Issued: 02 June 2021
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
This week marks the start of winter, by the meteorological way of measuring the seasons, in the Southern Hemisphere and the of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
It’s hard to know where excitement levels are greater. In the Southern Hemisphere the 2021 season is about to kick off in just a few days’ time. There’s snow and cold weather in the Andes, cold weather for snowmaking in Australia and southern Africa and lots of (slightly wet) snow in New Zealand. Australia’s largest ski area, Perisher, just announced they plan to open this Friday, 4th June; probably the first to open in the Southern Hemisphere unless something changes in the next few days. After them the first snow play area in New Zealand is due to open this weekend, with more full resort openings in Australia, New Zealand, Southern Africa and then South America beginning towards the end of next week.
The excitement extends to Europe as relaxed pandemic restrictions mean the past week has seen summer glacier skiing getting underway in France and Italy (where there was no 20-21 winter ski season). So, despite a few more ski areas in the US calling it a day on their ski seasons on the last day of May, on Monday, overall there are more ski areas open in the Northern Hemisphere for the start of June than there were at times in the last week of May.
There are now more than a dozen ski areas open across the big four ski nations of the Alps, with this past week the first in 2021 that ski areas are now open in all four after the French and Italian governments decisions in late May to allow ski lifts in each to resume operations. As for the weather, it has been warmer than the very cold May, and it has been sunny too, giving some glorious conditions, particularly after a few fresh snow dumps up high. Besides the western Alps and Scandinavia, the only ski area known to be still operating, at least to the coming weekend (June 6th) is Kanin, in the Julian Alps of Slovenia (location of the country’s highest ski slopes with views out to the Adriatic). It has kept extending its season a week at a time through May and has now made it into June.
ALPS INTRO| After the successful opening of the ski slopes above La Clusaz, in France, last week (but for two days only just to celebrate the fact they could re-open), it has been the turn of the summer-ski area at Les 2 Alpes to open for summer 2021 (the first in the country to do so), with Val d’Isere set to join them at the end of next week, Tignes will open a week kater.
Les 2 Alpes (0/290cm / 0/116”) claims to operate Europe’s biggest skiable glacier and reports great snow conditions after a snowy winter and spring with another 1.5 metres (five feet) of snowfall in May alone. The lift company has put in place a system to avoid skiers queuing all at the same time to get on the Jandri Express, the cable car linking the resort to the glacier. Between 6.30 am and 7.10 am only pros and their coaches will be able to get on (and they have a specific time during these 40 minutes). From 7.10 am to 7.20 am skiers who have booked private lessons, followed by ski clubs from 7.20 am. Anyone else will be able to get on the Jandri Express from 8.00 am to enjoy ski runs between 3,600m and 2,600m.
Italy’s ski season also started, at long last, just over a week with Ponte Di Legno – Tonale re-opening for just two days only. But since then two more areas, Cervinia (0/180cm / 0/72″) and Madesimo (0/210cm / 0/84″), have re-opened, the latter just at weekends. A third, Passo Stelvio, which like Cervinia had been open when Italy went into its second lockdown last October right at the end of its 2020 summer ski season, had planned to open last Friday. However, it reports that due to lockdown lift maintenance work is behind schedule and the revised opening date is June 12th, after a two-week delay.
Whilst numbers of ski areas open for summer skiing in Europe’s big four alpine nations is increasing in France and Italy, where resorts were closed all winter, they’re dropping in the one country in the quartet where they were open, including tourists, all winter, Switzerland. After this weekend only one centre, Zermatt (0/180cm / 0/72”), will still be open. Crans Montana (0/60cm / 0/24”), the only other Swiss centre still open, has extended its season from its usual end in late April by over six weeks, to close this coming weekend. Saturday the 6th of June does mark an important anniversary as that will be the year since Zermatt, which normally endeavours to offer winter sports every day of the year weather-permitting, will celebrate 12 months of operations since re-opening after the only Swiss lockdown last spring.
Austria remains the country with the most ski areas open in Europe and indeed anywhere in the world at present. Although four of the eight centres currently open there are expected to close their slopes at the end of this coming weekend. Among them, the Pitztal Glacier (250/330cm / 100/132″) with about 8km (5 miles) of the country’s highest slopes open into June when normally it closes late April. Also Innsbruck’s local glacier ski area, the Stubai (5/380cm / 2/112″), which has kept extending its season, is saying this Sunday will definitely be the last. The more recently re-opened Kaunertal (150/400cm / 60/160”) is also set to close on Sunday, as is the unexpectedly re-opened non-glacier Wildkogel (0/100cm / 0/40”).
But even with half of the areas it currently has open closing at the weekend, the other half is still more than any other country has open until the Southern Hemisphere’s season kicks off the weekend after. Year-round Hintertux (0/465cm / 0/186″) remains open, with one of the deepest bases in the Alps (and one of the five deepest of still-open areas in the world) and with 30km (19 miles) of runs still open too, one of the biggest areas. The recently re-opened Molltal Glacier (0/470cm / 0/188”) and the Kitzsteinhorn (0/370cm / 0/148”) also plan to stay open into July. Finally, the recently re-opened Dachstein (0/430cm / 0/172”) also continues to operate.
