Issued: 24 June 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE OVERVIEW
It’s a big week coming up in the southern hemisphere with the delayed 2020 season finally here. Most of the leading ski resorts in Australia are opening over the first half of this week and a sizable chunk of New Zealand’s leading players will open on Friday and Saturday. So it feels like the delayed start to 2020 is finally starting to take shape.
Against that, though there’s no news from South America or South Africa on the lifting of lockdowns and as the season should have started by now here, there’s an increasingly ominous feeling, rightly or wrongly, about 2020 happening at all in the Andes. Portillo in Chile which had delayed opening to mid-July now says it is suspending operations indefinitely and another of the region’s top resorts had already said it would not open this winter even if lockdowns ease. Against that, most areas say they’re ready to go when lockdowns ease.
As to the snow, well the past week has seen more significant snowfall in New Zealand and the Andes with light snowfall for Australia. The news isn’t all good in countries where lockdowns have eased with several ski areas in Australia and New Zealand falling prey to a pre-virus problem, lack of early-season cover, despite the fresh snowfall, delaying openings planned later this week into next week.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| Australia’s ski season finally got underway on Monday with Thredbo (10/30cm / 4/12”) and Mt Baw Baw (10/30cm / 4/12”) opening with limited terrain. Blue skies in the morning gave way to snowfall by the evening and Perisher, which, along with Mt Buller, opens Wednesday, reported 20cm (eight inches) of fresh snow on Monday evening along with perfect conditions for snowmaking. Two more areas that had planned to open on Wednesday, Mt Hotham and Falls Creek announced they’d delay doing so until next Monday though due to limited snow cover. All in all Aussie skiers are just happy to get back on the slopes though.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| Although it looks like June will end up seeing less snowfall on most Australian slopes than they had in May, more light to moderate snowfall is forecast through the coming week with gradually improving conditions and hopefully 10-20cm (4-8 inches) more snow by the weekend. Temperatures are also low allowing snowmaking systems to blast out at max.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| New Zealand has seen some of the best snowfalls of the past week with some reporting up to 50cm of fresh cover over the weekend. As yet only Mt Hutt (45/100cm /18/40inches) is open – meaning there are actually more areas open in Australia at present – but that’s all due to change at the weekend when Cardrona, Coronet Peak, Treble Cone, Turoa and (probably) Mt Lyford all expect to open on either Friday or Saturday. All of the fresh snowfall means things are looking increasingly promising. It’s not all good news though, although it has had 20cm of fresh snow recently Porters say they won’t open until they have more and have delayed their previously planned Saturday opening for now. With more snow forecast though they say they hope it won’t be for long. Mt Hutt has been operating part-time to date with some closed-days during the week, despite New Zealand ski areas being able to operate fairly normally but reports great conditions and about three-quarters of its terrain open already.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| Generally cold weather with temperatures rarely getting above freezing for the coming week in New Zealand, with light temperatures and some gloriously sunny days. Snow is what’s needed to build bases at some areas though and alas there’s not a huge amount forecast.
ARGENTINA REPORT| There’s been more fresh snowfall in Argentina leaving the slopes in increasingly good shape for whenever winter sports can resume. There’s no sign as yet as to when that might be however with the country’s latest lockdown extension running to at least the end of June and no real talk of ski areas being able to re-open. Las Lenas has said previously that it will not open this season and Argentina’s government said months ago that there’ll definitely be no international air travel until at least September – the last month of a normal ski season.
ARGENTINA FORECAST|More cold weather is forecast across the country with temperatures rarely getting above freezing in the mountains over the coming week, even at the base. There’ll be a mixture of clear and snowy days with the latter half of this week looking the best for more snowfall.
CHILE REPORT| As with Argentina there’s no change in Chile with the lockdown here still in force and no real sign of a clear end date in sight. Resorts would normally have started opening for the season by now but so far there’s no sign of when they’ll be able to due to the pandemic. Portillo, one of the country’s most famous resorts, which had previously announced it would be delaying its target opening dater by a month until July 18th now says that it is delaying its opening indefinitely whilst hoping for good news soon.
CHILE FORECAST| The temperatures look set to get ever lower over the week ahead with no sign of any above freezing weather at any ski area in Chile over the next seven days and indeed temps up high maybe be double digits below at times. Snow is forecast into the middle of the week, then some sun before changeable conditions move in for the weekend.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| Afriski in Lesotho was the first ski area to open for 2020 in the southern hemisphere more than a fortnight ago and it remains the only area open in southern Africa. Temperatures have been creeping up in recent days whilst the weather has remained dry. So far South Africa remains in lockdown meaning both Tiffindell ski areas can’t open and Afriski can’t receive international visitors. There’s limited terrain open there, just a few hundred metres of snow around the base at present, due to lack of demand and weather too warm for snowmaking.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| The current dry, sunny weather looks set to continue in southern Africa but temperatures are falling again and expected to get sub-zero overnight by the end of this week in the mountains of Lesotho. Some precipitation that could bring a little light snow is also possible in the cape around Tiffindell.
NORTH AMERICA OVERVIEW
NORTH AMERICA REPORT| There’s no real change in the situation in North America with the only open areas at present in the USA. Timberline in Oregon and Beartooth Basin in Wyoming, just over the Montana border, the only two ski areas open, the same as a week ago.
