Issued: 28 October 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
Whilst coronavirus restrictions continue to loom over the ski areas of Europe, as infection rates rise in most countries, the 2020-21 ski season continues to build momentum with more famous ski resorts opening at the weekend; you could hit the slopes at Cervinia, Kitzbuhel and Davos from last weekend.
Unfortunately, in Cervinia’s case, a new national lockdown was announced in Italy on Sunday, starting Monday 26th October. The conditions are not quite as strict as their spring lockdown and with the stated aim of beating the current second wave of the virus, there could be winter holidays. The resort closed after two days by government decree, along with the three other open Italian ski areas. The lockdown is due to end at the end of November.
Away from the pandemic, it’s actually one of the best Octobers for high-altitude snow cover in quite a few years, with more resorts opening early and all reporting fabulous conditions at the weekend (and much of the past week) with blue skies and fresh snow.
There have been more snowfalls right across Europe to start this week with Austria’s Stubai glacier reporting 80cm of fresh snowfall and temperatures up high have stayed close to freezing.
There are about 25 ski areas open now in the Alps and Scandinavia and those that have opened already are extending the amount of terrain they have open. The cross-border Cervinia-Zermatt area re-opened at the weekend (as Cervinia opened for its winter season) and has 50km (31 miles) of runs open in total, believed to be the most of any area in the world at present. Hintertux, in Austria, has also increased the number of runs it has open past 40km.
AUSTRIA REPORT| Austria’s season continues to gather pace despite the latest virus-related business setback. German-based skiers have been advised against travelling there for now and will need to self-isolate for five days until they take a virus test and get a negative result upon their return. The eight glaciers that are already open have been expanding the amount of terrain they have skiable and Tuesday morning saw huge snowfalls to start the week with most reporting 50-80cm (20-32”) of new snow since Sunday.
Kitzbuhel (0/60cm / 0/24”) was the latest ski area to open in the country at the weekend, using snow-farming to open some altitude terrain at Pass Thurn. It is currently open weekends only.
Around the other areas, the Hintertux glacier (50/150cm / 20/60”) has probably the largest ski area open in the world at present with 41km (26 miles) of slopes open. It reported 55cm (30”) of new snow on Tuesday morning. The Stubai (35/110cm / 14/44”) had the most fresh snowfall (80cm / 32”) and has opened more terrain served by the Fernau and Murmelebahn chairlifts, providing access to runs 10 and 12 and increasing open terrain to around 25km (16 miles). Solden (50/100cm / 20/4-“) had a 50cm base and reported 50cm of snowfall on Tuesday, it has one of the largest open areas so far with 31km of runs open.
AUSTRIA FORECAST| More snow is expected for many Austrian areas on Thursday/Friday before a drier and slightly warmer weekend. Up on the glaciers temperatures should remain close to freezing or below so the fresh show should stay in good shape.
SWITZERLAND REPORT| Switzerland remains in second place in terms of the number of open areas with five centres currently open and a sixth, the Gemmstock ski area above Andermatt, due to join them this weekend. Pre-season conditions were already great there even before the fresh snow this week. Zermatt (10/220cm / 4/88”) announced at the end of last week that it’s 51km of runs open, including terrain on the newly-opened Cervinia side, was the most open anywhere in the world at present. But it is unclear if the Italian terrain has closed as access from the Cervinia side has closed due to the new Italian firebreak limited-duration lockdown that kicked in on Monday. Also open are Saas-Fee (10/210cm / 4/84”) with 35km (22 miles) of runs skiable, another of the largest areas in the world open so far. You can also ski on smaller areas at Engelberg’s Titlis glacier (0/90cm / 0/36”), at Glacier 3000 (10/70cm / 4/26”) between Gstaad and Les Diablerets or on the newly opened slopes at Parsenn above Davos at the weekend. All have had a good dump of fresh snow to start the week making for better conditions going into November.
SWITZERLAND FORECAST| In common with the rest of the Alps it looks like there’ll be more fresh snowfall midweek, then mostly sunny weather for the rest of the week and through the weekend. Temperatures staying close to freezing up at glacier level, climbing to 5-10 degrees above freezing at the base of the slopes in most resorts.
