Issued: 29th June 2022
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
After the big June snowfalls first in the Andes then Australia and finally New Zealand, over the first three weeks of June, the past seven days (the first of full wintertime by both astronomical and meteorological measures in the southern hemisphere) have been rather quiet for most ski areas around the world with just light snowfall, if any at all, reported for most.
That said, at least some fresh snowfall was reported on all six continents, up high in the northern hemisphere of course. The biggest snowfalls reported though over the past seven days have been in South America.
In the northern hemisphere, we are past the summer solstice and on the downhill slope to winter 22-23 with every day getting a little shorter. A dozen ski areas remain open in the north on three continents, meaning we still have resorts open on six continents worldwide thanks to ski areas opening in southern Africa, South America and Australia/New Zealand. But there’s only one left in Asia and North America, respectively.
Well, actually, in surprise news since last week we’re now looking at two ski areas open in North America for the next few days thanks to Sunshine near Banff in Alberta, Canada, announcing they’re re-opening in July for the first time in more than three decades. Actually, they should be already open as we post this report and plan to stay open, conditions permitting, to next Monday.
More ski areas have opened in Argentina, Chile, New Zealand …and Italy, over the past week, with the only newly announced closures of two small centres in Tasmania. Among the new openings are the world’s most southerly ski area, Cerro Castor near the southern tip of South America.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRO
We’re into winter proper now in the southern hemisphere and most leading ski areas in the Andes and New Zealand have now opened, although some smaller centres still have not. All resorts are now open in Australia however. Other than more centres opening and those already open adding more terrain, it has been a fairly quiet week across Australia, and New Zealand with just light to moderate snowfall reported for most. Lesotho saw one of its big snowfalls of the season at the end of last week, not huge on the scale of ski area snowfalls worldwide but a decent dump by southern African standards. There were also much-needed snowfalls in South America where ski areas in Argentina and Chile had been struggling a lot with diminishing cover and a lack of terrain after a dry spell following big snowfalls nearly a month back.
It’s a busy time on Australian ski slopes with some of the best June conditions in years reported and school holidays underway. There has been some light to moderate snowfall, heavier at times like Sunday evening and Monday, to freshen up slope cover and the country’s ski areas have been opening up more terrain to benefit from demand. But, otherwise, there’s not a great deal of change on last week. Perisher (55/75cm / 22/30”) is posting the most terrain open in the world right now with 55km (34 miles) of slopes. Mt Hotham (60/94cm / 24/38”) has the deepest snowpack in the country. Alas, the country’s most southerly centres on Tasmania, Ben Lomond and Mt Mawson, which had opened early after the great early June snowfalls, were forced to close again temporarily as warmer weather has melted away snow cover. However, Ben Lomond has since reopened crediting great snowmaking conditions.
It is looking promising for Australian ski slopes over the week ahead with temperatures dipping to the -5 – +5C range and light to moderate snowfall forecast from Thursday on.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT
The upbeat mood continues in New Zealand with another of the big-hitters, Treble Cone, opening for the season at the weekend, along with smaller centres like Broken River and Rainbow. So most of New Zealand’s ski areas are now open and indeed more than any other country on the planet at present. It is not all plain sailing though, Treble Cone was closed the day after it opened after warm weather brought rain instead of snowfall and this led to unacceptably high avalanche danger on the access road. Others also reported ‘soft snow’ in warmer temperatures. On Tuesday morning Treble Cone (100/180cm / 40/72”) reported another 12cm (5”) of fresh but heavy snow at the base and 30cm (12”) of fresh up high, so all good again. It’s currently posting the deepest fresh snow of any ski area in the world. It’s a similar story at other Kiwi centres. Ski areas that have already been open a week or two have extended the terrain they have open with Mt Hutt (10/60cm / 4/24”) opening its Fascination run at the end of last week. Most New Zealand areas continue to warn of high avalanche danger off the groomed runs following the big storms a fortnight ago. Some are still battling to get the terrain groomed.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST
A typically mixed picture with temperatures down to -10C at times but also up to +10C in valleys at other times as fronts move through rapidly, some of them expected to bring snowfall around Thursday and Saturday for many areas
Cold and snowy weather in Argentina has helped improve conditions at most of the country’s ski centres after a bit of a lull since the big snowfalls earlier in the month. This had led to challenging operating issues, particularly on lower slopes, at some centres including the continent’s largest, Catedral (10/50cm / 4/20”) near Bariloche, which had less than ten per cent of its terrain open last week. Chapelco and South America and the world’s most southerly ski area Cerro Castor near Tierra del Fuego were among the centre opening for the season at the weekend. Of the centres already open, Las Leñas (20/50cm / 8/20”), which had been scraping by with less than a foot of snow cover a week ago and just a few kilometres of runs open, reported heavy snowfall greatly bolstering cover. Cerro Bayo (20/100cm / 8/40”) was in a better position than its larger neighbours with the deepest base reported in South America up to the weekend and half of its terrain open already, albeit with more limited terrain available than Catedral or Las Leñas, but it still had 50% of its runs open compared to their 5-10% as the snow dumped down.
