Issued: 13 May 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE OVERVIEW
There’s been more snowfall reported in Australia, New Zealand and a few other southern hemisphere ski nations over the last seven days although not so much as the previous week Temperatures seem to be on the downward trajectory, as they should be for an approaching winter. But with the start of the season less than a month away for many areas, there’s increasing concern about a lack of clarity as to what will be able to open due to the virus pandemic, although restrictions are being gradually eased in most ski nations. It’s not yet clear if the restrictions will be eased enough for areas to open on time, except perhaps in New Zealand.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| Australia’s ski season is now only just over three weeks away and the signs of snow continue to look pretty promising. After the big snowfalls at the start of the month there have been several smaller accumulations, most recently another 10cm (4 inches) or so at the weekend for resorts including Hotham and Falls Creek; however, regardless of the snow, uncertainty remains as to whether the country’s ski areas will be able to open.
The states of New South Wales and Victoria, where most of the country’s ski centres are located, remain in a state of lockdown with recreational travel not permitted. Victoria extended its state of emergency to May 31st on Monday although it eased lockdown restrictions a little. Even so, it appears that it’s not enough for facilities like ski areas to be able to open.
The Chief executive of the Australian Ski Areas Association Colin Hackworth told the Canberra Times that ski resorts are preparing to open, but said it may not look like the standard ski season people are used to. He said that the main concern would be allowing the lifts to run, but warned that rentals, ski schools and catering may not be “full service”. “Unless ….restrictions are lifted early, a Queen’s Birthday long weekend opening won’t be possible,” Mr Hackworth warned, adding, “Post restrictions, the ski industry is flexible and adaptable, and will be able to operate the moment the restrictions are relaxed. The ski industry can operate within those boundaries”.
A NSW government spokesperson said they were working with snow businesses to support them but said that until health professionals provided advice that is different to that which is currently in place, recreational travel is not permitted which clearly impacts businesses in snow tourism.
Australia’s 2020 ski season is due to start on Saturday, June 6th at most of the country’s resorts. The country has had several significant snowstorms so far this month.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| A mostly sunny week ahead but with temperatures staying cold up in the mountains, only getting a degree or two above freezing, 5 or 6 degrees above down in the valleys. This means weekend snowfall should not thaw so fast on higher slopes as the big dumps a fortnight back did in the warmer first half of the month. There will be some cloud and some precipitation too with a few centimetres/inches forecast for Wednesday/Thursday on most Aussie ski slopes.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| It has stayed mostly cold on New Zealand’s ski slopes and some more fresh pre-season snowfall has been reported in the past week. Temple Basin, for example, reported 20cm (8 inches) of fresh, if somewhat wind affected, snow on Thursday morning last week. With the first of the country’s ski areas scheduled to open at the start of June the main talk in the mountains is what lifting pandemic-related restrictions will mean for resort operations. The country, which has been one of the most successful in the world to date at suppressing the virus, has said it will move from a Level 3 to Level 2 risk level which will allow ski centres to operate; however, even at level 2, there is a limit of 100 people gathering in one place. Therefore, resorts are seeking clarity as to whether more people can gather if they’re spread around the mountain.
The country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that “open-air” spaces like golf courses or places with many “players” there would “obviously be a different set of circumstances” to the 100 person limit. That just hasn’t been spelt out yet.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| It looks like it should stay cool in the mountains over the coming week but mostly dry too with just a few light snow flurries expected on higher slopes later in the week. Temperatures should stay around freezing up high and a few-degrees above at mid-mountain; five or six degrees in the country’s valleys.
ARGENTINA REPORT| It has been an often warm and sunny week for most of Argentina so no pre-season snow build up here over the past seven days. The country has announced more easing of its lockdown which appears to be good news for the potential opening of ski areas next month, although so far it remains an uncertain picture, as in most countries.
ARGENTINA FORECAST|It’s still a month, or longer, to the start of the season for most ski areas in Argentina, which is probably good news at the moment as temperatures are generally looking too warm for snowfall and too dry for most areas over the coming week. Only Cerro Castor, down in the south, is looking fairly snowy with temperatures below zero for much of the time on higher slopes, in particular, and light to moderate snow forecast.
CHILE REPORT| A mixed picture across Chile for snowfall over the past week with temperatures very warm (20 degrees above freezing) in some more southerly valleys, but dropping below freezing on higher slopes in northern mountain areas. Corralco ski area published images of fresh snowfall on Tuesday morning. Ski areas are due to start opening here in a month if virus restrictions allow.