FRANCE REPORT| Ski areas across France (in the Alps and down to the Pyrenees) were posting images of heavy snowfall from Sunday to Tuesday, many noting it is just 30 to 40 days until they are due to open. But two French ski areas are open already: Tignes (0/90cm / 0/36”0 and Les 2 Alpes (0/80cm / 0/32”). Although the latter will close again after this weekend following its traditional ‘October holidays’ pre-main-season opening, this year extended from one week to two, and stay closed until the end of November.
FRANCE FORECAST| It’s staying cold and snowy until around Thursday when sunshine should return and stay through the weekend. That should mean great end-of-week/weekend conditions following the fresh snowfall as temperatures should stay close to freezing up on the glaciers; however, double-digits above down in the valley.
ITALY REPORT| As mentioned in our introduction, some of Italy’s ski resorts have closed down for (hopefully only) a month due to a coronavirus surge in the country. The picture though is unclear with (so far) not all closing as might have been expected from a national directive, but it seems the rules are open to regional interpretations. Cervinia (0/220cm / 0/88”) had re-opened from Saturday 24th with three chairlifts running on the Italian side at Plan Maison, Fornet and Bontadini as well as Plateau Rosa and the Ventina slope to Cime Bianche. These connected with Zermatt’s skiing to open up 51km (32 miles) of cross-border skiing, the biggest area open in the world so far. But it was short-lived with a government decree on Sunday closing ski areas, among many other measures, for a month.
It had been an excellent opening weekend otherwise with blue skies and fresh snow, although social media posts showed some unhappy people with a lack of social distancing in lift ticket queues and in cable car cabins. The resort hit back though saying queues were well managed and the negative publicity was unwarranted after a huge effort was made by all involved to maintain the new rules. It is currently unclear whether Cervinia will stay closed through to the end of November or seek ways to re-open sooner. Passo Stelvio (20/190cm / 8/72″) was less concerned about closing as, perhaps against the odds back in March and April, it had managed a near-complete five-month summer season and had been due to end its season this coming weekend anyway. But so far, unlike Cervinia and Stelvio, Val Senales (0/80cm / 0/32”) and Sulden (10/40cm / 4/16″) both appear to be operating still despite the mini lockdown seeming to require they close. Against all these virus-related issues it has been cold and snowing to start the week on many Italian slopes as well as further north, accumulations of up to 30cm (a foot) were reported on Monday with Passo Stelvio posting a video of blizzard conditions on the day it was forced to close early.
ITALY FORECAST| Although ski areas are closed once more Italy’s weather keeps happening. The forecast into the weekend is mainly sunny and starting cold but getting warmer later this week.
GERMANY REPORT| More snowfall for German mountains from the latest storms in the Alps. The Zugspitze, the country’s highest ski area with glacier slopes, posted more snowy images. It’s just over a fortnight until it is expected to open in mid-November.
GERMANY FORECAST| In common with most parts of the Alps a little more snow is forecast for Thursday before skies largely clear and temperatures climb a little, although staying cold overall.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| It has been snowing in Scandinavia too but there have not been many more closings and openings since last week. The biggest change is perhaps up in Lapland where there’s been a lot of natural snowfall to top up the slopes that opened at the start of the month using snow-farmed snow from winter 2019-20 saved through the summer undercover. Ruka (10/40cm / 4/16”) was looking particularly snowy at the weekend, Levi (10/40cm / 4/16”) is also open. Elsewhere, the Galdhoppigen spring to autumn ski area in Norway is into the last few days of its season but Kvitfjell is also open in Norway and Idre Fjall is open in Sweden too.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| It’s a mostly cold and mostly snowy picture for the week ahead in Scandinavia. Most resorts will see temperatures at or below freezing from top to bottom for the coming week and precipitation, forecast daily for many, should therefore usually fall as snow.
SCOTLAND REPORT| It has been cold in the Scottish Highlands over the past week and the wettest it has been since last winter. Unfortunately, this has not translated into much hill snow as yet as it has not been cold enough.
SCOTLAND FORECAST| More of the same really with plenty of precipitation forecast, especially to the west. But how much will fall as rain and whether any up high will fall as snow looks very marginal either way at present with temperatures cold but not that low.