A promising forecast with plenty of snowfall expected, particularly in the north of the country, over the coming week and temperatures rarely getting above freezing in the mountains and often 5-10 degrees below freezing.
Corralco (20/50 m / 8/20”) and El Colorado (10/40cm / 4/16”) were among the latest ski areas to open for their 2022 seasons in Chile at the weekend. The openings came as fresh snowfall brought 10-20cm (4-8”) of new snow to many ski areas in the country, boosting the currently rather meagre coverage for many. El Colorado (5/30cm / 2/12”) had limited early-season terrain available, centred on the Foxes and Penguin runs. The resort acknowledged that there’s not a huge amount available so far and says they’re waiting on more snowfall to be able to open more. Portillo (34/44cm / 13/17”) reported fresh cover as well but snow depths remain not yet at their famously abundant levels and the centre has about a quarter of its terrain open. Not all of Chile’s best-known ski areas are open yet though, Valle Nevado says it will open this Thursday, June 30 with lifts spinning from 9 am until 5 pm daily.
A mixed picture with some areas likely to see quite significant snowfall, others more of a mixture of sunshine and snow showers. The good news is that temperatures are expected to stay low so the snow should stick around and overnight lows should be good for snowmaking too.
Excitement in Lesotho last week as a snowstorm hit on Wednesday, bringing fresh cover to the slopes of Afriski (20/50cm / 8/20”). Thursday saw access roads closed and a recommendation that skiers did not try to travel in or out of the resort. The snow was still looking fresh on Monday. Currently vaccinated skiers and boarders can enter Lesotho from South Africa, unvaccinated need to present a recent negative PCR test result.
There’s non-stop sunshine in the forecast but then there was this time last week and there was heavy snowfall by the weekend, so things can change. Temperatures range from -5C overnight to +8C by mid-afternoon.
Perhaps the biggest news for Europe is that we’re back into double figures for the number of ski areas open with Cervinia re-opening for its summer ski season. Well, kind of, as explained below. That ‘kind of’ takes us to 10 centres open again for the first time since early May, with a total of three centres to choose from in Norway, two each in Austria, France and Italy and one in Switzerland. Cervinia’s re-opening is the main news of the past week, providing access to the year-round glacier ski area it shares with neighbouring Zermatt but does not provide access year-round from the Italian side. Although it does for about eight or nine months in total, with just breaks in the latter half of spring and early autumn.
The connection is set to become more famous this autumn with the launch of the first world Cup Downhill races for men and women on the final weekend of October and the first of November, on a new racecourse that is Europe and the world’s highest. For now though, just regular skiers and boarders plus race teams training. Most of the slopes are on the Swiss side of the border but there are some runs on the Italian side if open.
That’s the nub of the ‘kind of’ – the resorts are keeping it vague but it looks like there’s not enough snow on the Italian side for those runs to open this summer. So it’s access to the Swiss side, which is open anyway, so really not an extra ski area. Add to the mix, again although the resort has been keeping it mooted, it appears Tignes glacier is very borderline, so far as we can tell, so it may be eight or nine areas open in reality.
Finally, a novelty note of snowfall at high elevations in the Balkans at the weekend, just a brief dusting but enough to make social media go crazy at resorts like Serbia’s Kopaonik.
After the high temperatures, which saw us see +10C on glaciers just before midsummer, things have cooled back to closer to seasonal norms in the Alps, thankfully. That said, we have seen daytime highs in the upper single-figures Celsius over the past week and temperatures on some glaciers still just above freezing overnight. So these are not even freeze-thaw conditions, just different rates of thawing speed. The weather has been mostly sunny, with an occasional rain shower for most areas.
As mentioned in our introduction the big change this week is the re-opening of skiing above Cervinia, or at least access to the year-round skiing above Zermatt from Cervinia (0/120cm / 0/48”), which shares the slopes. There is one run, number seven, on the Italian side of the border which reopens when Cervinia is open and conditions are right, the rest is on Swiss territory. However, for now, Cervinia is making the same comments on opening as Val d’Isere, which opted not to open blaming lack of snowfall the previous winter and an unusually warm spring and Tignes (0/15cm/0/6”), which has opened but warns it could close again any day as conditions are so marginal.
In fact, although at the time of compilation it hasn’t been saying it. Tignes didn’t appear to open from Thursday to Saturday, when it closed initially, saying there were ‘technical reasons’ which appear to be an on-going problem with the cable car (tram). It is now reporting a few runs open again but its published base depth is terribly thin and the webcam shows a lot of exposed ice and not much snow.
Cervinia joins the other Italian option Passo Stelvio, French resorts Les 2 Alpes (0/140cm / 0/56”) and Tignes, Austria’s year-round Hintertux (0/135cm / 0/54”) as well as their Kitzsteinhorn (0/115cm / 0/46”) centre above Kaprun and the other year-round option and Cervinia’s cross-border neighbour, Zermatt (0/120cm / 0/48”).
