Issued: 09 December 2020
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
A week of more political decisions and lots of snow for Europe as the continent continues to divide up in terms of which countries will allow their ski areas to open over Christmas and New Year, and which will not.
Big players France, Italy and Germany did put enough pressure on Austria for the country to announce a compromise with ski areas opening late, on Christmas Eve, for locals only then ‘ski tourism’ beginning January 7th. Andorra too has agreed not to open its slopes until January, but some smaller ski nations like Romania, Scotland and Slovakia appear to have joined Switzerland with the first of their resorts opening.
Whilst all these deliberations have been going on, last week saw the snowiest one for well over a month with light snowfall last Wednesday/Thursday and then quite a big dump getting underway from Friday and leading some Swiss area to close not due to virus restrictions but due to accompanying gale force winds and heightened avalanche danger. Over the border, in Austria’s eastern Tirol the avalanche danger was at the maximum 5 last Sunday, with similar danger levels for parts of Switzerland.
The snow fell across the continent from the Pyrenees to the Dolomites with some areas reporting well over a metre of snowfall at the weekend, disrupting World Cup race schedules. There was also more snowfall in Scotland and Scandinavia where more resorts opened.
So other than the small matter of the pandemic, the ski season seems to be back on track for snow coverage at least.
AUSTRIA REPORT| Austria finally made its decision on whether its ski areas would open before Christmas or not last Thursday, the compromise is that ski areas can open from Christmas Eve, but only to people living locally or with their own property in resort, and with quarantine introduced for international arrivals, as well as hotels shut, to further dissuade international arrivals. The ski season proper will begin on 7th January, all being well, with hotels re-opening. In the meantime, it has been snowing hard over the past week so conditions for opening in a fortnight should be superb.
AUSTRIA FORECAST| Following the heavy snowfall at the weekend there’ll be some more midweek snowfall for many Austrian areas. The rest of the week looks cloudy but with less snowfall; the next front moving in the latter half of the coming weekend, bringing more snow for some. Temperatures should stay low, generally below freezing from top to bottom of the slopes which is clearly good news for the coming ski season.
SWITZERLAND REPORT| With Austria, France and Italy closing their slopes for Christmas and New Year (except to locals in Austria’s case), Switzerland is, by contract, opening its runs pretty much as normal and this last weekend they enjoyed a huge snowfall too. The snowfall, sometimes accompanied by strong winds, was enough to close the runs at Andermatt (5/175cm / 2/70″) and Laax completely, among others, whilst the World Cup races at St Moritz (0/35cm / 0/14″) had to be postponed and Saas-Fee (20/210cm / 8 / 84″) declared itself ‘snowed in’ on Sunday. Flumserberg (10/15cm / 4/10″), Leukerbad (10/15cm / 4/10″) and the Jungfrau resorts of Grindelwald, Murren and Wengen (60/80cm / 24/32″) were among Swiss resorts starting their ski seasons at the weekend; about 30 Swiss areas are open now.
Those that had been open for weeks or months already have been increasing the amount of terrain they have skiable with Zermatt (20/220cm / 8/88″) up to 62km (39 miles), possibly the most in the world at present. Dozens more Swiss areas are expected to open this coming weekend. Restaurants have been closing and even hotels in some cantons in increasingly strict pandemic restrictions, but so far lifts and ski runs keep operating.
SWITZERLAND FORECAST| Snowfall has been continuing in most Swiss areas through the first half of this week but it should be dry and sunny for many areas through to Friday when more snow is forecast. Temperatures double-digits below freezing on the mountain and still subzero most of the time even at lower lying resorts.