SPAIN / ANDORRA
SPAIN / ANDORRA REPORT| It continues to look good in the Pyrenees although the season start may well be a month away. There was more significant snowfall to start the week and ski areas in the French and Spanish Pyrenees posted pictures of very white-looking ski areas for late October; however, we have so far not heard of any considering opening early.
SPAIN / ANDORRA FORECAST|It does look dry, sunny and increasingly warm in the Pyrenees as we move into November which could be bad news for the accumulated snow as it looks like it won’t get below freezing often and could get quite warm in the daytime, even at altitude.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA REPORT
BULGARIA / ROMANIA REPORT| The recent snowfall across most of Europe has not made it to the Balkans. It has been cold overnight but dry and too warm in the daytime. Still over a month until the ski season is due to start.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA FORECAST| More mostly sunny weather in the forecast, temperatures varying from a few degrees below freezing up high overnight to +1 – 15 above freezing at the base in the daytime.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA REPORT| North-Eastern Europe has also been seeing some cold weather and fresh snowfall over the start of this week. It should be only a month now, if not sooner, before the first Czech and Slovak ski areas begin opening for 20-21, virus restrictions permitting.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA FORECAST|It’s looking mostly sunny and fairly cool in the mountains of the region over the week ahead. A front moving through at the weekend will hopefully bring snow on Saturday and Sunday rather than rain.
NORTH AMERICA INTRO| North America’s ski season has got underway since we were last here a week ago. First of all, Wild Mountain in Minnesota opened a run and terrain park after a cold snap brought some snow and good snow-making conditions to the Midwest. It can therefore claim first in North America to open. Then Mt Norquay at Banff, in Alberta, decided to open at the weekend, October 24th being its earliest ever opening and the first in Canada. It might also argue it’s the first ski area on the continent to open a few full length runs. Both areas are now open daily. Next up is Wolf Creek, the first ski area open in Colorado after significant snowfall there at the start of this week. It’s opening from Wednesday 28th October.
The new openings come as snow falls across North America and cold weather allows snow-making systems to fire up. Temperatures have dropped to single-figures Fahrenheit (below -13C) in the mountains on both east and west sides of the continent in recent days and the excitement for the start of the season seems as high as ever, if not more so, despite the pandemic restrictions in place.
ROCKIES REPORT| After a warm, dry week with forest fires raging in Colorado last week (Loveland ski area was shut off to access due to one of these), it turned colder and snowier in the latter half of the weekend and snow has been falling for around 48 hours at the time of writing. Wolf Creek, in Colorado, has announced it is opening from Wednesday, Arapahoe Basin has said the snowfall has been good to them but is yet to say if they’ll open imminently, Loveland says they hope to open by the end of this week or early next. Wolf Creek reported 22” (55cm) of snowfall by Monday evening, believed to be the most reported anywhere, but there was some snow for almost all resorts in the Rockies including ski areas up in Utah and further north. Further south snow is falling too with Taos, in New Mexico, also getting a good white covering.
ROCKIES FORECAST| After the snowfall, we’re now expecting predominantly clear skies for the week ahead with plenty of sunshine. Cold on the slopes though with temperatures between freezing and around 15 degrees below on upper slopes, closer to freezing to + 5 to 10 down in resort.
USA WEST REPORT| Temperatures plummeted at last in California at the start of this week and the response was a mass turn-on of snow-making cannons. Mammoth, which is targeting a mid-November opening in just over a fortnight said they were down to ‘single digits’ Fahrenheit, which is -13C or below.
USA WEST FORECAST| Full sun is forecast for the week ahead in much of the western US. It could be warmer too which may stall the snow-making efforts although it should drop sub-zero Celsius (32F or below) overnight at least, most evenings. Quite warm even up high by the afternoon though.
USA MIDWEST REPORT
MIDWEST REPORT| The snow kept falling last week for a time in the US Midwest. Hyland Hills, in Minnesota, reported it had eight inches (20cm) of snowfall by Thursday and things were looking pretty white. Then the snow stopped but it stayed cold enough for snow-making systems to fire up. Wild Mountain (0/30cm / 0/12”) was the first area in North America to open for 20-21 a week ago, although really it’s the terrain park only open so far with “early season conditions.”