CHILE FORECAST| There’s no big change in the forecast for the coming week with generally warm, dry, sunny weather across much of the country. There’s the possibility of some snowfall towards the latter half of the weekend at some areas but it will be mixed with rain and gales and it’s some way off still for a fully certain forecast.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| After the snowfall of early May it has been fairly dry over the past week in southern Africa and the snowpack is melting a little; however, it has stayed pretty cold so the thaw isn’t fast and it’s looking good at present for snow-making to get started later this month.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| It’s more of the same forecast in the region with cool temperatures and dry weather, jut a few degrees above freezing most of the time for the week ahead.
INTRODUCTION NORTH AMERICA
North America saw record low temperatures in parts of the midwest and southeastern US at the weekend with temperatures dropping below freezing. Up in the northeast there has been up to a foot (30m) of snowfall reported. With Mt Baldy, in California, ending its season for a second time a week ago (this time for good), there are currently no lift-accessed ski areas open in North America and most ski areas, and indeed mountains, are closed to backcountry skiers too; however, several areas look like they could re-open before the end of the month as lockdowns are eased. These include Timberline, following an easing of restrictions in Oregon, and Arapahoe Basin, with a fresh update on restrictions due next week and the governor there stating previously that ski areas might be able to re-open for an end-of-May public holiday weekend. Mammoth, in California, and Whistler Blackcomb, in BC, are also thought to be still considering re-opening if permitted later in the spring.
USA REPORT| The main snow news from the past week in North America has been exceptionally cold and sometimes snowy weather in most of the east of the continent over the weekend. Temperatures dropped to around freezing in the midwest and even in southeastern states whilst up in the north east up to a foot (30m) of snowfall was reported. The snow spread from the southern and central Appalachians into New England late Friday into Saturday, even reaching the coast in parts of the northeast. All ski areas in the region are currently closed due to the pandemic. The only skiing and boarding done was when people hiked up. Wild Mountain, in Minnesota, which didn’t have any fresh snow but had quite a lot lying from the winter, created a terrain park on the mountain on Saturday afternoon for socially-distanced snow fun for locals; free to season-pass holders. Elsewhere in the region, people were reported to be cross-country skiing and backcountry skiing on the fresh snowfall in areas including New York state and Vermont. In the west of the continent, the main excitement was a decision by the governor of the state of Oregon to allow ski hills to begin operating again. Although the season would be over at most areas anyway, the state is home to Timberline, North America’s closest thing to a year-round ski area with skiing 10-11 months a year. The centre says it is “thrilled with the Governor’s news” and that it could re-open later this week; however, they are awaiting an executive order with the official go-ahead and in the meantime trying to re-hire staff laid-off two months ago and fresh staff to fill new rolls whilst maintaining high levels of hygiene. Uphill traffic is still not permitted there or at most other ski areas in North America.
USA FORECAST| After the record cold and snowy temperatures for mid-May at the weekend it’s looking much warmer across the US over the coming week with mostly sunny weather too. The only snowfall is expected up in northern states like Montana and Wyoming; probably good news for Beartooth Basin summer ski area due to open in a fortnight up there.
CANADA REPORT| Another fairly cool week across many of Canada’s mountain areas from east to west, although with temperatures at double digits above freezing down in valleys in most areas. There has been some fresh snow on higher slopes in the west though. All of the country’s ski areas remain closed at present. Only two: Sunshine, in Alberta, and Whistler Blackcomb, in BC, would normally still be open this late in the season. Of these, only the Blackcomb Glacier above Whistler looks like it could still possibly re-open in June or July but doing so would require further relaxation of BC’s lockdown rules.
CANADA FORECAST| It’s staying cool in the middle of the week but then getting warmer across the country from around Thursday on. Some more snowfall is expected into the weekend on the highest slopes, including the Blackcomb Glacier.
It has been a colder week than usual for mid-May with fresh snowfall reported on high slopes in the Pyrenees and down to lower elevations in the Alps over the past few days.
In Scandinavia, where there are a number of ski areas operating in Norway and Sweden, most have reported 10-20cm (4-8 inches) of fresh snowfall since the weekend and one Norwegian glacier is posting an incredible near 15 metre/60 feet base.