FRANCE REPORT| French ski resorts in the Alps and the Pyrenees got increasingly snowy over the last seven days as light snowfall at the end of last week was followed by a heavy fall over the weekend leaving excellent conditions. An increasing number of people have been out ski touring, with ski areas forced to close by the government, leading to warnings that avalanche mitigation measures that would normally be carried out by ski areas might not be happening. It also appears that avalanche danger bulletins are not being issued as yet by Meteo France. Most of the activity in ski resorts this past week has been local people protesting that they are being left high and dry by the French government with inadequate compensation for being forced to close ski lifts during their busiest periods. The resorts are also stressing they will be open over Christmas and New Year, they think, just without ski lifts running, but all other winter activities on offer. The French government has responded by saying border patrols will be in place to try to intercept any French skiers heading to open resorts in Spain and Switzerland during the closed period in France.
FRANCE FORECAST| It’s looking good for still more snow in the French Alps over the next few days. Following a lull in the snowfall to start this week the remainder of the week looks very snowy once more with temperatures staying below freezing from top to bottom on the mountain.
ITALY REPORT| Italy’s mountains have seen big snowfalls over the past week too, with claims that some areas saw more than two metres of snowfall over the weekend. With resorts not open there are few official snowfall stats available. After managing to stage World Cup races at Santa Caterina on Saturday morning, race organisers decided to cancel the Sunday races after the snow turned “heavier and wetter” they said. Things had improved again by Monday, however. It remains a little uncertain what’s happening for Italy’s ski areas over the coming month. As with France, there is strong local opposition to resort closures and the governments of at least one region (Aosta Valley) passed regulations last week allowing ski areas to open, but this looks set to be cancelled by the national government who continue to insist no Christmas/New year ski holidays will happen in the country.
ITALY FORECAST| After the snowfall at the weekend and more at the start of this week it has turned much drier now although staying cold, with temperatures rarely getting above freezing even down at the mountain base. Some areas like Cervinia may get some more snowfall on Saturday but most will remain dry into next week.
GERMANY REPORT| Germany extended its partial lockdown to December 20th and says ski areas will then stay closed into the start of 2021 in line with Austria (to tourists), France and Italy. There was heavy snowfall for the Bavarian Alps and other parts of Germany in common with ski areas further south, over the past week. So it would have been a good season start for most German areas this coming weekend or the one after had it been allowed to happen.
GERMANY FORECAST| Staying dry but generally very cold for most German ski areas over the coming week. There’s a chance of small to moderate snowfalls on Sunday for some but the majority have no precipitation in the forecast for the coming week now.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Scandinavia’s larger ski areas have finally begun opening for the first time since the spring lockdown. Smaller centres in Norway were among the first to re-open in the spring and Sweden’s Riksgransen was the only resort that kept open through the lockdown, then glacier ski areas were open all summer and autumn. But now one of Norway’s bigger resorts, Geilo (30/40cm / 12/16″), has opened, and its neighbour Hemsedal is set to join it this coming weekend. They join already open big resorts in Finland like Levi (15/20cm / 6/8″) and Ruka (20/20cm / 8/12″) which have in fact been open over two months now and are focussed on opening more terrain.
Most of Finland’s other ski areas have opened now too, so we are well past 50 areas open in Scandinavia. Only Sweden is a little slow off the mark with concerns about the virus higher here, although some small centres are open.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| Cold and snowy sums up the week ahead in Scandinavia, with snowfall expected most days, with just a hint of sunshine possible during the short daylight hours at the weekend.
SCOTLAND REPORT| Scotland got its first good dump of snow at the weekend with some big accumulations (20-30cm / 8-10″) reported at Cairngorm. Glencoe (0/20cm / 0/8″) kind of started its ski season on Saturday, opening its sledging run using primarily machine-made snow from its all-weather snow factory snow-making machine, although it too had some natural snow cover. Scottish ski centres are officially due to start the season, all being well, a week on Saturday on December 19th.
SCOTLAND FORECAST| A clear few days on the western side of Scotland (Glencoe and Nevis Range) should give way to more snowfall at the weekend. Further east (Cairngorm, The Lecht and Glenshee) it’s the reverse picture with more snowfall forecast in the latter half of this week, clearer at the weekend.