Beartooth Basin (22/22” / 55/55cm) saw fresh snow at the start of this week. But it has also announced that it expects to close quite soon as the snow level decreases and, overall, temperatures warm up.
A third centre, Copper mountain, also has ski lifts running to serve snow slopes but they’re only being used by ski camps and team training, with US ski superstar Mikaela Shiffrin, reported to be on snow there this week.
There’s no news as yet as to whether any other American areas will open for the 4th of July as is the case most years, but with the pandemic may not this year.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST|It currently looks like Timberline (60/60″ / 1.5/1.5m) is the only North American area that will definitely be open for Independence Day in just over a week. The weather here will be mostly dry and fairly warm over the week ahead, leading to further thawing of the cover, but after a sunny Saturday, there’s the chance of an inch (a few centimetres) of snow to end the weekend as temperatures are due to drop on Sunday.
The number of ski areas open in Europe is back into double figures thanks to more glacier ski areas opening at the weekend in the Alps. Cervinia (220/220cm / 88/88”) in Italy opened with is cross-border access to the 21km (14 miles) or so of runs above Zermatt and Tignes (280/280cm / 112/112”) became the second French area to re-open to the public. So that takes us to eight glaciers open in the Alps and three in Norway.
Actually, for a short period, we were up to a dozen as Riksgransen in northern Sweden opened for midsummer skiing, including skiing under the midnight sun, before closing again on Sunday.
The main question that has been hanging over areas has not been so much snow conditions as how well they’ll be able to operate with social distancing, off-slope face masks needing to be worn in public areas and all the other measures required, but so far things seem to be working fairly smoothly.
Access to slopes has also eased, within the EU at least, with most internal borders coming down and no quarantine requirements in most cases.
ALPS REPORT| Two more glacier ski areas opened in the Alps at the weekend taking the total back up to nine. Tignes became the second to open to the skiing public in France on Saturday, joining neighbour Val d’Isere with Cervinia joining Passo Stelvio as the second Italian option.
They replace Crans Montana and Kaunertal which re-opened for just over a week each at the end of the Swiss and Austrian lockdowns but are now closed again until the autumn.
Skiers lucky enough to be on the slopes in the Alps this past week have reported conditions among the best they’ve been in early summer for many years. Here have been some fresh snow showers on top of bases which are generally at the 2-3 metres (7-10 feet) mark.
After the recent snowfall things have generally warmed up and now we’re in summer proper the racers are up at 3 or 4 am to be on the glaciers by five and ski through to lunchtime when the snow generally gets too sticky for any more. Recreational skiers and boarders are perhaps a little more leisurely in their hours but still need to be up early.
As mentioned in our introduction, there are currently eight ski areas open to the skiing public (plus Les 2 Alpes for racers), and they’re now easier to reach for those living in the EU, with most internal borders back down. Only one more is scheduled to open this coming weekend, Les 2 Alpes, which has been operating for the past few weekends but for ski teams only. It will join Tignes and Val d’Isere. Molltal in Austria is posting the deepest base in the Alps at 3.5 metres (nearly 12 feet), whilst another Austrian area, Hintertux, has one of the biggest areas open in the Alps at 20km (13 miles), just a kilometre less than Zermatt. The other areas open are Passo Stelvio in Italy and Austria’s Kitzsteinhorn.
ALPS FORECAST| Generally speaking temperatures are going to be well above freezing over the coming week right up to glacier level, so the top trend will be summer snowpack thawing. On the upside, it will be mostly sunny so classic summer ski weather. Thursday is looking like the coldest day of the coming week with temps will be down around freezing at 3,000 metres meaning precipitation could briefly fall as fresh now.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Since last week’s report we did have four ski areas open in Scandinavia as Sweden’s famous Riksgransen re-opened for skiing and boarding over midsummer, from Friday to Sunday, offering skiing under the midnight sun (which was streamed live on midsummer’s eve on Friday night/Saturday morning on Swedish media), but it was closed again by Sunday evening and that’s it now until it re-opens at the start of spring 2021 after one of the most momentous seasons in its 100+ year history.
We’re back to the three Norwegian glacier areas, therefore, as a week ago, with the snow levels there slowly melting away but still fairly phenomenal, particularly at Fonna. The weather has been mostly full sunshine with some beautiful conditions on the slopes. The other centres open are Scandinavia’s highest lift-served terrain at Galdhopiggen and the recently opened slopes of Stryn.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST|The warm weather that was a factor all spring further east and north is now at play in Scandinavia too with temperatures hitting 30 degrees above freezing in the mountains, so a fairly fast thaw now. Lots of sunshine with it and with around 24-hour daylight the best skiing is early in the day.
JAPAN REPORT|There’s little change in Japan either where Gassan (280/280cm / 112/112”), the country’s summer ski area, remains the only centre open. Temperature is normal for summertime in the area at 10-20 degrees above freezing and the snowpack, which was at nine metres (30 feet) when the centre opened nearly three months ago is continuing to decrease fast, now a third of what it was, but that should be enough to see it through to the traditional end of the season next month. Around five kilometres (three miles) of slopes are open.
JAPAN FORECAST|It’s more of the same with mostly warm, sunny weather although strong winds are forecast at times and there’s a possibility of hill fog once that eases.