MIDWEST FORECAST| It’s looking like it should stay cool in the Midwest with a little more snow forecast which should allow Wild Mountain to keep operating and potentially others to open, if they wish, if only with limited terrain initially.
USA EAST REPORT| The East Coast saw its first significant natural snowfalls of the fall at the weekend. Most ski areas in states like Maine and Vermont saw their upper mountains turn white, leading to some beautiful pictures of white snow blending into autumn foliage. Things turned warmer and wetter at the start of the new week though.
USA EAST FORECAST| There has been a second round of snowfall and low temperatures for snow-making in Eastern North America. Many resorts in states like Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire announced they were firing up their snow-making systems as temperatures dropped earlier this week. If anything they are running a little later than usual as ski areas like Killington do manage to open in October quite often.
CANADA WEST REPORT| The big news from Canada at the end of last week was the decision by Mt Norquay, Banff’s local ski hill in Alberta, to open for the season on 24th October, last Saturday, the earliest opening date in its 95-year history. Although a small ski hill in the US Midwest had opened a terrain park a few days before, this was the first resort on the continent to open full ski runs, following cold and snowy weather in western Canada. The centre opened running the Cascade Chair with one run open and the Sundance Magic Carpet (the latter for beginners and small skiers/boarders). The centre is now open 7 days a week, 9 am – 4 pm and says its Spirit, Mystic Express and North American Chair lifts will follow just as soon as winter conditions allow. All skiers and boarders are required to pre-purchase tickets and the centre says it has a robust COVID-19 operating plan in place to keep everyone as safe as possible, developed in consultation with their local health authorities and working from official guidelines.
Nakiska, the closest ski area to Calgary, is scheduled to be the second to open in Alberta and Canada as a whole from this Friday. Then some big hitters including Lake Louise and Sunshine, near Banff, as well as Marmot Basin up near Jasper are due to open within the next 2-3 weeks.
CANADA WEST FORECAST| It continues to look excellent for the start of the season as more resorts open in western Canada, particularly Alberta, over the coming weeks. Essentially, temperatures should remain below freezing both day and night, top to bottom of the mountains, at most resorts. More snow is forecast midweek then sunnier conditions into the weekend.
CANADA EAST REPORT| It’s been snowing lightly in Quebec to the delight of the region’s ski areas which quickly took to social media to post pics and video and remind people to buy season passes. Some ski centres in the area could open within weeks now if conditions continue to be favourable.
CANADA EAST FORECAST| It is looking promising for snow-making, if not natural snowfall, in Quebec over the coming week. Temperatures look set to stay below freezing for the week ahead, day and night, from the top of the ski runs down to the base.
JAPAN REPORT| Things are getting cooler in Japan’s mountains and ski centres will be nervously hoping that some sort of weather normality will emerge over the coming month. It was at about this point that the usual temperature drop stalled a year ago leaving the country with a fairly disastrous “warmest and wettest” winter in memory. This autumn though, so far so good.
JAPAN FORECAST| The precipitation so far remains more likely to be snow than rain. Night time temperatures are getting down to freezing in Japanese mountains and colder up on the slopes so things are looking promising at this stage.
The 2020 ski season, one like no other thanks to the virus, has come to an end. Two ski centres on Mt Ruapehu, on New Zealand’s North Island, had hoped to keep operating one after the other through to mid-November. Instead, Whakapapa ski area, which had expected to stay open to next weekend, shut down after the skiing day on Monday 26th October and the plan to re-open neighbouring Turoa for the first fortnight of November (which would take it to only a fortnight before meteorological summertime was due to start in the Southern Hemisphere) was scrapped. The reason? “It’s just too warm.” So that’s a wrap on lift-served skiing and boarding in 2020 south of the Equator.
There was an unusually late spring snowstorm on Australia’s ski slopes at the start of the week. Perisher posted pictures of things turning white again.
It was a winter when most ski areas in South America, southern Africa and Australia were hardly able to open due to the pandemic. Areas didn’t operate at all in South Africa and most of Argentina and Chile; however, there was nearly a full season in Lesotho and New Zealand, just without any international guests. In New Zealand’s case, there were fewer than usual cold snowy days (a bigger problem for operating than the virus here).