SPAIN / ANDORRA
SPAIN / ANDORRA REPORT| It’s not just the Alps that have had big snowfalls, the Pyrenees too have been transformed by successive dumps in recent days. Baqueira Beret, in Spain, reported 50cm (20″) in 24 hours to Tuesday after more snow over the weekend. It is becoming clearer as to what will and won’t open and the picture isn’t promising. Andorra has joined the French/EU effort to close all ski areas into January. Spain has been resisting the call and France has warned of border patrols if centres stay open but so far Spanish ski areas or at least some of them hope to open. But, so far, none have and planned opening dates are coming and going. This appears to be more down to local health area advice than a national directive, Baqueira is among several Spanish resorts saying they’ll open as soon as they are given the official go-ahead.
SPAIN / ANDORRA FORECAST| It’s looking pretty epic in the Pyrenees with snow forecast to keep falling pretty much every day for the week ahead and temperatures staying below freezing. The Pyrenees will be the hardest hit, Sierra Nevada to the south should see sunshine at the weekend.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA REPORT
BULGARIA / ROMANIA REPORT| Countries in eastern Europe appear to be rejecting the call from their larger neighbours to the west and are opening their slopes. Well, that appears to be the case so far at least. Several smaller resorts were also reported open in Romania whilst Bulgarian ski areas posted pictures of increasingly promising, snowy conditions. Romania’s Poiana Brasov says it aims to open for the season this Friday.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA FORECAST| It’s quite a snowy picture for the next seven days on Bulgarian ski slopes with temperatures staying around freezing or below on the slopes and cold in the valleys, although daytime highs could get five or six degrees above. The snowfall is expected through the rest of this week, with a weekend lull before more snow arrives.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA REPORT| One of the region’s largest areas, Jasna (20/40cm / 8/16″) in Slovakia opened for the season at the weekend, running around eight lifts serving a similar number of runs and kilometres of trails, but initially only allowing season pass holders on the slopes to enjoy it. Donovaly (10/40cm / 4/16″) has also opened. Leading Czech ski areas including Špindlerův Mlýn are expected to start opening from this coming weekend.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA FORECAST| More snowfall is forecast Wednesday/Thursday in the Czech and Slovak Republics in the Tatra Mountains, but then the sunshine should be back and continue through the weekend. The good news though is that temperatures will remain cold so snow-making will be possible overnight and there shouldn’t be any thawing.
NORTH AMERICA INTRO| More than half of ski areas in the US have now opened for the season against a backdrop of not a huge amount of early season snow cover and ever-increasing virus numbers in many areas. This has not, however, led to ski areas closing so far. On the contrary, they’re some of the few businesses still open in some areas with health officials deciding outdoor exercise is a good thing and low risk for the pandemic when properly managed.
In terms of snowfall, the past week has been fairly quiet across much of North America but parts of the northeast, particularly ski areas in Maine, have posted some of the biggest snowfalls of the autumn with accumulations of up the 18 inches (45cm) reported at the weekend.
Canada continues to be a rather divided country in terms of snow conditions with almost everywhere now open in the west and plenty of snow depth/terrain open at each too. Very little open so far in the east where it has been unseasonably warm and wet.
ROCKIES REPORT| Most ski resorts are now open in the Rockies, although there’s not yet a huge amount of snow lying in Colorado or Utah and there’s not been much fresh recently either. Wolf Creek (44/50″ / 110/125cm) is an exception with deep snow lying and most of its runs open. Virus rules continue to intensify and Aspen (2/10″ / 5/25cm) now requires skiers to have a negative virus test before hitting the slopes.
ROCKIES FORECAST| Staying mostly cold and mostly sunny although a front should bring snowfall through the region around Friday. It’s subzero on the mountain but in the valleys temperatures could get a few degrees above freezing in the afternoons.
USA WEST REPORT| The high number of virus cases in California is perhaps the main news from the west this past week. So far ski areas have been allowed to stay open but in some area facilities like restaurants and hotels are closed, so resorts like Mammoth (10/17″ / 25/41cm) say they’re mostly operating for locals only at this point. Further north in Washington State ski areas are posting some of the deepest bases in North America already, Mt Baker (54/66″ / 140/165cm) being a case in point.
