Issued: 27 May 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE OVERVIEW
It’s the start of winter, by the meteorological measure, in the Southern Hemisphere next Monday and it is beginning to feel like that in most countries with ski areas.
There’s been more fresh snow in the Andes and New Zealand in recent days and Australian slopes got another dusting in the past week too. Dry in the mountains of southern Africa but cold enough to fire up snow-making systems.
Things continue to develop in terms of what’s going to open when and what’s not, as the usual start date of the Southern Hemisphere’s ski season comes closer. Prior to the pandemic, the earliest published date was a ski area with all-weather snow-making in New Zealand which was targeting this Saturday, May 30th, to be followed by Afriski, in Lesotho, next week on June 4th. Those dates have been put back but not by much and ‘new reality’ opening dates are now being published.
The first looks like being Mt Hut on June 12th, a week later than planned with Lesotho’s Afriski possibly the next country on June 18th, a fortnight later than planned. Finally, so far, we have ski areas in Victoria, Australia, opening a fortnight later than planned too, from the 22nd June.
As yet, Argentina, Chile and South Africa have not been able to name the day as they remain in lockdown. Sadly, one famous resort, Las Lenas in Argentina, has announced it won’t be opening as it can’t see a way to make their operation viable this winter even if the lockdown is eventually eased enough for it to do so.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| After a mostly dry week last week Australian ski areas saw a return of, albeit, fairly light snow in the middle of last week. It was the third autumn snowfall this month and with temperatures staying fairly cool it meant anticipation levels remain high. Since then it has been rather warmer at 5 or 6 degrees above freezing and sunny for most.
Those excitement levels were stoked further by the news that travel restrictions in New South Wales would be lifted soon and the province’s leader specifically saying that he expected there would be a ski season this year; however, resorts including Thredbo said that whilst on the one hand they were delighted with the news, on the other clarified they wouldn’t be able to open on the traditional season start weekend for Australia. This being the 6th June. When centres will open remains uncertain at this point.Neighbouring Victoria province announced on Sunday that they’d allow ski areas there to open from 22nd June and Mt Buller immediately announced it would be opening on that day.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| After the snowfall last week, the rest of this week looks like it will stay a few degrees above freezing and largely dry; however, going into the weekend and the start of June/winter we should be seeing a snowy picture with a new cold weather front moving in and bringing fresh snow with it.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| It has been a cold few days in New Zealand with temperatures getting down below freezing on the mountain tops with fresh snowfall reported in recent days too. Conditions are currently dry, cool and generally sunny. Several ski resorts have also been getting started with snow-making, a sure sign that the start of the season is getting nearer. Coronet Peak was among those reporting their guns were being fired up last Thursday for the first time this year.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| After the snowfall to start this week it’s looking decidedly dry for the final days of May, although temperatures will be hovering around freezing so there should at least be good snow-making conditions at times with the delayed start of the country and New Zealand’s 2020 season now only a fortnight away.
ARGENTINA REPORT| There’s been some fresh snow on more southerly slopes in Argentina, the latest report being on the upper mountain at Cerro Castor on Monday, the world’s most southerly developed ski area, not far from Tierra del Fuego. The ski season in Argentina would normally be starting in a few weeks but that remains uncertain for now as the country continues with one of the world’s and particularly South America’s, strictest lockdowns. One of the country’s leading resorts, Las Lenas, has become the first to announce it is going to pass on the upcoming ski season as it believes it won’t be able to operate viably even when the lockdown ends. All flights in Argentina have been cancelled until at least September, the final month of a normal ski season, and that’s believed to be a factor in the decision made by the resort’s management.
ARGENTINA FORECAST|It’s looking like meteorological winter will start cold in most of Argentina’s mountains, as you would hope. There is not a huge amount of precipitation in the forecast as yet but what’s forecast should be falling as snow up high.
CHILE REPORT| Fresh snowfall was reported by some ski areas in Chile last week, with Termas de Chillan reporting the resort waking up to fresh snow cover on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the country is now at the height of its pandemic which makes the easing of the lockdown there seem unlikely any time soon. Normally, Chilean ski areas would start opening from mid-June.
CHILE FORECAST| It’s looking mostly dry and often sunny with temperatures a few degrees above freezing at most Chilean areas for the final days of May. A front is forecast to roll in for the start of June next week which could bring some snowfall.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| It’s been a cold, dry week in southern Africa where meteorological winter gets underway next week. Snow-making has got underway at Afriski where a new dam has increased the available water supply by half for the coming season. On Monday the resort issued a statement delaying its planned opening date from June 4th, the end of next week, by a fortnight to June 18th. Lesotho has now come out of lockdown but Afriski relies a lot on South African visitors and currently South Africa’s lockdown remains and the border is closed. There’s no news on an opening date for South Africa’s Tiffindell ski area partly because of that.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| Temperatures look set to stay around freezing day and night as we move into June in the mountains of southern Africa. That should mean good weather for snow-making but there’s no fresh natural snowfall in the forecast at present.
