Issued: 19 May 2021
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
It is a little over a week until the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere, by the meteorological measure of the seasons.
In the Southern Hemisphere that means the 2021 ski season start is just over a fortnight away. In most countries conditions look promising with temperatures dropping away as they should and fresh snow reported in Australia and New Zealand, so currently things are looking hopeful.
It is a little more mixed, depending on continent, in the north. In Europe, there seems to be an upbeat feeling with the continent’s nations opening up, hospitality re-opening in Austria and the ski lifts running again in France. Remarkably, there are actually more areas open now than there were a week ago as glacier centres reopen to try to capitalise on relaxed travel. There’s been fresh snowfall this week on glacier slopes in Scandinavia and down to quite low levels in the Alps. Ski areas are still open in Slovakia and Slovenia too and the slopes on Europe’s highest mountain, Elbrus in Russia, have just announced they’re extending the season there to at least 31st May. In North America, the mood is positive too but the season is continuing to wind down with more ski areas closing in the past week, including the last still open in Canada, leaving around half a dozen left to ski out the rest of May.
The number of ski areas open in the Alps, and indeed across Europe, is actually going up with five Austrian ski centres now opened or re-opened and a sixth due to join them this coming weekend. Two Norwegian glacier areas have also opened for the season but no ski areas closed last weekend in Europe, so that’s a net gain of three. Riksgransen closes next weekend but the summer ski season is due to start in France and Italy and more centres should be opening in Austria and Norway. So there should be further gains in choice. For skiers and boarders resident in the EU, it is also getting easier again to travel between countries without quarantining so reaching the summer ski slopes is becoming increasingly possible again.
The season continues to stretch on longer than expected in Eastern Europe, at least in Slovakia and Slovenia where ski areas were allowed to reopen last month. Slovakia’s largest ski area, Jasna, decided (in the end) to re-open last weekend. Although it did not groom its slopes, leaving the terrain suited really to advanced level skiers and boarders. It had to close on Sunday too due to bad weather (rain). However, it has already confirmed plans to open next weekend, rather than leave that decision to midweek, as last week. A second Slovakian area, Tatranská Lomnica (0/150cm / 0/60”) remains open daily and has said it will keep a run about a mile long open so long as the snow lasts. In Slovenia, Kanin (0/420cm / 0/168”) and Krvavec (0/50cm / 0/20”) ski areas have continued to operate despite warming temperatures. Kanin, like Jasna to the north, was closed due to rain on Sunday but say they hope to be open again next weekend if conditions allow.
ALPS REPORT| As Austria re-opens its hospitality industry after six months, its glacier ski areas are re-opening or extending their seasons. There are now five centres open there with a sixth, the Molltal Glacier, planning to re-open this coming Saturday. The latest to open last weekend was Kaunertal (300/450cm / 120/180″), where the 6km of slopes that have opened include Austria’s steepest, the Black Ibex run, open for the first time in 2021. The glacier originally opened back in September for what should have been an eight-month season but closed as Austria went into lockdown last November. It will stay open for three weeks before its season-end on June 6th, but that’s better than the nine days it managed in spring 2020 after Austria’s first lockdown.
Of the four other areas that have been open all winter and spring, Hintertux (0/410cm / 0/164”) has the most terrain open with 30km (19 miles) of runs, about half of its terrain, still open as we near the start of summer and a good healthy snows depth.
The Stubai (10/375cm / 4/150”) has recently announced it is extending its season (for the third or fourth time now?) to June 6th , when it had originally said it planned to close in fact. That’s the same date as the Pitztal (256/327cm / 103/131”), which had extended from its usual season end in late April during most years. The Kitzsteinhorn (0/340cm / 0/134”), above Kaprun, is also open with 16km (10 miles) of runs skiable.
Three ski areas are open in Switzerland still, although one of these, Engelberg (0/600cm / 0/240″), is due to call it a day on 20-21 this coming weekend. It has had Europe’s deepest reported base for much of this year. By contrast, Zermatt (0/165cm / 0/66″) is approaching a year of operating since it re-opened following Switzerland’s one and only lockdown last spring 2020. It has 25km (167 miles) of Europe’s highest altitude runs open. Crans Montana (0/60cm / 0/24″) is the other Swiss option still open, with 8km (5 miles) of runs open into June, most of it the one long run down from the glacier, thanks to its season extension. It reported fresh snowfall on those open slopes on Tuesday morning.
It is only a little over a week now until summer skiing is due to begin at Les 2 Alpes in the French Alps, which remarkably will be the first time a French resort has offered lift-assisted skiing on groomed runs in 2021! Val d’Isere and Tignes will follow next month. Lifts are already operating in summer mode at some French areas, including Chamonix, with Alpe d’Huez warning of high avalanche danger due to all the snowfall there still lying deep on the upper mountain and subject to destabilising factors in the spring thaw.
