Issued: 07 October 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
There was stormy weather in the Alps on Friday and Saturday which led some of the glacier resorts to delay opening by 24 hours. The biggest names included Austria’s Stubai (0/35cm) and Kitzsteinhorn (0/40cm / 0/16”) which, together with several others, took the number of centres now open for the 20-21 season into double figures. 12 are now operational in Austria, Italy and Switzerland. France’s 20-21 season is due to begin next weekend.
The storms did bring a second weekend of fresh snow to high slopes (torrential rain below), with snowfall continuing on Monday and Tuesday in some places, but it wasn’t just in the Alps. Ski areas in the Pyrenees aren’t planning to open for another 6-8 weeks but big ski areas including Spain’s Baqueira Beret and Andorra’s Grandvalira reported blizzard conditions and snow accumulating again on the slopes, although it’s probably still too early for most of it to stay around.
AUSTRIA REPORT| There are now more ski areas open in Austria than anywhere else in the world with seven glacier centres open. This means a country in the Northern Hemisphere has overtaken the country with the most areas still open in the Southern Hemisphere (New Zealand) for the first time since last June.
The fact that so many Austrian areas are now open and competing for business has helped drive up what each is offering with more terrain being opened at already-open centres like Hintertux (0/85cm / 0/34”) as centres like Stubai open for their seasons. Early October sees terrain park openings and gear testing weekends too and the Alpine Skiing World Cup rolls into Solden (0/40cm / 0/16”), a week earlier than usual, in less than a fortnight’s time.
As mentioned in our Europe Intro, Austria was impacted by the storms from Friday to Sunday which closed the ski areas, delaying the opening of some but also brought more fresh snow after the big accumulations the weekend before; however, snow depths on Austrian glaciers are not yet that deep and resorts will be hoping for much more snowfall through the coming month.
Hintertux has the most terrain open with 30km (19 miles) of slopes available for use, as well as the deepest base in the country. Solden has the second-most with 20km (13 miles) skiable.
The other open centres are Kaunertal (0/40cm / 0/16”), Molltal (0/45cm / 0/18”) and Pitztal (0/50cm / 0/20”).
AUSTRIA FORECAST| After the recent snowy days, the remainder of this week looks like it should be predominantly clear and sunny so there should be some great condition on the slopes. Temperatures should be close to freezing, perhaps climbing just a degree or two above on the glaciers around mid-afternoon. So conditions should stay good.
SWITZERLAND REPORT| The Swiss ski season continues to gather pace with fresh snow at the weekend and to start this week, further improving conditions on the slopes. Three resorts are open so far with more set to join them over the next few weeks. The fresh snow arrived, driven on by very strong winds on Friday and Saturday which closed glacier areas until Sunday. Zermatt (0/220cm / 0/88”) and Saas-Fee (0/180cm / 0/72″) both have 15-20km of trails open. Glacier 3000 (0/110cm / 0/44”), which opened for the season more than a month earlier than planned after a metre (40”) of September snowfall, has about a kilometre of intermediate standard trail skiable. The next Swiss area likely to open is probably going to be the Titlis glacier above Engelberg, possibly this coming weekend, although that’s yet to be confirmed.
SWITZERLAND FORECAST| Snowfall is expected to continue in Switzerland through to the middle of the week, building bases further. Temperatures will be well below freezing overnight and shouldn’t get more than a degree or two above in the daytime even as skies clear later in the week. Lucky skiers, out on Swiss slopes in early October, should really enjoy the slopes.
FRANCE REPORT|There was more fresh snow for French peaks at the weekend with plenty of posts of white slopes from French resorts on social media. That should be good news for Tignes, which has been targeting this coming Saturday 10th October as its (and the French ski industry’s) start for 2020-21. A second French glacier resort, Les 2 Alpes, has also announced plans to open this month, but in its case, a week later and just for a fortnight up to the start of November before it closes again for a month. Both centres have already opened since the pandemic lockdown in spring, offering summer skiing from June to August.
FRANCE FORECAST|It’s looking pretty promising for the opening of Tignes on Saturday, assuming the resort decides to stick to that date. Temperatures on the glacier and upper mountain should stay sub-zero through the coming week with more light-to-moderate snowfall. Clearer skies towards the weekend.
ITALY REPORT|Two glacier ski areas are currently open in Italy with Val Senales (0/30cm / 0/12″) reporting that the Canadian women’s ski team have been in the resort over the past week training ahead of the 2020-21 World Cup racing season, the start of which is just a few weeks away in Solden. Passo Stelvio (5/160cm / 2/64”), which has been open since last spring, has the deeper snow and 6km (four miles) of runs open. Next to open in Italy will be Cervinia later in the month along with the Presena Glacier either at the end of October or in early November.
