Issued: 15 July 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE OVERVIEW
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRO| There’s a lot to report from the southern hemisphere this week and it’s difficult to know what to mention first.
The best news is that there’s been snowfall almost everywhere. This has differing implications though. In New Zealand, where everything is open and operating pretty normally, its generally great news and resorts have been full by early in the day as people have tried to get to it.
In the Andes, where bases have now reached almost 5 metres (17 feet), it is generally frustrating that skiers can’t get on the slopes due to the pandemic lockdown. The only possible news is that one small area in southern Argentina has re-opened it’s base to local skiers this week, if not its lifts, and is allowing backcountry skiing.
In Australia the snow is welcome too, the slopes here needed snow badly. The only dark spot is are surging pandemic in Victoria that has closed the lifts at two of the state’s four main ski areas.
Finally, in southern Africa, it’s the first real period of snowfall since the season began at Afriski, in Lesotho, six weeks ago and there’s obviously delight here, albeit with the ongoing wish that skiers from South Africa could come to visit again and that South Africa’s own ski centre at Tiffindell could re-open.
AUSTRALIA REPORT|There are two main factors at work on Australia’s ski season this past week. First and foremost it has been snowing and continues to do so, with the best conditions since the season began and the biggest snowfalls for more than two months (the last being in mid-autumn way before the season started). Second, the surge in the pandemic in Melbourne in the state of Victoria has led to two of the state’s leading ski areas, Mt Hotham and Falls Creek, closing down again only days after their delayed season-start last week. They say they’ll be closed to a least August 19th, only a month or so from the usual season end. The state’s two other leading ski areas, Mt Buller and Mt Baw Baw have decided they’ll stay open for local skiers though, whilst keeping an eye on the developing virus situation of course and maintaining pandemic spread prevention measures. It should finally be noted that whilst their lifts are closed Falls Creek and Hotham say they’re still open for Victoria-based skiers and they’ll still allow backcountry skiers, there’s just no uplift.
Now as to the snow, at the time of compilation this had reached 90cm (three feet) of fresh snowfall reported for several areas with it still dumping down. Thredbo (45/85cm / 18/32”) has been one of the big winners so far and has expanded the terrain it has open to 25km, about a third of capacity, from just a few kilometres of slopes a week ago.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| It’s definitely looking like a much-improved picture for the remainder of July with more heavy snowfall expected over the coming week, further helping to build bases at still-open ski areas as the 2020 season finally, hopefully, begins to gather steam.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT|It has been quite a week in New Zealand with most of the country’s resorts now open and lots of reports of some sensational powder days with blue skies after heavy snowfalls. Of course, as with most reports, there is the counterbalance to this snowy perfection, tales of ski areas closed as car parks filled early, long lift queues at times as everyone tried to get up on the snow, and by Sunday some areas closed by gale-force winds. We only mention these fairly inevitable realities of a good snowfall to pre-empt complaints that our snow reports can be too rose-tinted. Most skiers were very happy though.
Mt Hutt (55/125cm / 22/50”) was one of the big winners from the fresh snow and is now almost fully open as well as being the first ski area in the country to post a metre-plus base. Treble Cone (115/130cm / 46/52”) has a little more snow but so far fewer runs open, 12km in total. Several other areas have gone past the metre mark for their upper slope base depth but none have more terrain open than Treble Cone.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| Not the best of forecasts for the coming week in New Zealand: mostly drier, sunny, and with base temperatures up to 10 degrees above freezing, so some thawing seems inevitable. We may still see sub-zero temperatures overnight at times but there’ll be relief when the next cold front moves in.
ARGENTINA REPORT| As mentioned in our introduction the snow keeps falling in the Andes but there is the exciting news that finally one area in South America, Cerro Castor down in the south, has re-opened its base facilities to locals and, unlike other ski areas in Argentina, says locally-based ski tourers are welcome to hike the slopes to ski down. It’s just that the lifts are not in operation. That’s a different message to the continuing one from the country’s and indeed the whole continents other ski areas, which continue to stress that although the snow is sensational, their slopes are closed and the avalanche danger very high with no rescue services working.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| The current dry period in the Andes looks to be nearing its end with temperatures set to plunge well below freezing with heavy snowfall returning to many Argentinian ski areas from around Thursday. The biggest, Catedral, may see another metre of snowfall by Monday as the epic 2020 winter that, so far never was, continues.
CHILE REPORT| Ski areas in Chile remain in lockdown with no sign of any change this month at present. The good news, if it can be called that in these circumstances, is that the snow keeps falling and there are incredible snow depths, the best for many years. Corralco reported at the weekend the snow there had reached 4.9 metres (16.3 feet) and Portillo said their snows depth was just 3cm (an inch) less. All ski areas in Chile continue to stress the importance of skiers staying home, explaining that their slopes are closed to backcountry skiing and that the real risk of severe injury or death is present for those who ignore this advice. The avalanche danger is extreme when there are no rescue teams available.