USA WEST FORECAST| Sunny and dry in the south but temperatures should stay low so cover shouldn’t melt and snow-making should be possible at times. Further north an overcast and cold week in the mountains with temperatures staying below freezing but again not much snowfall forecast. The next front is expected around Sunday bringing the next dump of snow, all being well.
USA MIDWEST REPORT
MIDWEST REPORT| More ski areas have been opening across the Midwest although conditions are not yet ideal, with a rather dry December to date for most areas and some seeing rain rather than snow when precipitation does arrive. However, it is generally staying fairly cold now and snow-making systems have been fired up whenever possible.
MIDWEST FORECAST| Conditions don’t look likely to change much over the coming week. Daytime temperatures will be well above freezing in many areas although cold enough for snow-making overnight at many. Not much snow in the forecast, perhaps a little at the weekend.
USA EAST REPORT| A very mixed week in the Northeast as several ski areas closed at the end of last week as it was too warm and wet, but then a big weekend snowstorm blew in. This appears to have had mixed results. Some resorts like Mad River Glen said they’ve got almost nothing, but for Sugarloaf Mountain (6/13″ / 15/31cm) in Maine it was a transformative 18″ (45cm) of fresh snow. Around two-thirds of ski areas in the region are now open, all with limited terrain so far.
USA EAST FORECAST| It’s looking fairly promising for the coming week after the less-than-perfect conditions of recent weeks. After a quieter start to the week, more snow is expected midweek with temperatures generally staying below freezing, often well below freezing, which is good news for snow-making.
CANADA WEST REPORT| Western Canada’s ski season is perhaps more advanced than anywhere else in the world. There’s been lots of autumn snowfall for most areas and snow depths are healthy at most resorts. Almost all of the regions ski areas are now open, and they’re posting some of the largest amounts of terrain open anywhere in the world so far too. BC’s Sun Peaks (80/87cm / 32/35″), for example, has almost all of its runs (more than 100km of slopes) open already. There has been some snowfall recently for some areas though. Lake Louise reported 24cm (10″) of fresh snow on Tuesday morning for example after an overnight dump. The province, and neighbouring Alberta, have restrictions on travel and lots of strict COVID measures in place, but so far all resorts remain open.
CANADA WEST FORECAST| It has been dry and often sunny in the west of Canada over the past week and that’s going to continue for the week ahead, with temperatures staying cold. But a front is forecast to bring fresh snowfall in around Sunday.
CANADA EAST REPORT| It continues to be a more challenging start to the season in eastern Canada than it has been in the west of the country with more warm periods and rainy rather than snowy spells. Far fewer ski areas have opened in Ontario and Quebec so far, therefore, than would normally be the case. The biggest, Tremblant (0/44cm / 0/17″), is open though but with limited snow cover and not a lot open so far.
CANADA EAST FORECAST| It’s still not looking brilliant in the east with temperatures hovering around freezing, some sunny days, some snowy spells. But also, unfortunately, more rain at times.
JAPAN REPORT| After some mixed weather at the start of the season and the same sort of delays and virus operations issues faced elsewhere in the skiing world, Japan’s ski season has got underway over the past week at many of the country’s leading areas. There have also been some days of good snowfall reported for many with cold, snowy days more like we’re used to in Jan but missed out on last season. Appi (20/40cm / 8/16″), for example, which opened at the weekend, posted a 35cm (14 inch) snowfall on opening for 24 hours.
JAPAN FORECAST| Fairly good forecast for the northern half of Japan with temperatures staying at or below freezing, But the situation is problematic in Niigata and further south with warmer weather. Temperatures look set to stay around freezing in Hokkaido and other ski regions over the coming week. There’s not a huge amount of snow forecast though, with the next fronts expected towards the end of the weekend and mostly dry until then.