Issued: 17 June 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE OVERVIEW
We now have two ski nations just about fully open in the Southern Hemisphere with New Zealand, which has been very successful at suppressing COVID-19, seeing it’s first area open. More ski areas in the country are due to open this coming weekend and Aussie areas should be operational from next week. Lesotho’s Afriski is opening up as well.
Things are not quite normal in New Zealand even though the country has eased its lockdown to the lowest level yet and social distancing and face masks are not necessary. Before this latest easing resorts had already said operations would be limited and, with borders closed, the numbers arriving from abroad are zero. So, although Mt Hutt started its season over the weekend it has been closed on Monday and Wednesday this week.
There’s still no word on when ski areas in Argentina and Chile may be able to open. The season ought to be kicking off about now. One resort has officially set it’s target opening date back a month to mid-July, although it doesn’t know yet if it will be able to open then either.
As to the snow conditions, the most snowfall over the past week has been reported in the Andes, with ski areas here reporting up to 30cm (a foot) of fresh snow ahead of the (hoped for) season. Australian areas got more of a light dusting at the weekend and should see more before the season starts there in a week.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| Excitement continues to mount in Australia as the season gets closer. In fact, it is due to start in just a week’s time from 22nd June onwards. To add to the sense of anticipation there’s been fresh snow from Tasmania right up to the main ski regions in New South Wales and Victoria. Temperatures are staying low enough for snow-making systems to fire up too. Thredbo made headlines at the end of last week when online ticket sales began and its reservation system promptly crashed as more than 25,000 people applied for tickets. With social distancing the norm and limited numbers on the slopes, when centres do re-open that level of desire to ski could cause issues when the lifts start turning.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| It should stay mostly cold in the run-up to the start of the Australian 2020 ski season next week. Temperatures will dip below freezing overnight so snow-making systems can fire up; however, they go a degree or two back above freezing most days during the daytime. Some light to moderate snowfall looks likely at the weekend so hopefully everywhere should look white for opening day, albeit not with a huge base and probably most of what’s there will be machine-made.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| The 2020 ski season is underway in New Zealand with Mt Hutt (30/50cm / 12/20”) opening last Friday, a week later than its pre-lockdown planned opening date. More importantly for the skiers was the fact there were no face masks or any social distancing required as New Zealand had just moved back to ‘almost normal’ on its lowest lockdown level. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a huge amount of snow but there was some natural cover mixed with machine-made as the country’s snow-makers took advantage of clear, cold nights. There are some significant snow covered areas in places, however, and an avalanche set off by climbers, on Saturday, raised alarm bells for early-season backcountry skiers.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| After being a little warm, at least at the base level, and borderline rain/snow at times to start this week, the next few days are looking much colder with temperatures dropping well below freezing. There’s not a whole lot of snow in the forecast yet but it should be good snow-making weather. So far, there haven’t been any moves back towards the pre-lockdown dates resorts had previously planned and most seem to be sticking to revised dates given at the height of the New Zealand lockdown. Cardrona, Coronet Peak and Porters are due to open next but not until later in the month.
ARGENTINA REPORT| There was more fresh snowfall in Argentina over the past week with some areas reporting up to 20cm (eight inches) of fresh snow. Unfortunately, infection rates continue to rise in the country so there’s no sign of an end to lockdown at present as we approach the point where centres there would normally be opening for the season.
ARGENTINA FORECAST|It’s looking cold for the rest of the week in Argentina with snowfall becoming more abundant later in the week. Many areas will see 20-40cm of snow between Thursday and the end of the weekend.
CHILE REPORT| There has been more fresh snow in the Andes of Chile, as forecast, with 10-20cm accumulations reported at many areas through the latter half of last week, as forecast. La Parva reported 30cm (a foot) had accumulated at their base. El Colorado and Nevados de Chillan are among the areas posting snowy images. As yet though there’s no news as to when ski areas in Chile will be able to open due to the country’s lockdown. As centres would normally start opening at the latter half of June that’s led to several now announcing delayed opening dates. Portillo has said it won’t now open until at least July 18th, even if restrictions can be lifted before then.
CHILE FORECAST| The weather will remain cold in Chile with some more significant snowfall in the forecast, the heaviest being on Wednesday but continuing through the latter half of the week at areas like Pucon and Nevados de Chillan. This will begin to build an ever better base for a time when/if areas can open.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| Afriski remains one of the few ski areas in the Southern Hemisphere which has already opened for the 2020 season and with the Lesotho lockdown ended operations are fairly normal. It is cold, sub-zero most of the time, but stubbornly sunny so its snow-making systems are running most of the time, maintaining a nursery slope area of a few hundred metres. Over in South Africa, it’s not yet clear when the lockdown will end and Tiffindell will be able to open. Cold weather and snowfall have been reported in the Western Cape with footage of snowboarding on a thin layer of natural snow appearing on social media.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| It looks like more sunshine but with very cold weather again over the week ahead allowing the region’s ski areas to keep up the snow-making.
NORTH AMERICA OVERVIEW
There’s been more snowfall in western North America to add to that reported in the Alps, Pyrenees and Andes as well as Tasmania. In fact, the latest June snowstorm brought over a foot of snow to high points in Colorado and Wyoming. The National Weather Service, in the US, issued winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories for areas west of Cheyenne, in Wyoming, and higher elevations of the Rockies in Colorado. Along with heavy, wet snow the storm system also brought severe winds to the region, including a reported 102 mph wind gust.
There’s been no change on the areas open in North America following the end-of-season closures of Crystal Mountain and Arapahoe Basin earlier this month. Only Timberline, on Mt Hood, in Oregon and the Beartooth Basin Summer ski area, on the Montana/Wyoming border, remain open.
Copper Mountain is also operating some terrain for summer race team training.
