Issued: 20 May 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE OVERVIEW
There’s not been much snow to report in the Southern Hemisphere this week. For most areas temperatures are getting lower with the start of meteorological winter less than a fortnight away.
Most of the talk has been about whether ski areas will be able to open next month for the start of the 2020 ski season. The good news for New Zealand and Lesotho is that the answer is probably yes; however, both with closed borders. For Australia and Chile, it’s looking more likely to be July; however, nothing is certain yet. For Argentina and South Africa, again, the current picture remains uncertain.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| Australia has seen cool weather in the mountains over the past week but not much precipitation and with temperatures above freezing from falls earlier this month the remaining snow has been thawing. Hopes of the season starting in a little over a fortnight are perhaps diminishing a little due to ongoing limitations on public life in the country.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| There are no big dumps on the horizon at present but colder weather with some fresh snowfall is expected later in the week with the long-term forecast looking good for a bigger fall towards the end of the month/start of June.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| Cool, sunny but largely dry sums up the recent weather in New Zealand’s mountains with temperatures around freezing or a degree or two above; however, not much precipitation. The country moved down from Level 3 to a ‘looser’ Level 2 lockdown, on Thursday last week, raising spirits ahead of the ski season. This had been due to begin with the opening of the Happy Valley nursery slopes and snow fun area at Whakapapa in just over a week with Mt Hutt, the first area to fully open on June 5th , in just over a fortnight. Unfortunately, Whakapapa has postponed to mid to late June and Mt Hutt is delaying a week to the 12th, which now looks like the start date of the season. Level 2 means that gatherings of up to 100 people are now possible but the country’s leaders say there will be no restrictions on outdoor numbers at the ski hills.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| Continuing dry and sunny for the week ahead, at least to the weekend, for much of New Zealand. Temperatures look like they’ll be 4-8 degrees above freezing so a little warmer than ideal for late autumn, but not too warm.
ARGENTINA REPORT| It’s been largely sunny over the past week in much of Argentina with temperatures typically 4-8 degrees above freezing in the mountains. The precipitation reported at areas like Catedral, in the last few days, has been more rain than snow showers. It’s about a month until the country’s first ski areas were due to open for the 2020 season, in mid-June; however, with the latest lockdown extension (one of the world’s strictest) to May 24th opening before July currently looks increasingly unlikely.
ARGENTINA FORECAST|The weather looks fairly similar over the coming week if anything, more consistently dry and sunny whilst remaining 4-8 degrees above freezing; however, the southern half of the country should see a midweek blast of winter with subzero temps and some moderate snowfalls are forecast for ski areas like Las Lenas on Wednesday/Thursday before the sunshine returns.
CHILE REPORT| A fairly dry week on the whole in Chile with temperatures generally well above freezing so not much fresh snowfall to report. It has, however, stayed closer to freezing on higher slopes so conditions are right for snowfall when the precipitation is there.
Chile’s Asociacion de Centros de Ski de Chile, an association of 12 of the country’s resorts, has put together a proposal on the safe operation of ski lifts and other facilities during the pandemic. The plans, yet to be approved by the country’s government, include cutting hill capacity by 50%, only one person per chairlift seat, limits on numbers in mountain restaurants and so on. If approved the ski areas have set a potential opening date of July 1st.
CHILE FORECAST| There’s some snow in the forecast for the middle of this week on higher slopes in the Andes (rain more likely lower down), before drier, mostly sunny weather in the latter half of the week and through the weekend for most areas.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| There was another dusting of fresh snow reported in the latter half of last week in Lesotho and South Africa, where it’s a fortnight now until ski areas are due to open, depending on the state of the lockdown in each. The resulting snowpack has thawed but some is still lying. Lesotho did report its first coronavirus infection last week, the last country in Africa and one of the last in the world that, until then, hadn’t had one; however, it has also now lifted its lockdown. Actually, Africa had fresh snowfall in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere sides of the continent last week as there was rare fresh May snowfall at Morocco’s only ski area of Oukaimeden, in the Atlas Mountains in the north of Africa, on Wednesday-Thursday last week too.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| It’s looking sunny but cold for the coming week, with dry, clear weather but temperatures only a few degrees above freezing on the ski hills.
INTRODUCTION NORTH AMERICA
It stayed fairly cold in the north and west of North America in the latter half of last week after the cold start to May. 4-6 inches (10-15cm) of snowfall was reported in Alaska and there was snow too on higher slopes in the north and west of the continent.
The main news from the US this week was Timberline ski area re-opening last Friday, followed by its Oregon neighbour Mt Bachelor, on Saturday. This was the first lift served skiing in North America for a fortnight since Mt Baldy ended its short period of re-opening down in California. Timberline, on Mt Hood, has the longest ski season of any North American ski area. It’s open almost year-round, snow-permitting, with a permanent snowfield open from early autumn through to the end of the following summer. So, all being well, there are a good three months of the re-started 2019-20 season to run there. Mt Bachelor is only re-opening for nine days!