We may also be a little more than a week away from the start of Italy’s ski season with Passo Stelvio also targeting May 29th as their opening day, just as they were the first in Italy to open after the first lockdown last season. In the meantime, the Italian national cross country ski squad have been training in perfect conditions upon the Presena glacier this past week. What of the weather? Well, it has been classic spring skiing, with the best conditions in the morning. However, it remains cool and, even in the afternoons, most glaciers have remained at or below freezing. Some light snowfalls have been reported as clouds have moved through, mixed in with sunny days. Monday saw snow down to around 1000m altitude in some parts of the Alps. Verbier posted pictures of resort-level snow in the morning, although it had largely gone from that low and altitude by lunchtime.
ALPS FORECAST| There’s more of the same for the Alps in the forecast with temperatures up at and above 3,000m altitude remaining at or below freezing day and night and a mix of sunshine and occasional, generally, light snow showers. Down in the valleys, the afternoon highs will be more like 10 to 20 degrees above freezing and precipitation will be rain, not snow.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Norway’s Galdhoppigen (120/180cm / 48/72”) and Fonna (600/700cm / 240/270”) glaciers are now both open and the country’s third summer ski centre, Stryn, will be opening in a week’s time on the 27th. Temperatures have generally been in the range of five below to five above freezing on the glaciers, mostly though very close to freezing and there have been some light snow showers to refresh cover with a centimetre or two (an inch) of fresh cover. It is also coming up to the last weekend of the season at the only resort still open in Sweden, Riksgransen (122/255cm / 49/102cm), closing on Sunday. It is believed to be the only ski area in the world to have operated to its usual season dates through both seasons of the pandemic pretty much as normal. This time of year is when the area can famously offer skiing and boarding under the midnight sun with 24-hour daylight at its latitude. (Even in New Zealand, the 2020 season started a few weeks later than usual.)
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| There’s a wintery weather forecast over the next few days with powder skiing forecast for the still-open ski centres from Thursday on.
NORTH AMERICA REPORT| Despite the fact that we’re getting ever deeper into spring, it has been another May week in which we’ve seen more fresh snowfall in the Rockies with still open centres in Colorado posting more snowfall stats at the end of last week.
We have dropped down into single figures in terms of the number of ski areas open, with Squaw Valley, in California, and Winter Park, in Colorado, among the latest to end their long 20-21 seasons on Sunday. But you can still ski at other centres in both of these states, as well as at resorts in Oregon, Utah, Vermont and over the border up north in Alberta.
The continent’s only summer ski area, Beartooth Basin on the Montana/Wyoming state line, is also due to open for the season in time for Memorial Day in just over a week’s time,, on the 28th.
So where’s still open in the USA in the latter half of May and how is the snow looking?
Mammoth (4/24” / 10/60cm) remains open in California and plans to stay open at least to Memorial Day, May 31st. Ski superstar Mikaela Shiffrin has been training on the snow there ahead of the Olympic season next winter. Despite the thin cover, nearly a third of the ski area remains open.
In Colorado we’re down to two areas still open, Breckenridge (4/56” / 10/134cm) and Arapahoe Basin (18/51″ / 45/127cm). Both expect to stay open at least to the end of the month, A-Basin for the first week of June too. A-Basin has announced that this Sunday will be the last day of the season for the Pallavicini, Molly Hogan and Beavers chairlifts. However, the Black Mountain Express, Lenawee and Zuma Chairlifts will keep running through the final week of the month.
In Utah, it’s just Snowbird (24/77″ / 59/193cm) still open, at weekends at least, and hoping to stay open for the rest of the month. Although it has warned the recent very hot weather (reaching +80F down below in Salt Lake City) may mean this coming weekend is their last. About 40 miles (65km) of slopes are reported to be still open there, one of the biggest areas in the world still open. The smaller area of Woodward at Park City also still has snow slopes open.
As with Colorado, in Oregon, there’s still a choice of ski areas open for the next few weeks at least.
Timberline (60/146” / 150/365cm) on Mt Hood, which usually has the continent’s longest season of 9-10 months from October or November through to the following September, has the deepest base of any open area which is probably good news for the next three months or so of skiing there.
Mt Bachelor (16/55” / 40/137cm) is also open for another week with more than half of its terrain still open to the end.
Across on the eastern side of the continent, just one area remains open. In Vermont Killington’s (0/30″ / 0/76cm) Superstar trail is open too, a very bumpy white ribbon with a green background of spring foliage. The run is heavily mogulled, softens fast during the day and is only really used by die-hard advanced skiers and boarders who appreciate that kind of thing and want to keep going to the bitter end. It is open Fridays to Sundays at present. North of the border we’re into the final few days of Canada’s 20-21 season with Sunshine (10/169cm / 4/68”) near Banff, traditionally the country’s last resort open each spring, closing after the weekend. It has had some fresh snowfall for its final week.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST| Late spring weather means predominantly sunny above-freezing conditions over the coming week, getting into double digits above freezing most days. That said there’s some precipitation forecast around Friday in the west which could fall as snow up high at times, rain lower down.
