Issued: 09 September 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE OVERVIEW
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRO| Winter 2020 is definitely winding down in the Southern Hemisphere now. September is normally the last month for many areas in this part of the world; however, this year COVID-19 restrictions seem to be curtailing everything, on top of which is the present impact of the spring thaw.
But winter has not finished yet in some areas and this past week it has been the turn of New Zealand, with ski areas there seeing some big snowfalls over the past week, to really get a full blast of it.
n Australia, all eyes have been on the province of Victoria where two ski areas. Mt Baw Baw and Mt Buller, closed during the past month due to a spike in virus cases, had hoped to re-open next week if restrictions were eased. Cases have been dropping and restrictions have indeed been eased allowing some outdoor activity away from Melbourne but as yet it’s unclear whether the ski areas will be able to re-open. They have not posted any updates from their closed status so far giving the impression they won’t be. Vail resorts which operate two other ski areas in the state, Falls Creek and Mt Hotham, had already announced they won’t re-open for skiing now until 2021.
In South America, the end of season ‘vibe’ is particularly strong with centres dropping to 2-4 day opening patterns, sometimes running the lifts for days as short as 11am to 3pm. Most are talking about ending their seasons earlier than usual, in the next few weeks. They also keep saying they’re extending those early closing dates towards more regular closing dates, at the end of the month or the start of September, as conditions remain good and enough local skiers (who remain the only ones able to access the slopes) keep turning up to make operations viable.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| It has been a largely dry and sunny week in Australia with the ski areas that re-open (and those that are not) reporting beautiful spring conditions with blue skies after the heavy snowfall at the end of last month. Perisher (35/147cm / 14/59″) continues to post the most terrain open in the world at present with 80km (50 miles) of slopes open. It’s also looking good at Thredbo (30/146cm / 12/58”) which has 40km (25 miles) of groomed slopes skiable.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| Temperatures should stay well below freezing overnight and get as low as 6 degrees below some nights. allowing for snow-making machines to work. During the daytime though we’re looking at temperatures climbing to about the same numbers above freezing so any precipitation then will fall as rain. And that’s the forecast for the week ahead, mostly sunny still but with occasional and generally light precipitation.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| It has been the best week of the season so far for snow conditions. In fact, some are claiming last Wednesday and Thursday offered the best conditions for five years; however, that is a matter of personal opinion.
Repeated big snowfalls through last week brought 30-60cm (1-2 feet) of fresh snow to New Zealand slopes. Better still, between the storms, many centres enjoyed perfect blue sky days to enjoy it to the max. Mt Hutt (60/190cm / 24/72″) is now boasting a near two-metre base and has almost everything open. It’s a similar picture at pretty much all of the country’s commercial fields and most of the volunteer-run club fields, several of which had been struggling to open due to a shortage of snow until now, If we look back to the start of the season, when New Zealand was still experiencing its first restrictions, just before they were lifted completely for a few months some resorts announced they’d end their seasons earlier than usual (as well as starting late and in some cases only opening weekends in low season). Some of these are now announcing extended seasons with Treble Cone (100/148cm / 40/59″) reporting they’ll be open to September 20th, a week later than earlier announced. This rather fits with having by far the best conditions of the season. Other NZ areas plan to stay open 2-3 weeks longer than that, some possibly through to late October.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| The rather warm weather that was a feature at many New Zealand areas at the start of this week, after last week’s snow, has already begun to move on allowing a return to something more like seasonal norms. Temperatures could get as low as double-digits below freezing by the end of this week (though mostly warmer but still below freezing at night and not much above in the daytime). Some light snowfalls through the week and hopefully heavier falls towards the end of the weekend.
ARGENTINA REPORT| South America’s largest ski area by uplift, Catedral (90/235cm / 36/94”) continues to have the largest amount of terrain open (50km/31 miles) on the continent and one of the world’s best fresh snow depths. Only Cerro Bayo (80/300cm / 32/120”) and Chapelco (66/300cm / 22/120″) are reporting deeper snow and their stats are not just the deepest in the Southern Hemisphere, reflecting the great snowfall season it has been in the Andes. The area is equalling the long-standing deepest snow depth in the north reported by the Fonna glacier, in Scandinavia (currently moving downward from a 15 metre (50 foot) base reported six months ago). Several other smaller Argentinian ski areas, including Caviahue (75/150cm / 39/60”), are also still open.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| Temperatures are yo-yoing a bit over the coming week, likely to hit double-figures above freezing at the mountain base at the middle of the day, but could equally drop to ten degrees below freezing in the middle of the night. Fronts will move across the country bringing precipitation, mostly forecast to fall as light snowfall and with snowy days interspersed with sunny ones.