ITALY FORECAST| The good ski conditions on Italian glaciers looks set to continue with more light-to-moderate snowfall forecast through the middle of this week before clear skies arrive around Thursday. Temperatures should stay below freezing day and night as well, reaching 10 below freezing at night in fact. So the snow that falls shouldn’t be going anywhere creating great conditions for early October.
GERMANY REPORT| Germany’s highest slopes on the Zugspitz glacier have seen repeated snowfalls in recent weeks; however opening day here, 13th November, is still over a month away.
GERMANY FORECAST| Temperatures up high in the German Alps will remain almost entirely sub-zero over the coming week with more snow expected at the weekend.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Following the opening of Kvitfjell, in Norway, a week ago, thanks to snow-farming (initially just for race team training and season pass holders slope use), the most exciting news from Scandinavia this past week was the start of the ski season in Finland. Both Levi (0/30cm / 0/12″) and Ruka (0/30cm / 0/12″) opened for their seven month long 20-21 seasons last Friday October 23nd. Both also used snow-farming, saving snow from the previous winter under cover through the summer, spreading the snow back out on the slopes in the autumn. This created a few ski runs with a combined length of a few kilometres (a mile or so). Members of the Norwegian team have been training on the glacier with Ragnhild Mowinckel reporting in the past few days that snow and slope conditions were excellent for her.
Norway now has three areas open. Besides Kvitfjell, two of Norway’s glaciers, which have been open all summer, are still operating too; however, they’re in to the last weeks of their 2020 run. The Folgefonn (Fonna) glacier (50/150cm / 20/60”) was closed at the weekend by stormy weather which they said led to poor slope conditions due to warm temperatures and rain. They re-opened from Monday but are now only open for team training. The Galdhoppigen glacier (5/80cm / 2/32”), Scandinavia’s highest, expects to stay open to all through October.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| After the sometimes warm, wet and windy weather of the past week it does appear to be looking more promising for the week ahead. Colder temperatures are expected in the latter half of this week and there may be fresh snowfall going into the weekend.
SCOTLAND REPORT| The first snow of the autumn has been seen on higher Scottish hill tops, including Cairngorm and Glencoe, in recent weeks. In past years, centres like The Lecht have opened at the end of October thanks to early snow, but usually the Scottish ski season doesn’t begin until some point in December. Recent investment in all-weather snow-making machines has made the opening of at least some terrain a little more certain.
SCOTLAND FORECAST| It is looking snowy on Scottish hilltops over the coming week with most days likely to see temperatures around freezing and precipitation falling as snow at higher elevations.
SPAIN / ANDORRA
SPAIN / ANDORRA REPORT|There’s been more snow on ski slopes across the Iberian peninsular over the weekend. Along with the Pyrenees turning decidedly white, the slopes of Sierra Nevada, Spain’s highest and Europe’s most southerly major ski area, also got a snow dusting up high. There was even a little wet snow in Portugal at the Serra de Estrela ski area. There was enough snow up high at Baqueira Beret in the Spanish Pyrenees for some ski tourers to get a few turns in; however, nowhere is expected to open for the season in the region until late November.
SPAIN / ANDORRA FORECAST|Largely sunny with temperatures climbing back above freezing in most areas over the rest of this week. The snow cover is likely to largely thaw away and the forecast is for rain not snow next weekend.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA REPORT
BULGARIA / ROMANIA REPORT|It’s probably still a few months until the ski season gets started down in southeastern Europe but the first snow was reported on the high peaks above Bansko, in Bulgaria, last week. Ski areas typically open in early December.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA FORECAST|It looks sunny for the week ahead in Bulgaria and though temps will dip below freezing overnight on the mountain tops some evenings, it will also be double-digits above zero during the day. So not good for snowfall or snow-making yet.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA REPORT| After a mostly warm September temperatures have been dropping in the Czech and Slovak republics too as we move towards the ski season. The first snow has dusted mountain tops and there’s more on the way. Ski areas here typically begin opening from late November and early December.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA FORECAST|This week should see more snow for the tops of the Tatras and other mountains in the region as temperatures reach zero. Snow is forecast around Thursday, then again over the weekend.
NORTH AMERICA INTRO|As we move further into October excitement continues to build for the start of North America’s 2020-21 ski season. Resorts have been publishing their opening plans under pandemic restrictions (typically 50% capacity), with season pass sales ahead of usual as skiers realise holding one is the best bet of guaranteed slope access at many areas.
The snow which has been on higher slopes in parts of the Rockies has melted to still higher levels but some intrepid high-altitude ski-tourers have been skiing October snow after hiking up above 4000 metres (13,000 feet) in Colorado. Snow-making systems have also been fired up at several resorts here for pre-season base-building.
If conditions allow we could see the first North American area open for 20-21 in the next few weeks. Nakiska, in Alberta Canada, is the only area to ‘tentatively target’ a fixed October opening day though, Friday the 30th.
