Issued: 29 July 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE OVERVIEW
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRO| The big question in the Southern Hemisphere this week is: are ski lifts about to turn for the first time in 2020 in the Andes/South America? The answer seems to be yes, and by the time you’re reading this they may already be doing so; however, at the time of writing, not yet. In Argentina, where lockdown has been easing region by region, the lifts may begin turning this week according to local media reports in the famous ski town of Bariloche. Unlike Chile, on the other side of the continent, which is now one of the worst-hit countries in the world by the virus, Argentina has kept infections and deaths relatively low. Measures to loosen the lockdown allowed the southern ski area of Cerro Castor to open base facilities, if not its lifts and runs as yet, to locals at weekends for the past two weeks. At Bariloche, the plan is for some terrain to open at the continent’s largest ski area by uplift, Catedral. Again, for local people only. They do not want to encourage travel to the area, which remains very difficult/unadvisable to do anyway. The last reports indicated agreement to open had been reached between the municipality and the lift company, but the details were still being worked out.
The main excitement of the past week is the news that a ski area has opened for the season in South America and it’s one of the biggest, Cerro Catedral, near the famous ski town of Bariloche. The centre is only operating for local skiers, and its opening has been severely marred by the death of Mario Ruiz, the ski area’s ski patrol chief, who had been working in Cathedral for over 30 years but was killed by an avalanche.
Elsewhere, it’s a mixed picture. Ski areas in Chile and South Africa remain closed due to the pandemic. In Australia, ski areas are open but operations are limited by pandemic restrictions and still rather limited snow cover. New Zealand has the most ‘near normal’ operations of any ski country right now and lots of fresh snow in the past week too, but does seem to be starting to miss its international skier market with reports of quiet slopes. That’s good news for those who can get out to enjoy the space but less so for operators.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| It’s been a mostly dry and sunny week again in Australia. Although there have been some light snow showers to freshen up the snow surface. Most recently, a few centimeters for many at the weekend with some also seeing more on Tuesday. We continue to see strict COVID-19 prevention measures in play with reports of police checking on social distancing at some areas and warning of fines for transgressors. Perisher (30/84cm / 12/33″) has the most terrain open in the Southern Hemisphere and across the world, at present, with about two-thirds of runs and its piste kilometres reported open. That means 34 of its 41 runs and 64 of its 100km of slopes length. Thredbo (4/84cm / 2/33″) has half of its terrain open (35 of 70km). Over in Victoria, Mt Buller (15/17cm / 6/7″) remains open but the thin cover remains; however, it reports it has opened a little more terrain with the Standard run opening this week thanks to snow-making efforts. Mt Baw Baw is open weekends whilst Mt Hotham and Falls Creek remain closed.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| After the recent light snow showers, the week ahead looks mostly clear and often sunny again with temperatures swinging between a few degrees below freezing overnight and a few above by afternoon. It should be cold enough to run snow-making systems at least. A useful facility when there is no fresh snowfall in the forecast.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| There have been some pretty decent snowfalls in New Zealand over the past week. Amongst the biggest falls were 45cm (18 inches) reported at Cardrona (53/140cm / 21/56″), which now has 30km (19 miles) of piste open (about three-quarters of is capacity). Whilst Treble Cone (110/133cm / 44/53″) got 48cm (19″) and other areas reported 15-30cm (6-12 inches) of snowfall too with many now fully open, or almost so. More New Zealand ski areas opened for their 2020 seasons at the weekend including Broken River and Rainbow. Most of the country’s resorts are now open (it’s the first to have the number of open areas in double figures for months); however, Temple Basin has announced a target of August 1st and Mt Cheeseman, Mt Olympus and Craigieburn are yet to announce opening dates. Overall, things have quietened down a bit in the resorts and ski areas like Mt Hutt (70/125cm / 28/50”) reported empty slopes mid-week. The Remarkables (55/90cm / 22/36”), meanwhile, says it is reverting to weekend-only opening for the remainder of the season.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| Cloudy, cool and snowy sums up the week ahead in New Zealand with temperatures ranging from 3-5 degrees above freezing to 2-3 degrees below through the next seven days. There’s not much sunshine in the forecast but there is some light to moderate snowfall with 5-15cm (2-6 inches) more expected over the next seven days.
ARGENTINA REPORT| It has been a big week in Argentina with Cerro Catedral (95/235cm / 38/94”), the South American continent’s largest ski area by uplift, the first on the continent to open its downhill ski slopes last Thursday. Operations have been problematic. As part of the measures set to limit any danger of spreading the virus, the centre now decides a day in advance whether it will open. The plan is to eliminate the danger of people arriving at the bases and waiting around in groups for an opening announcement if conditions are 50/50. So, after not opening last Wednesday as first planned for this season, the slopes were closed again over the weekend following the same cautious approach. When open though, conditions are reported to be excellent with one of the deepest bases at this point of the season for years and lots of fresh cover too as the snow keeps falling. Catedral’s base, the first above two metres in the Southern Hemisphere, is the deepest for a non-glacier area of any open area and its 40km of runs open, so far, puts it straight into the top three for open terrain. Slopes are only open to local skiers. Elsewhere, Cerro Bayo ski area reports its slopes prepped and ready to open although it has not announced the date yet. Cerro Castor, in the south, is open at weekends for things like cross-country skiing and ice skating but is yet to announce a resumption of downhill skiing.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| A mixture of sunshine and showers for the week ahead on Argentinian slopes with temperatures a little warmer than they have been at times, getting well above freezing some afternoons this week. The forecast is for alternating days of sunshine and showers, the latter mostly falling as snow and potentially adding up to 50cm (20 inches) more snow depth, cumulatively, by this time next week.