CHILE FORECAST| After all the snowfall of recent weeks it does look like things should quieten down for most of this week with sunny but cold weather dominating. It should stay largely below freezing in the mountains so there should be little thawing. It is forecast to stay dry in the north now all week (at resorts like Portillo and Valle Nevado) but further south it should turn snowy at resorts like Nevados de Chillan from the weekend when more heavy falls, potentially 20-30cm (8-12 inches) a day, are expected into next week.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| There’s been some excitement in southern Africa this week with the arrival of blizzards and very low temperatures at the weekend, closing the slopes at the region’s only open ski area, Afriski, in Lesotho.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| After the weekend snowfalls and very low temperatures to start the week with windchill taking temperatures down to 20 below, it’s back to sunshine and much warmer weather for the week ahead, typically 4 or 5 degrees above freezing.
NORTH AMERICA OVERVIEW
NORTH AMERICA REPORT| Timberline (36/36″ / 90/90cm), on Mt Hood in Oregon, remains the only ski area open to the public in North America but its snow cover does look to be thawing fast, so it may be a struggle for it to stay open to the start of September as it plans to. The snowpack has diminished a lot from just a week ago and temperatures are currently mostly 15-20 degrees above freezing and generally sunny. It’s also possible to get on snow at Copper Mountain in Colorado which has been offering race training to the US ski team in recent weeks, but mostly it’s people taking part in summer camps at the resort who are getting out there.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST| There’s no real change of weather in the forecast with more sunshine and warm temperatures expected for the week ahead.
There’s one small change in the running order of open ski areas in Europe this week with Val d’Isere ending its six-week summer-ski run on Saturday, just as Saas-Fee over the border in Switzerland opened for its nine-month ski season through to spring 2021. It becomes the fourth ski area to re-open in the Alps which now plans to stay open to next year, all being well, joining Austria’s Hintertux and Molltal glaciers as well as Zermatt in Switzerland.
Also still open, although in their cases just for the next few months with plans to close before the end of the year and in several cases before the end of summer, are the Kitzsteinhorn glacier in Austria, Les 2 Alpes and Tignes in France, Passo Stelvio in Italy and three Norwegian glaciers.
ALPS REPORT| Some snow was reported up high on some mountains in central Europe over the past week, the Marmolada glacier in Italy (not open for skiing at present) being one of them. But for most glacier ski areas there’s been no significant snowfall for a month.
Five glaciers have around 20km or more of runs reported open including Austria’s Hintertux (0/270cm / 0/108”), Les 2 Alpes (0/290km / 0/116”) which reports 30km (19 miles) of runs skiable and Tignes (0/159cm / 0/60”) in France. Plus there is newly opened Saas Fee (0/250cm / 0/100”) as well as Zermatt (0/220cm / 0/88”) in Switzerland.
The other glacier areas open, with a few kilometres of runs available, are the Kitzsteinhorn (0/200cm / 080”) and Molltal in Austria and Passo Stelvio (0/240cm / 0/96”) in Italy (you can also ski Zermatt from Cervinia). The main news from these four is that the Molltal glacier (0/290cm / 0/112”) has opened a new terrain park since the weekend.
ALPS FORECAST| It should stay cold up on the glaciers over the coming week and there’s even a chance of a little overnight snow up high until around Thursday/Friday when sunshine will become dominant once more. Much warmer (15-25 degrees) above freezing down at lower elevations.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Norway’s three glacier ski areas are still open but we may be nearing the end of the season for Stryn (150/250cm / 60/100”), which had difficulty opening at the start of this week due to mechanical issues with the lift and is coming up to its season end anyway. Galdhopiggen (50/180cm / 20/72”) has 2km of runs open and Fonna (400/600cm / 160/240″) still has the deepest base in the world. After the cold spell at the start of the month, it has now warmed up and the past few days have been nice and sunny with great conditions in the mornings.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST|The weather’s looking warmer over the coming week and it may be cloudier too, so there’s a chance of rain rather than snow. But sub-zero temps may return by night at the weekend and so a chance of a little July snowfall then.
JAPAN REPORT|Japan’s summer ski centre of Gassan (160/160cm / 64/64”) continues to operate but appears to be in the final weeks and possibly days of its 2020 season. The snow depth has dropped another metre (40 inches) on a week ago, the main slope and Saw course have closed and the operators report rocks and trees appearing through the remaining snow slope. The weather hasn’t been great in recent days either with rain and fog over the weekend although there were sunny spells to start the week. But for now, it’s still open.
JAPAN FORECAST|The fast thaw looks set to continue for the coming week as temperatures will be at least 10 degrees and often 20 degrees above freezing. The weather isn’t looking great either with rain and low cloud the main factors in the forecast for the coming week. So not great skiing and the end of the season is probably nigh. It usually lasts to July.