Issued: 02 September 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE OVERVIEW
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRO| It’s the start of spring in the Southern Hemisphere, if you follow the season change dates around the 1st of March, June, September and December. So this is the last full month of the season, in a normal year, for most Southern Hemisphere ski areas, most in New Zealand, South America and some in Australia that is. Others in Australia often close by late September and for southern Africa the season ends at the end of August. Sadly, the 2020 season has now finished there, never getting started in South Africa itself thanks to COVID-19.
The virus news, which seems as important as the snow news this season in terms of what’s actually opening, is a little better this week. A third ski area in Chile has managed to open and it looks like the lockdown in Australia’s Victoria province could be erased the weekend after next as cases fall there.
In New Zealand, skiers have been kept on their toes by the usual roller-coaster weather patterns as well as new COVID-19 restrictions requiring face masks be worn on public transport, something they didn’t have to do before. In better news though the restrictions in Auckland have eased, meaning people can hit the slopes again. There have also been some good fresh snowfalls in recent days which means the Southern Hemisphere’s final areas that had not been able to open this winter because of lack of snow, rather than because of the pandemic, can now finally do so (with a month of the normal season left).
Not a lot new in South America other than a third ski centre opening in Chile, as mentioned above, and some more fresh snowfall.
The southern Africa 2020 season has come to its natural end without Tiffindell ever managing to open in South Africa. making it the first country to go through a season without a resort opening due to the virus.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| Conditions in Australia are reported to be the best they’ve been all season after the heavy snowfall a week ago. Sunshine has returned for enjoying the deep, fresh snow. Unfortunately, less than half of the country’s resorts are currently open due to the pandemic. Perisher (55/168cm / 22/67”) continues to have the most terrain open in the world at present with more than 80km (50 miles) of runs and 101 trails reported open. Thredbo (35/167cm / 14/67″) is also looking good with 55km, (34 miles) of runs open, the second in the world. It’s now less than a fortnight until the hoped for reopening of the ski slopes in Victoria province, currently closed due to a second wave pandemic lockdown. That decision is due to be reviewed on September 13th and currently the signs are promising with infection rates dropping. Mt Buller says it will re-open if it can. It got over 90cm (3 feet) of snow from the recent storms. There would be 2-4 weeks of the season left in a normal year. Mt Hotham and Falls Creek’s owners, Vail Resorts, say they won’t re-open their ski lifts now until 2021.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| The current sunshine looks set to continue through the rest of this week with some big temperature variations, as low as 10 degrees below freezing at night but potentially climbing as high as 10 degrees above at the warmest part of the day towards the end of the week; however, there are signs of more changeable weather and another wave of snowfall on the way by early next week.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| It has continued to be very changeable in the mountains of New Zealand with clear sunny and very windy days. (Mt Dobson (28/74cm / 11/29”) was amongst the areas closed by gales on Sunday and, most recently, by heavy snow. The last is clearly good news for a below average snow season to date, although the snow did start wet and heavy in some areas and at lower elevations. Mt Hutt (47/174cm / 16/70”) has the deepest snow in the country and a few kilometres less terrain open than Cardrona (19/122cm / 8/49”), which has 48km of its runs open (the most terrain in NZ). There’s good news from The Remarkables (50/75cm / 20/30″) which has been only operating at weekends this season, to the frustration of local season pass holders. They have now decided to open an extra two days. Therefore, will be open Thursday to Sunday for September. This four day ski week will run until 26th September when there’ll be daily operations for the final fortnight of the season to closing day on 11th October.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| It is looking like the changeable weather will continue over the coming week. The next few days look clear and sunny in most areas. More extreme weather is expected from Friday with very strong winds but also the potential for more heavy snowfalls with some areas likely to see 50cm (20 inches) plus by Monday.
ARGENTINA REPORT| The ski season continues much as before in Argentina with half a dozen of the ski areas open, most reporting another week of good weather and some fresh snowfall. Indeed, most ski areas in Argentina are currently reporting more fresh snow falling. Re-opened resorts continue to be only open for locally based skiers. The continent’s biggest ski area, Cerro Catedral (90/235cm / 36/94″), continues to post one of the deepest bases in South America for an open area (and one of the deepest in the world) at present and also has the continent’s largest amount of open slopes, 50km (31 miles). Chapelco’s (55/300cm / 22/120″) base is the joint-deepest in the Southern Hemisphere and joint second deepest in the world (alongside Norway’s Fonna glacier, which is due to close in a few weeks). So Chapelco may briefly take the top snow depth spot worldwide. It has 21km of slopes open for local skiers. That said, Cerro Bayo (80/300cm / 32/120″) has the same upper slope base depth at present.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| The current snow showers should begin to ease on Thursday (some areas will have had another 30cm by then) after which temperatures should warm from the current freezing-or-below and climb towards double digits above freezing, which clearly isn’t great news for the snow cover. In the longer term though there are signs of temperatures dropping again early next week and potentially more snowfall on the way for Monday onwards.