The number of ski areas open in Europe (and around the world) continues to hover at the high-single/low double figures mark. Essentially, one or two ski areas are opening each week and one or two are closing. But we remain close to a historic low number of areas open.
Norway, where most of the open areas are located, is seeing some of those that reopened in late April now coming to the natural end of, what for most is, an already later-than-usual end to the season, and either closing their 19-20 seasons for good now or switching to weekend openings.
Against that we have Norwegian summer skiing areas opening (the second is due to open this weekend) and at least three Austrian summer ski areas planning to start opening in a fortnight (two are reported to have already opened for national team training only). Even a glacier in Italy says they hope to open from June 1st, if they can get government approval, for training for the country’s national ski team only initially.
Of the other areas currently open, Riksgransen is into the last few weeks of its 2020 season. Although, unfortunately, its signature skiing/boarding under the midnight sun, usually offered around now, is cancelled this year.
AUSTRIA REPORT| There’s been fresh snow reported on higher points in the Austrian Alps over the past week, just as they are attempting to clear mountain passes for summer openings. The country is one of the fastest of the major alpine nations to ease their lockdown and the Austrian ski team is reported to be already training on snow again. The Kitzsteinhorn glacier has announced it will re-open for summer skiing in just over a fortnight on the 29th, with the Molltal glacier joining it the following week at the start of June. The normally year-round Hintertux glacier is also looking to re-open but, at the time of writing, had not confirmed this yet. A fourth, the Kauntertal, appears to have decided against as has the Stubai, which has already covered its glacier in protective sheeting to try to keep it cooler through the summer, before re-opening in the early autumn, all being well. A sixth glacier, Dachstein, will re-open on the 29th , along with the Kitzsteinhorn, its operators say; however, there’ll be no snow-sports until the autumn here too, just sightseeing. The Kaunertal and Sölden glaciers, although not open to the skiing public, are reported to have been hosting the Austrian national team.
AUSTRIA FORECAST| A mixed bag of weather for the week ahead with sunshine and showers. Temperatures will be warmer than recently in the valleys and any precipitation will fall as rain. But the soon-reopening glacier ski areas should stay sub-zero and get more fresh snow arriving ahead of re-opening.
SWITZERLAND REPORT| Another week of rather cooler than usual weather as well as unsettled periods in the Swiss Alps. There have been some sunny spells but also a lot of cloudy days with rain in the valleys and a few centimetres/inches of snowfall up high. The country has been easing its lockdown restrictions fairly rapidly for its citizens in recent days with shops, bars and restaurants re-opening from today although with lots of restrictions in place. It currently continues to look like June 8th will be the day when Zermatt expects to resume its year-round skiing operation on its glacier if things continue to go well with the pandemic diminishing overt the next 3+ weeks. It says the June 8th date for opening is not yet certain though.
SWITZERLAND FORECAST| It’s looking like more of the same mixed weather in the Swiss Alps over the remainder of this week with the possibility of fairly significant (10cm/4+”) snowfalls over the next few days up above 3,000 metres. The snow will come down to lower elevations at times. It’s looking like it should start to get warmer and perhaps more settled after the weekend, but there’s some uncertainty in the forecast that far out.
FRANCE REPORT| It has continued to be colder than usual for this time of year and rather changeable in the French Alps. The weather has again been a mix of sunny spells, cloudy days and occasional precipitation which has fallen as snow, as it has been throughout May on higher slopes. All three remaining French glacier ski areas hope to re-open next month if they can get approval from the French government. Chamonix is reported to have re-opened its mountains to allow ski-touring with specified restrictions and the famous Aiguille du Midi cablecar will re-open this Saturday 16th May.
Les 2 Alpes, Tignes and Val d’Isere all have glaciers for summer skiing and usually open in mid-late June but it’s unclear what’s going to be possible this summer; however, the staff at Les 2 Alpes and Tignes have said they hope to open if they can. Staff have been able to go back into work today (May 11th) as part of a slight easing of the French lockdown.
“The tourist office, the accommodation providers, the activity providers and the various shops in the resort are currently preparing for the summer season and are ready to open as soon as they are authorized to do so, following the directives which will be given by the Government,” said a spokesperson for Tignes, adding, “we do hope that we will be able to open on June 20th as it is planned, summer skiing including as well. The lift company is thinking of a plan for social distancing and is waiting for the Government’s directives.”