NORTH AMERICA REPORT|The snowy weather forecast at higher altitudes rolled into northern and western North America throughout last week and brought several inches of snowfall. Ski areas in states like Idaho, Oregon and Washington as well as Canadian province, like Alberta, posted images and video of very wintery conditions right through the weekend. For the Oregon resorts of Timberline and Mt Bachelor, which had reopened last week, that was great news for those lucky enough to have tickets (they’re selling out every day) to hit the slopes. It’s also good news for the Beartooth Basin summer ski area due to open for its season this weekend. Mt Bachelor has now closed again after it’s 9-day re-opening for pass holders but Timberline remains open. A third ski area will also be open in the US this weekend, Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, which has been hoping to re-open for much of May. They say they will do so from Wednesday 27th after getting the go-ahead from state officials.
In terms of other North American areas which could re-open as restrictions are eased, Killington, in Vermont, has announced that although it is re-opening for summer activities it won’t be offering a few final weeks of snowsports; however, Mont Saint Sauveur to the north in eastern Canada has said they’ll re-open their summer terrain park if they get the go-ahead to do so from the leader of the province of Quebec. They say there’s enough snow lying to be able to do that.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST|It’s largely sunny in the mountains on the western side of North America through this week, with temperatures dropping well below freezing still overnight but climbing a few degrees above in the daytime. It’s looking like it will stay largely dry until the weekend when a warmer front will move in bringing precipitation. Unfortunately, this will probably fall as rain even on higher slopes in Colorado but further north it may be snow up high.
It’s a big week in Europe and skiing around the world, generally, as we turn a bit of a corner, we hope, on the pandemic. By that, we mean that the middle of this week sees the number of ski areas open around the world drop to possibly the lowest for perhaps 50 years, with the number of centres known to be operating down in single figures, until at least Friday.
This Friday, 29th May, is when we’re due to turn the corner. Glacier ski areas in Austria, followed at the weekend by a handful of centres in Japan, the US and Norway, then within the following weeks. It looks like the first for the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, as well as more glacier areas in Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland should open for glacier skiing and in a month’s time we should inch towards something more like the normal number of areas open for the time of year.
Of course, with borders closed, quarantines for travellers common and most governments advising on only essential travel as well as social distancing, the new normal on the ski slopes, especially for those living close to re-opened centres, will create an interesting experience.
The good news for those able to ski later this week in the Alps, or continue to ski at the still open centres in Scandinavia, is that there has been more fresh snowfall on higher slopes over the past few days, so it should be a great re-opening from Friday.
ALPS REPORT|It has been a cooler week than recently for many mountain areas in the Alps with temperatures only in the low teens in valleys and staying sub-zero with some fresh snowfall at times up at around 3,000 metres, also known as glacier level.
Ski touring continues to grow in popularity as lockdowns ease. At the Aiguille du Midi, in France, there are now thermal imaging cameras in place to check the body temperature. Thus, the health status of those boarding the lift can be assessed.
Although Kanin ski area, on the Italian/Slovenia border, re-opened last week this Friday marks the start of the summer ski season in the high Alps which at one point we feared might not happen this year.
Three glacier ski areas: Kitzsteinhorn, Hintertux and Kaunertal, in Austria, are all due to open from Friday with more areas in France, Switzerland and possibly Italy joining them from early June, so we should not be too far off a normal summer season in the Alps by mid-June, albeit with social-distancing measures in place of course.
ALPS FORECAST|Heading towards the end of the week it’s looking drier in the Alps after the recent snow on the glaciers and rain down below. Daytime temperatures should creep above freezing on the Austrian glacier slopes as they re-open from Friday, with night-time and morning temperatures well below freezing at 3000 metres, although double-digits above freezing down in the valleys.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| The past month, in which we’ve had ski areas re-open in Norway after the pandemic there was eased in April and Riksgransen, in Sweden, remain open through it all, has finally come to an end. Riksgransen ended its season on Sunday, as did most of the centres in Norway that had re-opened last month. Included was Roldal, which for a chunk of the past season posted the biggest snow depth in the world at around six metres. But skiing is continuing in the region on Norway’s glaciers. The third, Stryn, is due to open. There is the already open Folgefonn (Fonna) (1400/1660cm, / 560/665”) and Galdhopiggen, opens this weekend.
Norway’s glaciers have had a fairly good week, with some sunny days and some periods of snowfall (although some have had rain at times too) as temperatures have stayed close to freezing. Base depths remain exceptional, especially at Fonna.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST|Drier and warmer sums up the week ahead for Norway’s glacier areas. Temperatures look like they’ll be above freezing, even overnight, as we move towards June, and could get quite a few degrees above freezing by mid-afternoon. With mostly thin cloud and occasional sunshine, it looks like Fonna’s huge base may not grow this coming week for a change.
JAPAN REPORT|SnowJapan.com reports that currently there’s just one lift open at Shiga Kogen and some backcountry skiing has also been reported. Temperatures are warming up in the mountains and it’s double digits above freezing most of the time in most areas, which means a fairly fast thaw on all but the highest, most sheltered slopes. The country’s one summer ski area, Gassan (600/600cm / 240/240”) has closed its lifts this month in response to a call from the country’s leaders during the pandemic but currently says it plans to re-open from next Monday, June 1st. It has been reporting the weather and snow conditions in the meantime, warning of dangerous conditions with large cracks in the deep snowpack away from the groomed runs. Temperatures around +10C (50F) and fog.
JAPAN FORECAST|The weather in Gassan looks fairly similar for the coming week, if anything a little warmer but the deep snowpack, although it has lost three metres (10 feet) of thickness over the past two months, should last through to July at least.