ASIA REPORT| It has been warm in Japan this past week and the country’s sole summer ski area, at Gassan (300/750cm / 120/300”), has dropped more than a metre (40 inches) in the past seven days according to official measurements. Although it remains the world’s deepest snowpack at an open ski area and will hopefully still last to July. The weather is a mixture of sunshine and showers, alas rain not snow, with temperatures in the range of 5 to 20 degrees above freezing. All three lifts are operating and all of the terrain is reported to be open.
ASIA FORECAST| There’s not much difference in the weather forecast from the past week with the temperatures range continuing to be largely in double figures and more rain showers forecast, along with sunny spells.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRO| We’re now just over a fortnight away from the likely first openings in the Southern Hemisphere for the 2021 season so excitement levels are certainly rising. Social media posts of the latest pre-season snowfalls in Australia and New Zealand garnered thousands of likes and shares with pent-up demand, particularly in Australia where few managed to ski last winter, as well as in New Zealand which of course was largely open last season but where Aussies, as well as Kiwis, will be able to ski together this coming winter.
There’s less to report in South Africa and South America where it has been a little too warm for any more fresh snowfall over the past week following the falls earlier this month. It’s looking like it will be getting snowy again later this week in the Andes, however.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| Pulses started racing in Australia at the weekend as forecast light snowfall turned into quite a significant dump, by the country’s standards, of around 10cm (4 inches) for most areas in New South Wales and Victoria and resorts turning very white and wintery looking. Mt Buller reported it had hit 15cm (6”) by the time the latest snow showers eased on Sunday. The season is due to kick off on the second weekend in June in most areas, just over three weeks’ time now (on top of the fresh snowfall Mt Buller may aim to open sooner thanks to its all-weather snowmaking system which has been pumping out snow for some time already). Temperatures have stayed cold in most areas, reportedly hitting -7C at Perisher on Sunday night, since the snowfall with further flurries further building anticipation. Most ski areas have also fired up their snowmaking systems, for the first time this season in most cases, during the cold snap.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| The cold weather is continuing through to midweek with temperatures set to rise in the latter half of this week, but hopefully, the early snow cover that has now been built up ahead of the season will not be too badly impacted.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| A low-pressure system has been bringing cold and wet weather to much of New Zealand with snow on ski slopes. This, coupled with a cold front that arrived on Monday, started to bring fairly significant pre-season snow down to lower levels in the south of the South Island at the start of this week, continuing through Tuesday. The snowfall, which saw the country’s ski areas report 5-18cm (2-7 inches) of snow accumulating already by Tuesday morning, has been accompanied by strong winds at times. The Remarkables was one of those reporting a big snowfall. Ski areas are due to begin opening, starting with Mt Hutt, in just over three weeks’ time now, although Mt Ruapehu on the North Island hopes to open its Happy Valley snow play and learning area at Whakapapa before then thanks to an all-weather snowmaking machine.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| After the snow and gales conditions should calm down later in the week. On Thursday, a ridge of high pressure from the Tasman Sea is expected to move across the country.
ARGENTINA REPORT| After the snowfall earlier this month, it has been a little too warm and dry in Argentina for many areas to see much more fresh falling. Temperatures have typically been in the range of 2-3 to 10 degrees above freezing on ski slopes. The season is still about a month away for most areas and a change in the weather, for the better, is just around the corner.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| A transformative weather change is forecast to hit Argentina from midweek with temperatures dropping below freezing and by Friday these are like to get to double-digits sub-zero so very cold and 10-20 degrees below what it was a few days before. Along with the lower temperatures significant snowfall is expected to begin and continue through the rest of this week. Temperatures will warm again into the weekend but be cooler than before.
CHILE REPORT| Cool and cloudy weather in Chile as the 2021 ski season gets closer. Most ski areas have reported dry weather and temperatures in the 2-10 degree range, with no fresh snow after the falls earlier this month and temperatures a little too warm for snowmaking.
CHILE FORECAST| A front should bring colder temperatures from midweek with snow arriving with it and 5-15cm forecast from most of the country’s ski slopes by Thursday morning. Clearer and sunnier after the snowfall into the weekend, but temperatures should be colder than before, staying around freezing.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| Lesotho’s Afriski is often the first in the Southern Hemisphere to open each winter and the start of the season here is just over a fortnight away. After three autumn snowfalls so far the past week has been drier with temperatures a little above freezing at night, warmer in the daytime. In South Africa it remains unclear if Tiffindell will open this season, it was closed last season due to the pandemic. The owners were reported to be “considering opening” a few weeks ago but their website and social media have not been updated for over a year and they are not responding to enquiries so currently, it doesn’t look promising, unfortunately.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| Mostly dry weather for the week ahead, some precipitation expected on Thursday that could fall as snow overnight when lows will be hitting freezing or possibly a degree or two below most nights. Daytime highs of 5-10 degrees though so most of the natural snowfall of the past month has melted away again.