In response to the point that most countries have travel bans of one sort or another, the spokesperson added, “we do focus more on French people for this summer as we know that people will travel locally.” Les 2 Alpes has said they are in a similar position. They had also planned to open in late June although they have additional plans for weekend glacier openings earlier in the month, (which had been laid out long before the virus crisis). Val d’Isere usually has a shorter summer-ski season than the other two areas, starting earlier. This year the area originally planned from June 6 to July 11th; however for some weeks now the resort has been posting a revised season start date of July 4th on its website, only a week before the originally planned end of its summer ski period. But reports from France indicate that the glacier still hopes to open from June 6th, subject to French government approval of the plan. Primarily for French ski team training.
FRANCE FORECAST| It will get gradually warmer through the week but the weather will remain unsettled with more snow forecast up above 3,000 metres, where temperatures should remain below freezing. It will get increasingly warm down in the valleys though, getting well into double-figures above freezing by the weekend.
ITALY REPORT| It has been snowier than usual for this period of May in Italy with cool temperatures bringing snow to high slopes just as the country slightly eases its lockdown. The snow has been falling to quite low elevations at times too. It has been announced that the Stelvio Summer Ski Centre, in Italy, the country’s only summer-only destination, maybe open from June 1st; however, for the month of June at least it will only be open to Italian national team athletes. This would be the first lift-served skiing in Italy for nearly three months since the lockdown began in the country on March 9th, if it happens as hoped. FISI, The Italian Ski Federation, has agreed on an exclusive arrangement with the centre to allow for training under strict pandemic-spread-limited conditions for the month of June. The deal includes exclusive use of a 90-bed hotel during June. It does not yet appear to have been confirmed that training will be possible from 1st June, FISI President Flavio Roda said the training would begin “as soon as the regulations allow” indicating the precise date was not yet known. It depends on Italian government decisions as they gradually ease lockdown on the European country with the second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths after the UK. It is also as yet unclear what the position will be after the exclusive-use agreement ends on June 30th. The Stelvio summer ski area normally stays open through to late October or early-November.
ITALY FORECAST|It continues to look quite changeable for the week ahead in the Italian mountains with temperatures below seasonal norms for mid-May which means the forecast precipitation over the week ahead will probably fall as snow to quite low levels at times and certainly continue to deliver fresh snow up high.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| It has stayed snowy in Scandinavia with 10-20cm (4-8 inches) more snowfall reported in the past few days in most of the region’s still open ski areas. Some have now ended their re-opened seasons and others, including Roldal (140/570cm / 56/228”), have decided to open for the next few weekends but close midweek. Myrkdalen ski area (70/340cm / 28/136”), near Voss in Norway, is one of the few areas which is still saying it’s open midweek, along with the Fonna glacier where the base depth has increased still further to a claimed 1490cm (596”). A second Norwegian glacier, Galdhopiggen, is due to open for its season this coming weekend. Several other Norwegian ski areas including Hoven, Bergsjø and Ål, in Hallingdal, have opened for periods and/or remain open at weekends.
In Sweden, skiing and boarding in Riksgransen (545/545cm / 218/218”) continues and the famous spring skiing capital would normally offer several snowsports sessions a week under the midnight sun, but this has sadly been cancelled this year due to low skier numbers. The annual Big Mountain Challenge competition which ends the season here around May 20-24th is a video competition this year, although the resort does plan to stay open until then.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST|We may have reached mid-May but there are no major changes to the snowy prognosis for the weather at most of the dozen or so still-open and newly-opening ski areas in Scandinavia. Temperatures will continue to hover a degree or two above/below freezing for most and they’ll see a mix of sunshine, cloudy days and some snow showers as has been the case for much of the past few months now. Most now have very long daylight hours with just a few hours of darkness each night due to their northerly latitudes.
JAPAN REPORT| Although the ski season would now be over at most Japanese ski areas anyway (and in any case, the country is largely in lockdown still), SnowJapan broke the surprise news that one area, Yokoteyama/Shibutoge, decided to re-open limited terrain on Thursday last week, running their Shibutoge double chairlift and asking only locals to hit the slopes. The only other ski news is that the country’s summer ski area, Gassan, has extended is closure to May 31st. It hopes to be open in June and July.
JAPAN FORECAST|Temperatures have been climbing in Japan so the weather is mostly warm to very warm with what precipitation that falls generally falling as rain across the country’s slopes.