight changes, and the trends become more pronounced at mid and low altitudes. At any particular time the southern part of the Alps often has different conditions than the north. Shorter snow duration is mainly caused by earlier snow melting in spring than by later first snowfalls in autumn. Trends for heavy snowfall events are somewhat different: at elevations above 1300 m a.s.l. a very weak increasing trend towards heavier snowfalls has persisted since the 1960s, and only low altitudes below 650 m a.s.l. show a marked drop since the early 1980s, indicating that heavy winter precipitation to an increasing degree falls in the form of rain instead of snow. A literature review confirms that, throughout the temperate and subpolar Northern Hemisphere, a similar general pattern of temporal snow variations occurred during the 20th century.