CHILE REPORT| Ski areas in Chile have enjoyed more fresh snowfall over the past week with Portillo now reporting its base at more than five metres, the deepest reported by any centre worldwide. Unfortunately, the country’s ski centres all remain closed due to the pandemic lockdown. As yet there remains no sign of when they will be able to open as we near what would be the midway point of the 2020 ski season if it were a normal winter.
CHILE FORECAST| Mostly cold, sunny and dry weather this week in Chile with temperatures rarely climbing above freezing and more often dropping to well below. There’s little snowfall in the forecast. But, equally, the cold weather means there’s little change likely to the huge snowpacks most of the country’s ski areas are now sitting under.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| There’s little change on a week ago in southern Africa. Alas, South Africa’s Tiffindell remains closed due to the pandemic lockdown and with August normally the final month of the three-month season in South Africa, it seems increasingly unlikely it will be able to open at all in 2020. Afriski, by contrast, was the first centre to open for 2020 in the Southern Hemisphere, nearly two months ago now. But it has its border to South Africa closed due to the pandemic and it too is suffering a loss of business as a result. Its main run remains open, however, with 600 metres of snow slope waiting for those lucky enough to be there to enjoy it. After the snowfall a fortnight ago it has been back to dry, sunny weather.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| There’s sill more sunny weather in the forecast and zero precipitation. Temperatures look set to be largely above freezing, if only by a few degrees, just possibly dipping briefly sub-zero at night.
NORTH AMERICA OVERVIEW
NORTH AMERICA REPORT| Timberline (12/36″ / 30/90cm), the only ski area open in North America, continues to report warm, sunny weather and limited open terrain (about two miles of trails). Despite the heat (5-20 degrees above freezing) and full sunshine, the base depth is apparently unchanged from a week ago. The season here has about six weeks left to run, through to the start of September.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST| There’s no change in the forecast on the past week in Oregon. More sunshine and more warm temperatures are forecast through the coming seven days, as was the case during the last week.
There’s not a great deal to report in Europe over the past week, with most of the same dozen ski areas in Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland and Norway still open, their bases slowly thinning in above-freezing temperatures. But, hopefully, they will remain adequate through summer to keep ski slopes open and protect the glacial ice below. That has not been the case increasingly often in recent summers; however, base depths for 2020 are above average at most resorts.
The number of open areas is slowly dropping and will be into single figures after the weekend with Tignes due to close, following Austria’s Kitzsteinhorn last weekend. Most of the rest will be open through August before more Austrian and Italian areas begin to open in September, all being well, for autumn skiing, running into their 2020-21 ski seasons.
ALPS REPORT| From four glaciers opening after the pandemic lockdown in early June we’re down to two in the Austrian Alps now, but both say they’re staying open from here through to 2021. The Hintertux (225/225cm / 90-/90”) is one of the bigger glacier areas with 20km of runs open, for the Molltal (240cm/240cm / 96/96″) there are fewer piste kilometres but a new terrain park to explore.
In France, we’re coming up to the last weekend of the summer ski season at Tignes (0/100cm / 0/40″) where there’s 13km of runs still open. It usually tries to open for at least a day or two every month of the year, though COVID and climate change have thwarted that ambition a few times in recent years. But if all goes well it should be re-opening for winter 2020-21 in late September. The other sill-open French summer ski area, Les 2 Alpes, (0/200cm / 0/80″) currently looks like it should make it through to the end of its planned summer ski season at the end of August. Something it too hasn’t managed in some recent summers, again due to climate change melting away the snow cover on the glacier. There are reported to be 20km of runs open there presently, down from the summer maximum of 30km.
Elsewhere in the Alps the three options are Passo Stelvio, in Italy (195/195cm / 78/78”). the Klein Matterhorn glacier above Zermatt (220/220cm / 88/88”), also accessible through August from Cervinia on the Italian side and the recently re-opened Saas-Fee (250/250cm / 100/100″) glacier.
ALPS FORECAST| Fairly settled weather is forecast for the Alps over the next seven days with warm weather in the valleys and temperatures generally above freezing up on the glaciers, but only by a few degrees. Some precipitation in the forecast is likely to fall as rain even upon glaciers, but mostly it should be dry and sunny.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| It has been a bit of a weather roller-coaster over the past week in Norway, with slope closures due, separately, to fog and very strong winds at times; however, other days have seen perfect sunshine, no wind and excellent summer conditions. Fonna (400/600cm/ 160/240”), for example, was closed until noon on Tuesday due to the strong winds there. Stryn (60/110cm/ 24/44”) has also had a mixed weather week. The country’s third area, Galdhøpiggen (50/180cm / 20/72″), is currently closed for a private event planned before the season started in the spring but expects to re-open at the weekend.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST|There’s more mixed weather for the week ahead with temperatures now generally above freezing so the thaw is gathering pace. Indeed, highs on the glaciers will be double digits above freezing in the daytime. Unfortunately, rain is forecast between the sunny periods, most likely heaviest at the weekend.
JAPAN REPORT|Gassan (150/150cm / 60/60”) is still just about open according to the centre’s operators. Lifts serving the diminishing snowpack are no longer running as the season end nears but the centre says for those prepared to hike up the Ushikushi and Ushibek areas there are some good descents still in the snow valley and Yukita. With a mix of sunny weather and fog and temperatures as high as 21° above freezing plus some rocks showing through the surface, caution is advised.
JAPAN FORECAST| Very similar weather to that of recent weeks is expected over the next seven days: warm temperatures, sunny spells but some rain and occasional fog.