USA REPORT| Those arriving at Timberline (111/111”/ 277/277cm) on Friday for the centre’s re-opening, after two months, were welcomed by fresh snowfall, When the storm ended there were beautiful conditions with fresh snow and a blue sky, great for mid-May.
USA FORECAST| It looks like it should stay fairly cold in north western mountains, including in Oregon, over the rest of this week. Temperatures will hover around zero and a few more inches of snowfall are in the forecast with light to moderate winds. Further south and west in Colorado, where Arapahoe Basin still hope to re-open, it will be warmer more often so trending above freezing even at altitude. Therefore, the snowpack there is continuing to thaw more quickly.
CANADA REPORT| It’s much warmer across Canada with few subzero temperatures to report anywhere. There has been quite a lot of precipitation but this has mostly been falling as rain, even at high elevations, so the thaw is well underway. If the virus hadn’t closed everywhere a few months ago this would have been the last week of the season at ski areas like Sunshine and Whistler and webcam images from Banff show plenty of snow still lying (looking good at Sunshine). It remains unclear whether summer skiing and boarding will be able to take place on Blackcomb glacier next month. Operators of summer camps there still say they are hopeful they can still happen.
CANADA FORECAST| It’s a mixed week of weather ahead in Canada. Temperatures will be well above freezing in the valleys but still quite cool on higher slopes. Strong winds and showers are forecast in the west of the country which could fall as snow up high at times.
We’ve had fairly typical late spring weather in much of Europe. This means warmer temperatures down in mountain valleys but staying cool up high. The temperature tends to be sub-zero when we reach glacier level. Most areas have seen a mixture of sunshine and showers throughout the week.
Scandinavia continues to be the area with the most areas open. Although more of the smaller centres, which re-opened when Norway eased its lockdown restrictions a month ago, are now closing again as the season ends. It is up in the north that, once again, we have seen the most snow over the past week. In fact, many of the still open centres were closed at the weekend due to blizzard-like conditions, as gales blew in along with the heavy snowfall. One glacier area reported a metre of snowfall by Monday and incredible powder ski conditions when they were able to re-open on Tuesday. Two more areas, Roldal (which for much of spring posted the deepest base in Europe and sometimes the world) as well as Riksgransen (the only ski area in the world that stayed open through the pandemic), are coming up to their final weekends of the season this weekend. Norway’s second summer ski area, Galhopiggen, was due to open for its 2020 season at the weekend. Although the opening was delayed by extreme weather.
In a surprise bit of news that arrived just a few hours after last week’s snow report was published, the Kanin ski area in Slovenia opened its higher lifts and a few ski runs from last Thursday. The operators said that although it was hot down in the valleys there was still plenty of snow up top and invited skiers to come up to the slopes where the country’s national squad are also in training.
A further bit of good news over the past week was the number of glacier ski areas in the Alps announcing they will be opening over the coming weeks and months, the first in just over a week’s time now. It’s significant as these will be the first areas to open in the Alps for around 10 weeks. Strangely, it will also mean that more ski areas will be open in June 2020 than there were in April and May. That has never happened before. The current count is around nine areas to be open in June, the first opening on May 29th. They include four Austrian glaciers, three French, one Swiss and one Italian. Some of these are not yet fully confirmed.
Against this good news, which if you add in the Southern Hemisphere and North American ski areas, we could have about 100 ski areas operating by the latter half of June. The next week is likely to see one of the smallest numbers of open areas in the history of skiing. Up to now re-opened areas in Scandinavia have kept us in double figures. But as they end their seasons again, this time due to spring conditions and few glacier areas have opened yet, it looks like we could drop to under 10 areas open worldwide for the coming week. So long as we exclude re-opened indoor snow centres.
AUSTRIA REPORT| With glacier ski areas due to re-open in Austria at the end of next week, all eyes are turning to these locations. They’ve had plenty of additional snowfall over the 10 weeks or so of lockdown and there have been more moderate snow showers in the past week, falling as rain at lower elevations. Temperatures up high, however, have generally stayed at or below freezing. There are now four glaciers scheduled to open in the next few weeks with the Hintertux and Kaunertal glaciers confirming in the past week that they’ll open on 29th May, along with the Kitzsteinhorn. A fourth glacier, the Molltal, is due to open on 6th June. But the Kaunertal says it will close after only nine days, on the 7th June. The day its season had been due to end anyway even if there hadn’t been a virus pandemic. So there will only be the weekend of 6/7th June when all four glaciers are open.
AUSTRIA FORECAST| There’s not a great deal of change expected in conditions over the week ahead as we get close to glaciers re-opening next week. At Hintertux, for example, it will be 10-15 degrees above freezing down in the valley but staying at or close to freezing up on the glacier. Again a mixture of sunshine and showers through to the weekend; generally snow on the glacier, rain in the valley.