ALPS FORECAST| Mostly sunny for the remainder of this week but with temperatures remaining close to freezing up around 2500-2900m on the glaciers. Turning increasingly unsettled as the weekends and through the weekend with the chance of fresh snowfall up high from Friday on.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| With the Stryn glacier (150/250cm / 60/100”) opening in Norway last Thursday, all three of the country’s summer glacier ski areas are now open. It hasn’t been all plain sailing though. Fonna (500/600cm / 200/240”) was closed for two days last week by bad weather, particularly very strong winds. It does continue to post the deepest base of any open ski area in the world at present though and has had some beautifully sunny days since the bad weather last week. Galdhoppigen (120/180cm / 48/72”) is the third option open in the region with Scandinavia’s highest slopes.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| It’s looking predominantly sunny over the coming week with just a few rain showers. Temperature looks warm, which may impact snow cover moving forward, although the condition of the bases are such that it shouldn’t be too catastrophic in the short term. A few light rain showers are possible at times, particularly in the final days of this week.
NORTH AMERICA REPORT| The final weekend of May was one of the snowiest for some time in both eastern and western North America with snow reported on the Californian Sierra, further north in Washington state (where the road up to Mt Baker was closed by snow) and over on the east of the country where a foot (30cm) of wet snow was reported at the top of (also closed for the season) Stratton Mountain, in Vermont.
The snowfall was too little too late to lead to any change of heart for Mammoth Mountain, in California. Crystal Mountain, in Washington State and Mt Bachelor, in Oregon also called it a day on their 20-21 seasons at the weekend. Most areas stayed open for the Memorial Day national holiday on the last day of May, on Monday. Mammoth made it to their target date unlike Killington, Snowbird, Breckenridge and Squaw Valley which were all forced to close earlier than they’d hoped, earlier in May, due to the warm weather and resulting rapid thaw this year. Mammoth had only 16 inches (40cm) of snow left on closing day, but still had about a dozen trails open for skiers and boarders (who could also buy a ticket giving access to the newly opened mountain biking trails and a round at the local golf course on the same day if they wished).
Against that, we do have one newly opened ski area. Beartooth Basin, North America’s only ‘summer ski only’ ski resort, has opened for its 2021 run. Hopefully, they will operate for longer than last year, a season that lasted just a few weeks .
Two other ski areas remain open on the continent. Timberline (24/121” / 60/303cm), in Oregon, is actually closed for the first half of this week and was closed for a few days last week too. Last week’s closure was due to poor weather, whereas this week it is to transition from winter to summer operations, The Palmer snowfield, hopefully open to the start of September, is getting ready to open for its 2021 run from the weekends on.
Also still open, but in the final few days of its more than 7 months long 20-21 season, is Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin (2/36” / 5/91cm), which has also seen low temperatures and a little fresh snow for the start of its final week. It aims to stay open on Sunday and currently it looks unlikely that the season will be extended. Despite A-Basin closing nearby, Copper Mountain is expected to open its summer snow terrain park exclusively for ‘campers’ at its Woodward summer snowsports camps at the weekend and keep it open for the next few months.
The last ski area open in Canada, Sunshine near Banff, ended its season on Monday last week. With no glacier skiing at Blackcomb mountain, above Whistler, due to the second successive year of pandemic, that’s a wrap on skiing there until the end of October or early November when the first areas in Alberta are expected to open again, for winter 21-22.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST| After the cold weather and light snowfall up high in Colorado to start this week, temperatures are set to rocket back up to seasonal norms touching 20 degrees above freezing. This means a fast thaw and a real end-of-season vibe in the Rockies.
ASIA REPORT| Gassan (120/500cm / 48/200″) remains the only area open in Japan, and probably now all of Asia as we enter June. The centre opens in April each year with a season lasting until July (snowsports are reliant on the huge base of snow built up un-skied through the previous winter). There’s no change this year and the snowpack has halved over the past two months from what it was when it opened but looks set to see the centre make it through to the season end in mid-July.
ASIA FORECAST| Temperatures in the range of 10-20 degrees above freezing on the slopes of Gassan this coming week. The next few days are likely to see cloud and fog with rain forecast on Friday. However, the weekend should be clear and sunny.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRO| It’s June and winter has arrived in the Southern Hemisphere. So far, it is manifesting itself in different ways with heavy snowfall but rather warm temperatures making the snow wet at lower elevations in New Zealand, drier but colder weather in Australia and southern Africa so snowmaking systems are fired up and blasting out machine-made snow and somewhere in between in South America, where some ski centres already have a good covering of natural snowfall after plenty of snowfall in the past few weeks.
