Issued: 14 October 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
It’s been a quieter week than most over the past month with just one ski area opening for the 20-21 season in the last seven days. The Titlis glacier, above Engelberg, started its lifts running; the 14th to begin operation in the Alps so far this autumn. With a couple more ski areas ending their season in New Zealand, the world count for numbers of areas open is actually down slightly.
The snow news is good on the glaciers, with ski centres reporting fabulous conditions once the stormy weather cleared, with lots of snowfall lying, allowing many to expand the amount of terrain they have open. There has been more snowfall to start this week too, with up to 30cm (a foot) reported on Monday in the Alps, and more snow for the Dolomites and Pyrenees too. That’s the third big snowfall in a fortnight for many.
Events coming up this weekend are the opening of the 20-21 FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup in Solden, Austria. the start of the ski season in France with the glaciers above Les 2 Alpes and Tignes due to open, the start of Sweden’s ski season as Idre Fjall is due to open too and a fifth Swiss glacier opening means the number of centres open in Europe will grow to more than 20 and up from five to seven countries by Saturday.
AUSTRIA REPORT| As mentioned in our introduction, Austrian ski areas saw heavy snowfall to start the week with some areas receiving another 30cm (foot) of fresh snow up high and snow down to low levels. After the flurry of openings over the past few weeks, there’s a bit of a lull in ski areas opening now. There are now seven glacier areas open for downhill skiing plus the Dachstein for cross-country but there were no new openings at the weekend for the first time in five weeks.
Next up is likely to be Kitzbuhel, opening its highest altitude terrain thanks to snow-farming (using last season’s snow stored through summer and spread back out on the slopes). That’s set to happen the weekend after next. In the meantime, Solden (0/50cm / 0/20”) is due to host the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup opener this weekend, a particularly big deal this year with the 19-20 season having ended early six months ago. The good news is that ski areas are reporting sublime conditions after all the fresh snowfall of late September and early October for those lucky enough to be able to reach them safely. More snow has been falling in recent days up high too. Many of the open glacier areas have been staging a celebratory weekend with things like new-gear tests and snow-park openings. One of these, the traditional Kaunertal opening celebrations took place last Friday to Sunday on the Kaunertaler Glacier (0/45cm / 0/18”) who say they have an “unprecedented setup” this autumn with a 2km (1.25 mile) long park to enjoy. Other centres are continuing to expand what they have open.
The Kitzsteinhorn Glacier (0/80cm / 0/32”) above Kaprun in Salzburgerland, for example, only opened at the start of this month but has already extended its open piste to the Alpincentre. Of the other centres open the year-round Hintertux (0/85cm / 0/34”) has the most terrain open with 33km served by 13 lifts, about two-thirds of its maximum ski area. It opened four more lifts and three more blue runs for the season (run numbers 1, 1 a and 6) at the weekend. Meanwhile, the Pitztal Glacier (0/60cm / 0/24”) has put its focus (like the Dachstein) on cross-country skiing, opening a 3km loop it has created 2,700m above sea level since Monday.
AUSTRIA FORECAST| It’s looking promising for bases continuing to build as there is cold weather and more snowfall in the forecast up high for the rest of the week in the Austrian Alps. After a few sunny days midweek the next front should move in and temperatures up on the glaciers, at least, should remain well below freezing throughout. A little warmer but still close to zero-Celcius most of the time on lower slopes.
SWITZERLAND REPORT| With the opening of the Titlis glacier above Engelberg (0/69cm / 0/28”) at the weekend, for its eight-month 20-21 ski season through to next May, Switzerland now has four ski areas already open for the season, and with more areas closing at the end of the Southern Hemisphere in New Zealand, we reckon it’s second in the world now for the number of areas open, behind Austria. A fifth, the Diavolezza glacier in the Engadin, is scheduled to open this coming weekend. So currently, Zermatt (0/220cm / 0/88″), already into its fifth-month since re-opening post-pandemic, has the deepest base reported in the Alps and is one the largest areas open so far with 25km of runs, expanded at the weekend with the season-opening of the Furggsattel 6-seater chairlift. Neighbouring Saas-Fee (0/180cm / 0/72”) is publishing similar stats and early-season-start Glacier 3000 (0/70cm / 0/28”), by Les Diablerets and Gstaad, continues to focus on its kilometre red slope. Three more Swiss areas are expected to open in October.
