Issued: 03 June 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE OVERVIEW
The past week has seen further ‘firming up’ of 2020 season-opening dates with most ski areas in Australia announcing they’ll be opening on either 22nd or 24th June, rather than their traditional opening weekend, which is just coming up. But with doubts that they would be able to open in June at all not so long ago, it’s a relief that the season will be able to start soon. They join ski areas in New Zealand in confirming dates (the first there was due to have been May 30th before the pandemic became an issue, now its June 12th, the end of next week.
In the Andes, though the picture remains less certain, with South America currently seeing rising infections in some countries, there’s no clear sign of when lockdowns will be eased in Argentina and Chile although the centres there remain optimistic.
We’re now into meteorological winter of course and it has been snowing in Australia and New Zealand in recent days with temperatures cold for snow-making too, including in southern Africa, where snow-making is also underway.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| The past week has seen ski areas, which would have usually been starting their season this coming weekend, firm up their opening dates in (hopefully) post-pandemic-peak coronavirus era. This will be in about three weeks from now, between 22nd and 26th June, in most cases. It looks like there would have been some areas able to open ski runs this weekend too (some years it’s too warm) as a cold front brought fresh snowfall for the first day of winter here and 5-10cm (2-4 inches) of snowfall to start June and indeed meteorological winter.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| Winter conditions should continue to keep hold of Australian ski areas over the coming week with more light-to-moderate snowfall expected which could add up to 25cm (10 inches) in some areas, including Charlotte Pass, by the weekend. The cold weather will also allow snow-makers to operate ahead of the delayed season start.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| New Zealand has had a fairly dry week but it has also stayed moderately cold, especially upon higher slopes, dropping well below freezing overnight most nights, so snow-making systems have been able to fire up at times. The delayed start to the ski season here, and probably for the whole Southern Hemisphere, is only a little over a week away now with Mt Hutt expected to open on 12th June, a week later than its originally planned 5th June opening day.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| There’s a cold front moving up over the latter half of this week that should deliver a suitably snowy prelude to the 2020 season kick off next week. Sub-zero temperatures day and night from base to the mountain tops should be with us by Thursday and significant snowfall (30-40cm / 12-16 inches) by the weekend is forecast, probably the heaviest snow falling as the cold air hits the warmer weather on Thursday.
ARGENTINA REPORT| It has been colder and at times snowier in Argentina’s mountain resorts in recent days with subzero temperatures, previously just down in the far south, the norm since the weekend across most ski areas. There’s been snowfall too and it is still falling at some areas with temperatures dipping to 10 degrees below freezing overnight at times. Unfortunately, at the present time, there’s no sign of when Argentina’s lockdown will ease enough for ski areas to be able to open for their 2020 seasons. Normally, they would begin opening in the latter half of June.
ARGENTINA FORECAST|It’s looking largely cold and snowy through the rest of this week with temperatures sub-zero on higher slopes night and day and dropping well below freezing overnight at resort bases too. Even where it gets above freezing at lower elevations it will only be a few degrees for a few hours in the daytime in most areas. The snow should be falling too with 15-30cm (6-12 inch) accumulations midweek and lighter snowfall expected later in the week.
CHILE REPORT| It has been a cold week in the Andes mountains of Chile with temperatures dropping as low as 10 degrees below freezing as we enter winter. More typically they’ve been 2-5 degrees below but rarely getting into plus temps even at resort level at the mountain base. There’s been a mixture of sunshine and cloud with the occasional light to moderate snowfall. So all looking good for the start of winter; however, in terms of ski slopes opening it remains unclear when that will be. Chile has had an unfortunate upturn in virus cases and as a consequence the lockdown there continues.
CHILE FORECAST| There’s more snow in the forecast for ski areas in Chile after another largely cold week ahead. Small to moderate snow-showers of 5-10cm (2-4 inches) are forecast both midweek and as we go into the weekend with temperatures largely staying below freezing night and day.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| It has been dry and sunny but cold in southern Africa for a second successive week, with both Afriski, in Lesotho, and Tiffindell, in South Africa, firing up their snow-making systems to make snow. For Afriski they have fixed a 14th June opening day so are working towards that, at Tiffindell the opening date remains uncertain.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| More dry sunny weather for a third week in the forecast with wall-to-wall sunshine. Temperatures, if anything, will creep up a little bit but still should not get too far above freezing. So there should not be too much daytime thawing and overnight weather cold enough for more snow-making.
NORTH AMERICA REPORT| If anyone had any doubt that 2020 was the strangest year on record in the ski world calendar, the fact that there are more ski areas open at the start of June (and meteorological summertime) than there was at the start of April should lay any final doubts to rest.
Thanks to the pandemic, pretty well all North American ski areas had closed by the start of April. But now we appear to be starting to come out the other side and those ski areas which still have snow are re-opening. In fact, the four centres open today are among six that have now re-opened ‘past-peak-pandemic’ (hopefully) with two, California’s Mt Baldy and Oregon’s Mt Bachelor, already having re-opened and re-closed again.