The season initially looked set to begin this coming weekend with the first area due to open in New Zealand with more centres opening in the following weeks in Australia, New Zealand, Southern Africa and South America. However, as mentioned in our World Overview, Australia’s biggest resort, Perisher, announced on May 31st it would open a week earlier than expected, this coming Friday June 4th (probably the first to open in the Southern Hemisphere). Otherwise, most ski areas expect to open as they normally would this month or in July, unlike last year when the pandemic forced most to delay and eventually led to most in South America and several in Australia and South Africa hardly opening or not at all. The one hiccup in the past week has been Australian state, Victoria, home to half of the country’s ski areas, currently in a seven-day “fire-break” lockdown to try to stop a (hopefully) small number of infections with the new Indian variant. That lockdown is due to end just over a week before the season is due to start, so everyone has fingers crossed that it does have the desired effect.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| There’s been no fresh snowfall to talk about in Australia over the past week but the good news has been consistently low temperatures allowing snowmaking systems to fire up. So bases are building on the main runs. Opening day for most areas will be a week on Saturday, June 12th, in line with the traditional Queen’s Birthday long weekend national holiday. That’s one of the later dates at which the holiday weekend falls but does give ski areas in Victoria more hope of being able to open on schedule. Bookings are reported to be at record levels, the best for over a decade, after last winter was a near write-off in the state during the pandemic’s first wave. As mentioned in the introduction, Perisher has now announced it will open a week early, this Friday, June 4th.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| There’s no real snow in the forecast for another week in Australia, with clear skies and sunny days. Overnight lows should continue to drop below freezing at most areas allowing snowmaking systems to maintain operations and hopefully build bases in the run-up to opening day. Daytime highs don’t like they should lead to much thawing.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| With the first snow slopes due to open for the 2021 season in New Zealand this coming weekend, there’s good news that the country has seen some big snow dumps over the weekend and the start of this week. The snowfall, up to 50cm (20″) reported, has been mostly on the South Island, However, the first opening days (Mt Hutt and Cardrona) are still a little over a week away,. Mt Hutt reported one of the biggest accumulations (around half a metre/20″) on Sunday/Monday, but the snowfall news isn’t 100% good as lower slopes, in particular, reported “rain impacted” snow, meaning it wasn’t that cold and the precipitation was heavy rain at lower elevations causing some valley flooding and avalanche warnings higher up. That said, the resort says snow drifts of up to four metres (160”) have appeared in places after the latest storm. Elsewhere in the country, some ski areas are reporting over a metre of snow now lying in high alpine bowls, which is great news with the season start imminent. The area due to open this coming weekend is Happy Valley, a beginner/snows fun area with all-weather snowmaking at Whakapapa ski area, on Mt Ruapehu on the North Island.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| A fairly promising forecast with mountain temperatures staying low over the coming week, typically a few degrees either side of freezing. More snowfall is forecast to end the week. It looks like it will probably be quite light, however.
ARGENTINA REPORT| The run into the 2021 ski season continues to look promising in Argentina with predominantly cold and frequently snowy weather. Most of the country’s ski centres have been posting images of snow-covered slopes, particularly higher runs and most have had more fresh snowfall in the past week with temperatures typically in the range of 5 above the 5 below freezing. It currently appears Argentinian ski areas will open on time this winter, unlike last winter, the first probably in just over a fortnight’s time.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| It’s looking like another week of cold and sometimes snowy weather ahead. Thursday-Friday look the most promising for snowfall for most with temperatures not expected to get back above freezing between Thursday and Sunday for many.
CHILE REPORT| Ski areas in Chile say they are ready to go with the season start imminent and images from the slopes at resorts like Corralco and La Parva look very promising with snow cover from the top to the bottom of the mountain. Less comprehensive cover but coverage on upper runs so far at Termas de Chillan. Most ski areas are set to open in Chile later this month as the country remains in the top five worldwide for vaccine rollout by population numbers.
CHILE FORECAST| Another promising week ahead in the season tune up with temperatures close to freezing, often below. Skies overcast and precipitation forecast to be frequent, usually falling as snow. The danger exists of occasional rain down at resort level. Overall though, it is looking increasingly promising for an on-time season start.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| There’s been cold enough weather in Lesotho for Afriski to step up its snowmaking efforts. This was the first ski area in the Southern Hemisphere to open for the 2020 season a year ago and could be again this time, with June 10th, just over a week away, the target date. This year it is believed that South African skiers can cross the border to visit, something that wasn’t possible in the first months of the pandemic last year, although Afriski was open. There remains no word on the fate of South Africa’s Tiffindel ski area which was prevented from opening at all last winter by the lockdown and from where there’s been no status update for nearly 12 months now with the last sign it was still active in winter last year.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| A promising forecast in the run in to the season start with mostly sub-zero Celsius temperatures, just daytime highs above freezing by only a degree or two most days. Cloudy up to the weekend with snow forecast to end the week before sunshine returns.