The Diavolezza Glacier near St Moritz is next, the glacier above Laax is hoping to open the weekend after if snow conditions are good. Then it’s probably the turn of the first non-glacier ski area in the Alps to open without snow-farming, the Gemmstock freeride area above Andermatt, which hopes to open on Halloween, again depending on conditions. It has had some good early season snowfalls and reports the snow already 25-55cm (8-22”) deep between 1,700 m and 2,500 altitudes.
SWITZERLAND FORECAST| Remaining cold in Switzerland with temperatures not likely to get above freezing day or night on the upper slopes and dropping sub-zero overnight in resort, although climbing above freezing in the daytime at lower elevations. A mixture of sunshine and showers coming up which, with these temperatures, should mean more snow higher up the mountains.
FRANCE REPORT| As mentioned in our introduction, the start of the 20-21 season is nigh in France, less than two months after ski areas there ended their summer ski seasons. Unusually, two ski areas are due to open their glacier areas this Saturday 17th , Tignes, which is usually the first, and Les 2 Alps. They were also the two areas open for summer skiing from June to August, along with a shorter opening of Val d’Isere.
Tignes used to try to open every month of the year for at least a day, which meant opening by September 30th however, climate change has thwarted that plan several times in recent years and it has now formally given up on that policy. Les 2 Alpes, on the other hand, usually opened for the last two weekends of October and the five days in between but this year has decided to offer more time and space opening for two full weeks and three weekends through to November 1st .
Although, unlike Tignes, it will then close it slopes through much of November before re-opening for the season at the end of the month.
As to the weather? Well, this autumn has been snowier, especially up high, in the French Alps than most years and so it is currently looking good for opening weekend with adequate snow cover and lots of fresh snow. Indeed, video has been posted on ski tourers enjoying some pretty tasty looking powder in the past few days high in the French Alps above Chamonix.
FRANCE FORECAST| It could be the perfect start to the French season at the weekend with the rest of this week looking snowy and temperatures staying cold before the sunshine returns on Saturday.
ITALY REPORT| There have been snowy conditions up high in Italian mountains as the cold start to October continues. Cortina d’Ampezzo was among the resorts posting images on social media of heavy snowfall on higher slopes to start this week. Resorts in the Dolomites posted pictures of blizzard conditions above 2000 metres altitude over the weekend. For now, two glacier ski areas are open in the country, Passo Stelvio (15/180cm / 6/72”) which, after nearly five months of operations, is nearing the end of its season and Val Senales (0/50cm / 0/20”), which is at the opposite end of its ski season having only opened for 2020-21 less than a month ago. It is gradually increasing the amount of terrain it has open, now up to 4.5km (3 miles), a lot of it currently being used for national race team training ahead of the season start just over the border in Solden. Things are looking very snowy at Cervinia which is due to re-open its nearly-year-round access to its shared ski area with Zermatt in Switzerland the weekend after next and the Presena Glacier, near Passo Tonale in Trentino, continues to target the end of the month as their opening weekend in a fortnight.
ITALY FORECAST| After the snowfall earlier this week, the coming week looks mostly sunny for most of Italy, at least into the weekend. Temperatures down in the valleys may reach 10 degrees above freezing but the freezing point should stay at a line around about 2000 metres above sea level and above that the snow that has accumulated shouldn’t be thawing much night or day.
GERMANY REPORT| There was more snowfall reported on Germany’s highest slopes on the Zugspitze at the weekend and on Monday. The ski season starts here in mid-November, most other German areas in mid-December.
GERMANY FORECAST| It’s another cold and mostly cloudy week ahead in Germany with quite a lot of precipitation forecast after a dry period midweek. For many ski areas, this will result in rain on lower slopes, snow on mountain tops; however, up at Zugspitze it will be well below freezing 24-7 and quite a lot more snowfall is expected.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Conditions are turning more wintery by the day in Scandinavia with fresh snow reported on glaciers in the region. Two areas remain open in Norway as they have been through the summer. Folgefonn (Fonna) is now open just to race teams and in the final days of operation for 2020, it reported a few inches (5cm or so) of fresh snow on Friday morning. Galdhoppigen (5/80cm / 2/32”) is open to all and expected to stay open to the end of this month.