Three of the four that are now open have re-opened in the past week; two, Crystal Mountain in Washington State and the Beartooth Basin summer ski area in Wyoming, just on Monday, June 1st. The third is Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, one of the world’s highest area which can have an October to July ski season in a good snow year. It’s re-opening has proved so popular its advanced-ticket-reservation system has crashed and tickets are currently being allocated by lottery. The three join Timberline, on Mt Hood in Oregon, which re-opened a fortnight ago now and said on June 1st it has switched to summer ski operations through to September 7th.
As to conditions, it’s been largely dry and sunny in northwestern North America over the past week or so with daytime temperatures climbing higher after overnight freezes and not much precipitation to speak of after the snowfall last week.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST|We should continue to see overnight freezes but temperatures climbing 5-10 degrees above freezing during the daytime in the northwest of the US. It should get gradually cooler towards the end of the week and there’s a chance that rain forecast at the weekend will fall as fresh snow on higher slopes.
This time last week we were due to have only three ski areas open in Europe, possibly the lowest number for 50 or so years, with Kanin and Slovenia along with the two Norwegian glaciers of Fonna and Galdhopiggen open. The good news is that although Kanin looks to have ended its re-started season last Sunday, the opening of three Austrian glacier areas at the weekend has sent the open areas count moving in the right direction again, and there are another five glacier areas due to open next weekend in Austria, France, Norway and Switzerland. This means that we should be back in double-figures by Saturday.
But what of the weather? Well, summer is here so snowfall is unlikely but there has been some up high in the northeast of the continent. Ski areas in Poland and Slovakia reported snow up high over the weekend. Generally though, for those re-opened ski areas in the Alps, as well as up in Scandinavia, there have been blue skies with sunny and hot weather.
ALPS REPORT| As mentioned in our introduction, ski areas have re-opened in the Austrian Alps, although the first ski area in the Alps to have re-opened post lockdown, Kanin in the Dinaric Alps on the Italy/Slovenian border, ended its season again on Sunday.
Those three re-opened Austrian areas, Hintertux (315/315cm / 126/126”), Kaunertal and the Kitzsteinhorn (above Kaprun), have had stunning conditions for their re-opening weekend with temperatures hovering around zero and mostly sunny weather, with a bit of light cloud. Fresh snow in May meant there was a lot of new cover since they closed more than 10 weeks earlier in mid-March.
ALPS FORECAST|The number of glacier areas open in the Alps is set to more than double at the weekend with a fourth Austrian glacier, Molltal, two Swiss glaciers (Crans Montana and Zermatt) and the French glaciers at Les 2 Alpes and Val d’Isere all due to re-open on June 6th. The French glaciers will initially only be open for team raining and the Italians are hoping to be able to use their Passo Stelvio slopes from Wednesday too. They should also have fresh snow for opening day with the current sunny weather turning increasingly changeable through the week and snow expected up high (rain below) on glaciers. The heaviest will most likely be on Thursday when 10-15cm (4-6 inches) is forecast for some, just a few centimetres/inch or two on other days. Although five or six glaciers will be opening, one that just re-opened will close again. The Kaunertal just re-opened for 10 days and will close on it’s originally scheduled season-end date of Sunday, June 7th.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| After what appears to have been almost non-stop snowfall from January to the end-of-May, which saw the region post some of the best snowfall totals in the world for winter and spring 2020, it is finally hot (or at least above freezing in the daytime on the still-open snow slopes) and sunny in Scandinavia with no fresh snowfall to report for about the first week this year. We are down to two Norwegian glaciers open: Fonna (1400/1590cm / 560/636”) and Galdhopiggen, in Norway. Hovden, the last of the non-glacier ski areas to have re-opened after the Norwegian lockdown was eased in June, ended its season (again) on Monday, June 1st. A third Norwegian glacier, Stryn, was due to have opened at the weekend, then said next weekend and is now saying around June 12th . They remain hopeful even though heavy snowfall in mid-May has delayed the crews digging out the access road.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST|Temperatures are set to stay well above freezing on Norwegian glaciers over the coming week with a mixture of sunshine, cloud and occasional rain showers. Skiing may not be the best and feel a little surreal, but with the massive bases on the glacier, it won’t be a major issue.
JAPAN REPORT|After a few small re-openings after Japan eased a second-peak lockdown in late May, we are now back to just one area open in the country, Gassan (500/500cm / 200/200”). This has re-opened as of last weekend, after being closed for much of May; however, skiers from neighbouring provinces area not to visit yet due to travel restrictions created by the need for pandemic prevention measures. Temperatures are fairly extreme for skiing with temperatures more than 20 degrees above freezing but clear blue skies. The base is thawing fast with the heat and has now lost 4 metres (160 inches) of depth over two months having started its season with around 9 metres (30 feet) at the start of April. But with less than two months of the planned summer ski season left it may make it through to July.
JAPAN FORECAST|More warm weather is expected in Japan with temperatures saying 20 degrees or more above freezing in Gassan. The operator is warning that backcountry skiing can be dangerous due to rocks and trees sticking up through the snow.