SWITZERLAND REPORT| A similar week to last in the Swiss mountains with a mixture of sunshine and showers whilst temperatures remain fairly warm much of the time down in valleys. Up high though the rain has been falling as snow with temperatures staying around freezing, either a few degrees below or above. In the meantime, Swiss society has been returning to normal over the past week with shops, bars and restaurants re-opening, including those facilities in ski resorts. Zermatt is the only ski area known to be re-opening this spring, with a target date of June 8th. Saas-Fee also plans to start its nine month long 2020-21 season as scheduled in mid-July.
SWITZERLAND FORECAST| Temperatures are set to climb and conditions turn more consistently sunnier as we move through the remainder of the week. Full sun and temperatures, a few degrees above zero, are expected on glaciers by the weekend after a few final snow showers. It’s forecast to be 15-20 degrees above freezing in valleys.
FRANCE REPORT| Fairly normal late-spring weather in the French mountains with temperatures creeping higher into double figures higher up the mountains and a mixture of sunny periods with the occasional rain shower (usually still snow up high).
After two months French skiers have also been able to get back out into the mountains too, with some ongoing restrictions and safety advice. With the lockdown eased somewhat in France there has been some excitement with ski tourers heading out on the snow. In Courchevel, the La Saulire slopes were reported to have been groomed on Saturday morning allowing tourers to ski down groomed French runs for the first time in two months.Major mountain lifts, like those to the Aiguille du Midi in the Chamonix Valley, are reported to have started operating again to provide access to higher slopes for ski tourers (providing that facility even if they are mostly running for summer mountain visitors). It is not yet 100% certain how the summer glacier ski season will operate but currenty Val d’Isere plans to open, in part, to help French National Team training from June 6th. This is in just over a fortnight’s time. The glaciers at Les 2 Alpes and Tignes are aiming to open as planned a fortnight later, from the 20th June, albeit with new pandemic-mitigation measures in place.
FRANCE FORECAST| Not much change in the forecast for the week ahead. It is warm down in the valleys, cool mid-mountain and still cold up high. Again, more sunshine and showers through the week ahead with the chance of snow above 3000 metres later in the week, to last into the weekend.
ITALY REPORT| Italy emerged from one of the strictest lockdowns last week and its citizens have quickly got back outdoors and into the mountains with some ski touring activities resuming. Unfortunately, that led to a reported avalanche death near Cortina. Nowhere remains open in Italy although the country has eased its lockdown and announced the process will now move fairly quickly with borders re-opening. The Italian ski team hope to resume training at Passo Stelvio next month.
ITALY FORECAST|A mixture of sunshine and showers for the week ahead in Italy, with the weather staying fairly warm and above freezing even on higher slopes at most areas. So the spring thaw continues to ever-higher elevations. A temperature dip is expected at the weekend though, when precipitation may fall as snow again up high.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Snow, gales and strong winds were all big weather factors in Scandinavia at the weekend, so much so that the Fonna glacier (13/15m / 520/600”) was closed and the Galdhopiggen glacier delayed it’s opening day, planned for Saturday. Fonna stayed closed on Monday too as they dug out another metre of snowfall. Tuesday was very good; however, the weather has now eased and the sub-zero temperatures, which have been the norm for much of May, are finally starting to lose their hold on the region.
As mentioned in the introduction, the number of open ski areas in Scandinavia, which have made up the majority of ski areas still open in the world over the past month, has begun to drop again as ski areas close due to how late into spring we now are.
Ski areas are still opening though. Galdhopiggen, the second of Norway’s three glacier ski areas (all due to open this month) did so at the weekend. It will be the final weekend of the season for Roldal (240/570cm / 96/228”) and Riksgransen (140/570”/56/228”) which both, at times, posted the deepest bases of any open area in Europe over the past few months. Riksgransen was also the only ski area to operate through the pandemic, apart from a few in Finland and Japan which closed in late March before their respective country’s lockdown began. Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Hovden (70/70cm / 28/28”) is believed to still be operating during weekends with one lift serving a dozen or so runs and the Myrkdalen ski area, near Voss (70/340cm / 28/136”), is also operating.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST|The weather is set to warm up fast through the rest of this week in many Scandinavian mountain areas with temperatures expected to get up to double digits above freezing and full-sunshine too. So a big change from the first half of May and indeed much of April too.
JAPAN REPORT| The Japanese ski season would be over now almost everywhere even without the premature end of the season a month ago due to the virus. The country has, however, lifted its state of emergency and the lone summer ski area, Gassan (600/600cm / 240/240”), was given permission to operate for local skiers in Yamagata Prefecture only at the weekend. Skiers had to present ID to show they had not travelled from outside the area when buying tickets. It is now closed again but aims to re-open daily from June according to national guidelines. Conditions were sunny with freeze-thaw weather and temperatures hitting +16C on Saturday. But there was low visibility, rain and generally unpleasant conditions with temperatures halved to +8C on Sunday.
JAPAN FORECAST|It looks like more of the same for Gassan over the coming week with mostly sunny weather giving freeze-thaw conditions. There could also be periods of low cloud, rain and poor visibility. The snowpack has lost about 35% of its mass since the season started in early April when it was 9 metres/30 feet deep; however, there’s still plenty left for the remaining few months of the season.