A third Norwegian option is Kvitfjell (0/30cm / 0/12″), near Lillehammer, which is due to stage World Cup racing next spring but for now, has a few racing pistes skiable again by race teams as well as season pass holders. It has used snow-farming to open the runs before waiting for this winter’s snow cover to build up.
The two centres that opened in Lapland in northern Finland at the start of the month, also thanks to snow-farming, remain open. Ruka (0/30cm / 0/12”) and Levi (0/30cm / 0/12”) should both remain open now through to next May, all being well. They’ve had a mixture of sunshine and some rain over the past week with temperatures a little above freezing most days. Sweden’s ski season is due to start this coming weekend with Idre Fjall also using snow farming to create a couple of runs at the top of its slopes that are due to open from Saturday.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| Mostly sunny and subzero sums up the coming days in Norway’s mountains, with the highest slopes at Galdhoppigen likely to see double digits below freezing by the end of the week. It is getting colder in Finland too with some fresh snow likely to fall on the slopes made up of last winter’s snow, at Levi and Ruka around Thursday and Friday. Temperatures dipping away below freezing, sunny periods on either side of the snowy spells. In Sweden, it should be sunny but cold for the start of the country’s ski season on Friday at Idre Fjall.
SCOTLAND REPORT| It has turned colder and snowier in Scotland with the high slopes of ski areas including Glencoe and Cairngorm going from a dusting of snow a week ago to a proper covering at the weekend. The Lecht posted a video of a blizzard at resort level on Saturday afternoon. But it’s probably still several months until the ski season gets underway in Scotland.
SCOTLAND FORECAST| Rain and snow showers in the middle of the week should give way to sunshine in the latter half of this week. Temperatures are forecast to be cold and dropping to around freezing most nights, but climbing 4 to 8 degrees above in the daytime.
SPAIN / ANDORRA
SPAIN / ANDORRA REPORT| There’s been more snowfall on higher slopes across the Pyrenees in the past week, heaviest on Monday, further raising anticipation ahead of the 20-21 season. Resorts in Andorra, Spain and the French Pyrenees all posted pictures of white slopes on Monday. So far though no area has committed to opening before late November and a lot more snow would be needed for one to decide to open early. Although that has happened in late October/early November several times in recent years, so we live in hope.
SPAIN / ANDORRA FORECAST|It looks fairly cold in the Spanish mountains over the coming week with snow forecast Wednesday/Thursday in the Pyrenees then after a sunny day or two, more arriving at the weekend. Resort temperatures are forecast to drop below freezing overnight, climbing to 5-10 degrees above during that daytime, but colder and more frequently at freezing point or below on the upper slopes.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA REPORT
BULGARIA / ROMANIA REPORT| Mostly sunny weather during the past week with temperatures climbing to double digits above freezing on the mountains in the afternoon. A few showers, though mostly rain and temperatures dipping below freezing at times up high overnight but the start of the season is still nearly two months away.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA FORECAST| Really more of the same: mostly sunny, mostly dry and mostly above freezing in the Bulgarian mountains for the week ahead.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA REPORT| It’s still some way from the start of the 20-21 ski season but leading Czech resort, Jasna, was excited to get its first dusting of snow on the peaks. Things have warmed up a little since and its mostly been cool and grey but staying a little above freezing.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA FORECAST|Cloudy, rainy and a little above freezing in the days ahead.
NORTH AMERICA INTRO| The main excitement for North America this week was the return of snow to the mountains in the west of the country where the ski season is expected to start, so long as there are consistent low temperatures and hopefully a good early season snowfall too.
Loveland, in Colorado, fired up its snow-making systems on Sunday night posting “it begins” on social media. As it is usually one of the first areas to open in North America, often in late October, this caused some excitement.
For now though Nakiska, up in Alberta, Canada remains the only area in North America to officially target an October opening, at the very end of this month.
ROCKIES REPORT| As mentioned in the intro, it dipped cold enough for a little fresh snow up high in the Rockies at the weekend and it’s usually here that we see the first ski areas in North America open for the season in the latter half of October. A number of areas have begun snow-making hoping to build a base combined with natural snowfall.