ROCKIES REPORT| Temperatures dropped low enough for snow-making to get underway two miles (3200m+) up in the Colorado Rockies last week, with Arapahoe Basin and Copper Mountain among those firing up their systems and turning their slopes white. Arapahoe Basin is a contender for ‘first in North America’ to open for the season every autumn and this year is no different. They’re hoping for mid-October which is only a little over a week away now.
ROCKIES FORECAST|Sunny weather is forecast through the rest of this week with temperatures as high as 25 above freeing in the valleys, occasionally below freezing overnight on the mountains. A change is expected from Sunday with colder weather and snowfall expected.
USA WEST REPORT| Ski areas on the western side of the US have been more concerned about high temperatures and forest fires in recent months than the arrival of snow, but it is now getting cooler and there’s some in the forecast on higher slopes. The region covers a vast area from Alaska to southern California but mostly temperatures remain well above freezing, cloudy up north and sunny in the south. Some Californian ski areas have opened in October in the past (and briefly in September a few years ago in Washington State after a freak heavy snowfall) but there’s no sign of that being a possibility so far this year.
USA WEST FORECAST| As mentioned, after a few more sunny days it does look like there could be a little snowfall in the region on Saturday. Clear skies but cooler temperatures than before from Sunday.
USA MIDWEST REPORT
MIDWEST REPORT|Temperatures are starting to drop back in the midwest, although it remains way too warm for snow-making. Ski centres here usually begin opening next month.
MIDWEST FORECAST| Some weather modelling has forecast the first possible lake effect snowfall of the autumn this coming weekend during a temperature dip. But locals think this is unlikely, believing the first natural snowfall remains some weeks away.
USA EAST REPORT|Temperatures are cooling at present along the eastern side of North America and indeed dipping below freezing overnight in the mountains. So there’s been some frosts for several weeks now and a few test snow-making system fire-ups but nothing put down to stay so far. Daytime temperatures are getting 10-15 degrees above freezing at this point so it’s a bit too soon still. New England ski areas can open in October though if snow-making conditions are good.
USA EAST FORECAST|A largely sunny week is forecast with temperature ranging from around freezing to 15 degrees above.
CANADA WEST REPORT| A lot of the thin early autumn snow cover on the peaks of ski areas in Alberta and BC has melted away this week, with the weather predominantly sunny at present. Temperatures are still quite cool though and the first area to open in the region, Nakiska, is aiming to do so on the 30th of this month.
CANADA WEST FORECAST|The sunshine will probably continue into the weekend but the (slightly long term so less certain) forecast is for the snow to move in as temperatures fall further from Sunday.
CANADA EAST REPORT|Just a few dustings of snow on mountain tops during cooler spells in the past month for ski areas in Ontario and Quebec. Currently though it’s fairly normal early autumn weather with sunny skies a lot of the time and just the occasional frost.
CANADA EAST FORECAST|Not much change expected, temperatures mostly above freezing and up to 10 degrees above in the afternoon. No snow forecast in the coming week.
JAPAN REPORT| Japan’s hot summer is finally cooling into autumn and one of the leading resorts, Nozawa Onsen, reported temperatures “as low as 15C (60F)” this week; however, the first natural snowfalls look some way off. Ski areas in Japan generally start opening for the season from mid-late November.
JAPAN FORECAST|Temperatures around 15-20 degrees above freezing still, some sunny days, some rain, no snow.
The 2020 ski season is coming to its end in most parts of the Southern Hemisphere. After the last ski areas closed in Argentina a week ago it was the turn of the final ski area still open in Australia to end its season. Perisher, the last area still open, closed on Sunday with 8km (5 miles) of runs still open on the final day and 60cm (2 feet) of snow lying.
There’s just one area still open now in Chile. El Colorado (10/50cm / 4/20”) had 18km (11 miles) of slopes open on its closing day on Sunday but Corralco (60/130cm / 24/52”) is believed to still be operating.
Half a dozen ski areas in New Zealand are still open, some for just a week or two more; however, several are aiming to remain open to mid-November, conditions permitting despite spring weather and some rain over the weekend. Mt Hutt (60/175cm / 24/70”) has the country’s deepest base and is one of the largest areas open with 35km of runs skiable. It is due to end its season this weekend. Cardrona (35/165cm / 14/66”), open to the 18th, has slightly more terrain skiable with 40km (25 miles) of runs. The Remarkables (80/100cm / 32/40”) is in to its final week of its 2020 season. Turoa (50/169cm / 20/68”) and Whakapapa (30/111cm / 12/45”), on Mt Ruapehu, have announced they will stay open to late spring (mid-November) this year, snow permitting. The operator says this is to give Kiwis the chance to hit the slopes for longer during a tough year.