Several of these areas only have a kilometre or two of runs open and even those that claim 20-30km (13-19 miles) of summer ski terrain are only 50-70% open). Hintertux reports the most terrain open though with 20km of trails.
Most areas were able to open daily over the past seven days although Tignes was closed last Thursday due to an undefined technical issue.
Continuing with predominantly sunny and frequently hot weather (which has recently seen record highs on western Europe’s highest peak Mont Blanc). The occasional snow shower may bubble up on glaciers during the low point of the temperature cycle, morning and evening. Temperatures on glaciers remain largely above freezing and sometimes hitting +10C at 3000m in the afternoons. Closer to freezing overnight but staying above for most.
Conditions continue to be good compared to those further south with glacier areas noting that they did get above-average snow accumulation building their bases through last winter (the opposite to the Alps) and they had below-average June temperatures so far too, again the opposite to the Alps. The result, they say and are hoping, is a long period of operation than 2021 when things came to a fast end after a rapid thaw. Fonna (400/750cm / 160/300”) is posting the most impressive numbers and the deepest base in the world, more than double anywhere else in fact. Stryn Sommerski (200/300cm / 80/120”) and Galdhøpiggen Sommerskisenter (280/320cm / 112/128”) are the other two options, both posting much better snow depths than centres in the Alps. Temperatures have been warming up as we enter July though and are in the +5 to +15C range on Norwegian slopes. It was largely sunny last week although there were some rain showers up to the weekend.
Little change in the forecast with temperatures remaining in the +3 to +15C range on Scandinavian glaciers. Mostly sunny and dry weather is expected but with some rain showers. Winds should mostly be light although there is expected to be a period of strong gusts over the next few days.
NORTH AMERICA INTRO
We have settled into a quiet pattern, more like the seasonal norm in North America as we’ve entered full summertime, with much warmer, sunnier weather than we’ve seen for much of June. That said, in the north and west there is still more snow lying than usual following a succession of unusually late spring storms (which now look to be continuing into summer) leading several ski areas to announce they’re delaying the start of summer operations by a week or two. Kicking Horse in BC and Sunshine in Alberta were among areas reporting fresh snow in summer at the top of their slopes at the end of last week, describing conditions as ‘June-uary’ and in Kicking Horse’s case cancelling mountain biking. Big White also delayed the start of its summer operations.
Sunshine took the snowfall in another way though and the Banff resort announced at the weekend that it would re-open for July skiing for the first time since 1991 on Tuesday this week.
The resort first teased the idea after receiving the fresh snowfall at the end of last week on top of what’s still plenty of snow left from last season. The idea got such a positive response that within 24 hours the plan was confirmed.
The key idea is to open for Canada Day when the country celebrates its foundation, this Friday, July 1st. However, the centre says it expects to be open for six days in total, from Tuesday, June 28th through to Sunday, July 3rd, conditions permitting.
In order to open the resort has had to work with land owner Parks Canada and there’s a strict requirement that skiers stick to designated areas of groomed slope, the extent of which is yet to be confirmed.
“If you are joining us for skiing or riding this summer, please be sure to stay on the groom trails. This is essential to our summer ski operation and in place for your safety and the environmental integrity of our resort.”
Sunshine is one of Canada’s most snowsure resorts with a six-month season ending in late May, with winter 2021-22 only winding up six weeks ago.
Its re-opening followed the decision by Mt Washington on Vancouver Island to re-open for Father’s Day weekend a fortnight ago, for the first time in more than a decade.
North-western North America has had an unusually cold and frequently snowy spring and even early summer this year.
Otherwise, only one ski centre is open to all on the North American continent, the Palmer snowfield at Timberline on Mt Hood in Oregon (0/132″ / 0/330cm) where it is hoped that the summer ski season can last another 10 weeks yet. It has reported wall-to-wall sunshine this past week with temperatures in the range of the high 30s to low 60s Fahrenheit and advises skiers and boarders to wear a strong sunscreen.
Two other North American ski areas , the Blackcomb Glacier above Whistler in BC, Canada and Copper Mountain in Colorado both have snow slopes open. But both are not open at this time to the general public, only to private customers signed up for private training camps. There was fresh snowfall on Colorado’s highest peaks at the end of last week.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST
There’s little change in the non-stop sunshine forecast, with perhaps just a bit of a drop in temperature and the odd bit of cloud bubbling up. Temperatures continue in the high 30s to low 60s Fahrenheit range.
The weather has been rather wet with hill fog at Japan’s Mt Gassan (30/200cm / 12/80”), the only ski area still open in Asia. There has also been a rather dramatic development with major crevasses opening up in the snowpack on the main slope, leaving it closed for safety reasons. As the second Sawa course is also closed, what terrain that is still open and safe to access is accessed by a hike from above the T-bar, so some determination is required now to ski out the final month of the season.
Temperatures have been touching 20 degrees in recent days and there’s little change in the forecast for the week ahead with more rain and hill fog forecast, but with sunny spells as well. So the remaining base will continue to thaw and the best condition will be early in the day as usual.