ROCKIES FORECAST|It is looking like a week of sunshine ahead in Colorado with temperatures on the mountain swinging from as low as 10 degrees below zero overnight, good for snow-making, to 10 degrees above in the afternoon, bad for snow. Hopefully, though bases can be built to allow imminent opening.
USA WEST REPORT| After the recent weeks and months of very high temperatures and fear of forest fires things have finally got much cooler and one of America’s most snowsure resorts, Timberline on Mt Hood in Oregon, reported fresh snow and blizzard conditions down to its base on Saturday.
USA WEST FORECAST| After the snow at the weekend, it looks like clear skies for the week ahead with sunny weather in much of the US west. The temperature are forecast to be around freezing at night but 10-20 degrees above freezing by afternoon.
USA MIDWEST REPORT
MIDWEST REPORT| Cool weather, rain, snow flurries and overnight lows getting around the levels that make snow-making possible but it’s probably still a while yet until any resorts in this region start looking towards an opening date.
MIDWEST FORECAST| It is looking cold going into the weekend with temperatures hanging around freezing. A mixture of sunshine and showers with a chance of snow for some in the north of the region at the weekend in states like Michigan.
USA EAST REPORT|Temperatures dipped as low as the 20s Fahrenheit in the final days of last week allowing resorts including Sugarloaf, in Maine, to fire up their snow-making systems for the first time this Fall and make some snow. Mostly though it remains a little warm for snow-making.
USA EAST FORECAST| It’s looking a little warm for snow-making still although eastern US ski areas have opened with it in October before. But afternoon highs hitting 20 degrees above freezing, even when it drops briefly below freezing at night, means it currently seems unlikely that there’ll be much slope creation in the coming week.
CANADA WEST REPORT| It has been cold and often snowy over the past few days in western Canada with temperatures rarely getting above freezing even down at the base of the mountains. Banff noted the start of the season there is now “just a few weeks away” ; however, Nakiska closer to Calgary has named the earliest opening date in Canada and North America, 31st October. Although others may yet open sooner.
CANADA WEST FORECAST|After the cold snowy weather it is looking much warmer and drier for the remainder of this week. Still cold on the mountain tops but getting well above freezing again down at the mountain base for most areas.
CANADA EAST REPORT|It’s been warm and dry in eastern Canada over the past few days, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures climbing to 15 degrees above freezing at the height of the day, so not much snow to be seen so far.
CANADA EAST FORECAST| Temperatures are forecast to remain above freezing with a mixture of sunshine and rain showers into the weekend.
JAPAN REPORT| Typical autumn weather in Japan with mostly sunny days, temperatures ranging from around freezing to 15 degrees or so above at the base of the mountain. Colder higher up of course but not a lot of snow so far, but then the season start is still 5-7 weeks away for most areas.
JAPAN FORECAST| Not much change in the forecast with more sunshine on the way and temperatures mostly too warm for snow.
The Southern Hemisphere’s 2020 ski season continues to wind down fast with another half of the six ski areas that remained open a week ago ending their seasons on Sunday, leaving only three centres known to be open still, all in New Zealand.
The final area still open in Chile, Corralco, and the last of the dozen or so that re-opened in South America in August after pandemic restrictions were finally eased, ended its 2020 season on Sunday.
The Remarkables and Mt Hutt on New Zealand’s South Island were the latest closures there.
That leaves Whakapapa (24/106cm / 10/43”) with 25km of slopes currently open and Turoa (50/169cm / 20/ 68”) with 16km of runs skiable, both open on Mt Ruapehu on New Zealand’s North Island. These two tend to be the Southern Hemisphere’s last resorts standing for 2020, conditions permitting, aiming to stay open for another month. The third New Zealand area still open is Cardrona (28/150cm / 11/60”) on the South Island, but it will close next Sunday. It remains fully open for now though and indeed has the largest area still skiable in the Southern Hemisphere, 38km (23 miles) of runs. So as of next week, we will probably be down to just Ruapehu.
As for the weather, it has been fairly cold and snowy to start this week after a milder spell into last weekend. The forecast for Ruapehu is for mostly cold, sunny weather over the next few days with temperatures dipping as low as -9C overnight, with more snowfall likely next weekend according to the long-range forecast.