CHILE REPORT| The same three ski areas still open in Chile have been since late August and it seems increasingly unlikely now that any others will join them as the natural end of the season nears. Indeed, some centres have been publishing online warnings against visitors skiing their un-patrolled, not-made-avalanche-safe slopes. They say they can’t open for logistical reasons, including the difficulty of finding staff who can get to the slopes, even if they wanted to. They also warn that their slopes are not safe for those who hike up. The three open resorts remain El Colorado (30/80cm / 12/32”), La Parva (30/80cm / 12/32”) and the most recently re-opened Corralco (60/130cm / 24/52”). They report mostly good weather with some beautiful sunny days and temperatures at or below freezing most of the time. There has been a little fresh snowfall in the past 48 hours too. Each centre has between 20 and 24km (13-15 miles) of runs open, La Parva has the most, marginally.
CHILE FORECAST| The weather is looking sunny for the coming week with little but sun to be seen until at least the start of next week. It should remain fairly cold in the mountains, however, so there should not be too much thawing. Projections are for the temps to remain sub-zero for most of the time and only climb above freezing into positive temps for short periods in the afternoon on some days.
There are no known ski areas operating lifts for skiing in Africa at present. The 2020 season ended at Afriski, in Lesotho, last weekend and it never happened at Tiffindell, in South Africa, due to the lockdown through the winter there.
There are no known ski areas operating lifts for skiing in North America at present. Ski areas are expected to start opening at high elevations in states like Colorado from late October. The snow has arrived though, initially in Alberta and BC with snow covering the ground on the slopes around Banff and Lake Louise raising spirits – the start of the season is two months away there.
Elsewhere there was a major temperature shift in the US Rockies with temperatures dropping more than 50 degrees in some places in less than 24 hours from the 9-s to 40s Fahrenheit and snow falling on high ground. This comes after resorts like Mammoth in California stopped tourist visitors due to the high fire risk and Timberline in Oregon warned visitors with conditions like asthma that smoke in the air there might make breathing difficult.
There’s increasing excitement in Europe as ski areas prepare to open for the 20-21 season. Although there are currently only six glacier resorts open, the next four weekends should see over a dozen more centres open in the Alps and Scandinavia.
Italy’s Val Senales along with Austria’s Molltal, Pitztal and Solden glaciers are all due to open at the end of next week with the Stubai and Kaunertal Glaciers the weekend after.
Conditions are currently looking increasingly favourable too, with the Hintertux glacier reporting its third snowfall in the past six weeks on Monday, adding another 15cm (six inches) of cover.
ALPS REPORT| It has indeed been snowing again in the high Alps, with glaciers reporting small snowfalls through the past week, interspersed with clear, sunny days.
Only four glacier areas are open at present, one of the quietest times of the year before centres begin opening en-masse from the end of next week onwards.
Hintertux (0/65cm / 0 26”) is the only area open in Austria at present and has 20km of runs open. Italy’s only open area is Passo Stelvio (0/175cm / 0/70”) which has six kilometres of slopes skiable. There’s no skiing in France at present, at least not groomed runs with ski lift access. Swiss centres Saas-Fee (0/200cm / 0/80″) and Zermatt (0/220cm / 0/88″), the latter also accessible from Cervinia in Italy through September, are also open.
ALPS FORECAST| There’s not much snow in the forecast for the Alps over the coming week with rather warm temperatures, even up high, rarely seeing the mercury drop below zero. On the upside, sunshine is looking dominant, with just occasional rain showers. That said, temperatures are set to be around freezing, at their lowest, at the end of this week so there’s a chance that some of those showers could be wintery, fingers crossed.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Temperatures have been dropping in Scandinavia and ski areas there has been posting images of morning frosts and fresh snow dusting mountain tops. Two Norwegian summer ski areas Galdhøpiggen (20/90cm / 8/35”) and Fonna (200/300cm / 80/120″) remain open, although the latter only at weekends now and likely to close at the end of this month. They’ve both been reporting largely good conditions through the past week, with the temperatures dropping below zero more and more of the time. It is not long now until ski areas in the region start to open for winter 20-21 using snow-farming (redistributing snow stored through the winter on the slopes as temperatures drop). Kvitfjell, in Norway, will open for team training using that technique at the end of this month, Levi and Ruka, in Finland, on 2nd October.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| There’s another week of mixed weather for the region in the forecast with some rain, snow, sunshine, calm weather then strong winds. Temperatures should stay fairly low though which is a good sign for early September, only getting a few degrees above freezing point in the middle of the day but dropping up to 10 below a night
There are no known ski areas operating lifts for skiing in Asia at present, except within indoor snow centers.