CHILE REPORT| There was more good news for Chile with the third area, Corralco (60/130cm / 24/52”), finally opening for the season on the last Saturday of August. It remains to be seen if any other centres will open now with only a month of the normal ski season left. Corralco opened with the deepest base in the country and 20km of runs open for locally based skiers. The area had fresh snowfall, which also gave some great conditions for the two other resorts open in the country, El Colorado (30/80cm / 12/32”) and La Parva (30/80cm / 12/32”), the latter with the most terrain open at present in Chile at 21km.
CHILE FORECAST| Mixed conditions for the week ahead in Chile with some snowfall expected over the next few days, clearing by the weekend. Temperatures will yo-yo around freezing point, climbing as high as 8 degrees above and dropping as low as five below. Snow totals are likely to be in the 5-10cm range
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, except within the Big Snow indoor snow centre in New Jersey, which re-opened on September 1st. Snow-making is expected to begin in late September at high-altitude ski areas in the Rockies with the aim of opening for the season in October.
The good news is that the last weekend of meteorological summertime saw fresh snow reported on high peaks in the west of the continent, including near Aspen, in Colorado, and Jackson Hole, in Wyoming.
The last weekend of meteorological summertime saw widespread snowfall across the Alps and Pyrenees with snow falling through Saturday afternoon and into Sunday above around 2,400 metres. For some areas, this was the second or even third snowfall of August. In the Pyrenees, resorts including Andorra’s Grandvalira and Spain’s Baqueira Beret said it was their first.
With Les 2 Alpes the last French summer ski area open ending its 2020 run on Sunday, we are now down to four glacier ski areas open for the start of September, these being in Austria (Hintertux), Italy (Passo Stelvio) and Switzerland (Saas-Fee and Zermatt). All but Stelvio aim to stay open through the autumn and winter to spring 2021, with summer glacier skiing now over for most.
Another half-dozen glacier ski areas, most of them in Austria, are due to open in the latter half of September to start their 2020-21 ski season and take the number open back in to double figures by the start of next month, all being well.
ALPS REPORT| As mentioned in our introduction, August and meteorological summertime ended with a lot of precipitation across Western Europe, falling as snow above around 2,400 metres. Only four areas are open at the start of September, traditionally a low point in the year just before glacier resorts re-open in early autumn for their 7-8 month ski seasons through to next spring.
For now, though it’s just Hintertux (0/65cm / 0 26”) open in Austria, maintaining 20km of runs. Its base has dropped a good deal and there’ll be a hope for colder weather now and some good big September snowfalls to stop the thaw and rebuild the base.
With Les 2 Alpes closing at the weekend there’s nowhere open in France and nowhere expecting to open until Tignes does so in October. For Italy, Passo Stelvio (0/180cm / 0/72”) is open again after closing due to the bad weather at the weekend. A second area in Italy, Val Senales, normally opens from mid-September and you can still access the Klein-Matterhorn ski area on the Swiss side of the border from Cervinia through September.
Switzerland has two areas open, Saas-Fee (0/200cm / 0/80″) and Zermatt (0/220cm / 0 / 88″), currently reporting 20 and 15km of glacier slopes open respectively. Glacier 3000, near Gstaad, and Les Diablerets reported the most snow of any area in the Alps over the weekend, 40cm (16 inches). Alas, the ski season doesn’t start there until later this autumn.
ALPS FORECAST| After the cold weather and snowfall to start this week the remainder of it is looking dry and sunny as we start September. Temperatures up high are in the region of freezing to around five degrees above. So there should be nice conditions on the glaciers that are still open.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Norway’s two open glacier ski areas at Fonna (300/400cm / 120/160”), still posting the deepest snow base in the world as it has for the past six months, and Galdhoppigen (20/90cm / 8/36”), started the week with perfect conditions. There was full sunshine but cooler temperature and even a light dusting of snow. It’s now less than a month until more resorts open in Norway and Finland with the latter’s Levi and Ruka due to open using snow-farming (snow stored since last winter then spread back out on the slopes) on October 2nd and Kvitfjell, in Norway, doing the same but re-opening even earlier, at the end of this month.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| The sunny weather should last until around Thursday when a front is expected to bring rain initially but then fresh snow to the glacier areas, which could get quite significant by the weekend with snowfall currently expected to continue through Saturday and Sunday.
There are no known ski areas operating lifts for skiing in Asia at present, except within indoor snow centers.