NORTH AMERICA REPORT| America’s two open ski areas: Timberline (78/78″ / 196/196cm) and Beartooth Basin benefited from the fresh snowfall at the start of last week and there was more at the start of this week too. Beartooth Basin benefitted, to some extent, in terms of fresh snow on the slopes, but it was closed periodically with its access road closed by the snowfall. Otherwise, conditions have been mixed with the cold, stormy weather making things difficult for both areas at times.
Backcountry skiing, which has been largely locked-down for several months in many states, is starting to resume in some. For example, The U.S. Forest Service’s Mount Washington Avalanche Center announced last week that the closure order of the east-facing terrain on Mount Washington, dating back to mid-March, has been lifted but also warned that the famous Tuckerman Ravine Trail remains closed due to dangerous conditions. Instead, they noted that, as usual during late spring most years, the best ski options are Left Gully and Hillman’s Highway. These areas contain the most snow and the least hazard and are mostly full length.
“Snow rangers are no longer on-site, and law enforcement and/or search and rescue operations may be limited due to COVID-19 issues, so (visitors) should be prepared to perform their own rescue,” a spokesperson said.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST|On the whole, conditions are warming back up towards seasonal norms in northwestern North America but there’s still a chance of some light snow up in Montana/Wyoming where Beartooth Basin is located. Although only very light snow, probably, this time around.
The big news for skiers in Europe this week was probably the re-opening of ski lifts for Italian skiers as Passo Stelvio re-commenced operation, the first ski area to open in the country for over three months. As an added bonus there was about 50cm of fresh snow for skiers here to enjoy.
The snowfall was widespread across high slopes in the Alps, and there was even fresh snow reported by ski areas in the Pyrenees at the end of last week.
A second new ski area opening for summer was Stryn, up in Norway, a fortnight later than expected due to a protracted task of digging out the access road after much heavier winter and spring snowstorms than usual. So we are now up to 10 glaciers open in the Alps and Scandinavia at present with two more due to join them this coming weekend.
ALPS REPORT| It has been a snowy week up high in The Alps, not something you can write about that often in mid-June, but the combination of low temperatures up above about 2500 metres and precipitation has led to repeated snowfall at the 10 or so areas that have re-opened now in all four of the major Alpine ski nations. In fact, we probably should note that with three areas open Austria currently has the largest chunk of the 20 or so ski areas currently open around the planet, equalling Norway and the USA; however, they are soon to be overtaken by Australia and New Zealand.
Snowfall totals of up to 50cm (20 inches) have been reported on glaciers over the past seven days, with snowfall fairly evenly spread through the last week. The heaviest falls were just either side of the weekend. The mixed weather has included foggy periods and other ‘weather issues’ though so it’s not all powder perfection.
Starting with Italy then, there was heavy snowfall for the re-opening of Italian ski areas at the Stelvio Pass on Saturday. National teams had been training here for a few weeks before the centre was allowed to re-open to all on Saturday. Excellent conditions were reported on opening day.
In Austria, we currently have three centres open, also reporting good conditions for early summer. They are Hintertux (315/315cm / 126/126”), Kitzsteinhorn (275/275cm / 110/110”) and the most recently re-opened, Molltal (350/350cm / 140/140”).
In France, the only glacier open to the public is Val d’Isere which has a daily limit of 600 skiers and boarders. Les 2 Alpes is also open, although only at weekends, and so far only for team racers (it opens to the general public on the final weekend of the month).
In Switzerland, the brief re-opening of Crans Montana is now over leaving only the year-round glacier skiing at Zermatt, where once again there has been fresh snow on the Klein Matterhorn glacier this week.
ALPS FORECAST| It’s set to remain very changeable with a lot of precipitation over the coming week with a likely mixture of rain and more snow up on the glaciers. Temperatures will be hovering around freezing, but down in the valleys it will remain comparatively cool at 10-20 degrees above. More alpine glaciers are set to open for the season at the weekend: Tignes, in France, plus Cervinia, in Italy, with the opening of the Swiss/Italian border. That largely accesses skiing already open on the Swiss side.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Norway’s third glacier ski area at Stryn (150/250cm / 60/100”) has finally opened, a fortnight later than originally envisaged due to the time it took to dig out the access road after an exceptional winter and spring snow build up. So now all three of the country’s summer ski areas are open. Folgefonn (800/1000cm / 320/400”) and Galdhopiggen (150/200cm / 60/80”) opened last month. It has been well above freezing and nice and sunny much of the past week so bases are thawing but the weather has been great, especially for skiing in the morning. This week will see Sweden’s Riksgransen re-open for a short spell over Midsummer’s night. from Thursday to Sunday, with skiing and boarding between 10pm and 1am as part of the midnight sun celebrations.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST|As we reach astronomical, as well as our current meteorological, summertime it’s no surprise that temperatures are staying 5-15 degrees above freezing. It’s near 24-hour daylight at the northerly latitudes of most of Scandinavia’s glacier areas now, so more warm weather and sunshine is forecast for the week ahead.
JAPAN REPORT|Gassan (380/380cm / 152/152”) is the only ski area open in Japan. The base depth there, which was at 9 metres (30 feet) when the spring ski centre opened for its 2020 season at the start of April, has dropped by nearly two thirds over the past two months and is down another 60cm (2 feet) over the past week alone. But temperatures are +16C (around 60F) so that’s hardly surprising. The centre reports a mixture of sunny and cloudy weather, the main slopes fully open; however, the backcountry is dangerous due to hidden trees, rocks and cracks in and below the surface.
JAPAN FORECAST|There’s no big change in the forecast from fairly normal late spring/early summer conditions at Gassan. That means warm weather and on-going thaw. The best snow conditions are early in the day.