Issued: 07 July 2021
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
We’re in that brief period of the year when it’s possible to take a lift up the slopes at ski areas on six continents. That didn’t happen due to the impact of the first wave of the pandemic a year ago, but this time the first ski areas have opened in South America for their 2021 season before the last in Asia end their 20-21 season, possibly as soon as this Sunday. So the cross over will only have lasted less than a fortnight.
There are still less than 100 ski areas open worldwide, just one each for Africa, Asia and North America and around a dozen in Europe. But the past week has seen the total open almost double in number thanks to several dozen centres opening in South America and New Zealand, meaning more are now open in the Southern Hemisphere than in the north.
As to the weather, most centres in Europe, Asia and North America continue to post hot, sunny weather. Well, it is midsummer. In the Southern Hemisphere, things have been colder and snowier this past week, but not very snowy and most areas in Australia, New Zealand and South America have only limited terrain open (a few are still delaying opening for lack of snow) and all would appreciate a big dump.
There’s not much changed in the position a week ago in Europe with around 10 glacier ski areas open in the Alps and Scandinavia. With predominantly warm weather, the most noticeable thing to change from seven days ago is the snow depth stats are diminishing rapidly in some areas at least.
It’s believed that two non-glacier areas that operated through to the end of June have now called it a day, at last, on the 2020-21 season with Kanin in Slovenia and Elbrus, with Europe’s highest slopes in Russia, both ending ski operations.
ALPS REPORT| We have the same nine glacier areas open in the Alps as we’ve had for the past few weeks, with one set to close this coming weekend, the first to end its 2021 summer skiing season. But another is set to open to start its 2021-22 ski season a week later, so we’ll only be down to eight for five days or so.
The big factor over the past seven days has been the heat with temperatures getting above 10C at 3,000m altitude causing a fast thaw of some of the glacier snow cover. The weather has been predominantly sunny although some areas have reported rain showers too. Daytime temperatures did dip below freezing at night on glaciers at the weekend and start of this week and some light snow flurries were reported. But the overall picture is going in the wrong direction for snow cover.
Austria’s year-round Hintertux (0/330cm / 0/132”) continues to post the deepest base in the region, but it is down a metre (40”) on just a few weeks ago as the alpine heat of recent weeks take its toll. It still has 20km (12 miles) of slopes open though, equalling the biggest areas available at most open areas worldwide at present with only limited terrain open so far at most areas in the Southern Hemisphere. The Molltal glacier (0/310cm / 0/124”) is also open and reported a visit from the great Austrian retired ski racer Marcel Hirscher, this past week, ski testing. The Kitzsteinhorn Glacier (0/190cm / 0/76”), above Kaprun, is the third Austrian option, staying open to the end of this month.
In France, we’re into the last few days of all three summer-ski areas being open with Val d’Isere (0/160cm / 0/64″), usually the first to open but this time beaten to it be an early opening Les 2 Alpes (0/185cm / 0/74″), ending its five-week 2021 run on the Pissaillas glacier this weekend. Tignes plans to remain open all this month (0/160cm / 0/64”) and Les 2 Alpes for three months through to the end of summer.
In Italy, there’s a choice of ski slopes on Plateau Rosa above Cervinia (0/150cm / 0/60”) or at Passo Stelvio (5/190cm / 2/76″). Although the latter still appears to be waiting for official approval to be allowed to open to the skiing public, with currently only guests staying at hotels by the slopes allowed access still. There is 6km (4 miles) of slopes open for them.
Zermatt (0/150cm / 0/60″), with Europe’s highest lift-accessed glacier terrain, remains the only area currently open in Switzerland. It also continues to operate one of the larger open areas with 20km (13 miles) of slopes open, including runs over into Italy on the Cervinia side. Neighbouring Saas-Fee is due to open its glacier lifts the weekend after next for its 21-22 ski season.
ALPS FORECAST| The weather looks set to continue to be warm through the week ahead with thawing even at 3,000m likely to continue day and night. Mostly sunny through the middle of this week with some clouds and possibly slightly cooler conditions by the weekend.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| This time last year Norway’s summer ski areas were reporting deep fresh snowfall on their glaciers after an unusual big July dump (well July snow isn’t that unusual, but the size of that one was). This year though it has been more mostly warm, mostly sunny weather this past week, with a little bit of rain thrown in. Fonna Glacier Ski Resort (200/300cm / 80/120”) remains open although its snow depth has dropped about 40% in the past month. The region’s highest slopes at Galdhøpiggen (30/130cm / 12/52”) remain open too. It has been a real mix of weather with sunshine, rain and sleet showers, some gusty winds at times and temperatures ranging from about +5 to +15C.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| More of the same really for the next seven days with temperatures typically between freezing and +10C at Galdhøpiggen, a few degrees warmer at Fonna and sunshine, rain, cloud and wind in the forecast almost daily. There’s a chance of some brief snow showers at Galdhøpiggen if the precipitation arrives at the low point in the temperature cycle, which looks possible.
NORTH AMERICA REPORT| The worst of the heatwave in North America’s Pacific Northwest which saw record temperatures and rapid snowmelt a week ago appears to be passed although it remains warm and sunny. The Palmer snowfield above Timberline Lodge, on Mt Hood in Oregon, is still open. It does not publish snow depth stats in summer but has made a few changes since things warmed up so much, only allowing members of the public on the slopes after 9.30 am so race teams have the advantage of the best conditions for training first thing. The resort also reports its snow management teams are working miracles keeping the slopes open through the heatwave and issued a public statement of thanks at the weekend. Elsewhere in North America, ski areas have been battling various weather extremes. At Mont Tremblant in Quebec a sudden weather inundation last week led to flash flooding which damaged buildings, roads and shut down summer operations of activities like gondola and luge rides as well as the Ziptrek.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST| There are no big changes in the forecast and that means more challenges maintaining the snow through another week of warm temperatures that look sets to stay in the 60s and 70s through the week ahead. Nothing but full sunshine from dawn until dusk 14 hours a day, every day.
ASIA INTRO| It looks like we could be nearing the end of the season at Japan’s summer ski centre, Gassan (0/150cm / 0/60”), although there’s no official announcement yet. The 10 metres (33 feet) of snow that was lying from top to bottom of the mountain when their 2021 season began three months ago has lost around 90% of its volume up high and tropical foliage is now growing lush at the base of the mountain where it was still white in April. Skiers can take the double chairlift up to the remaining snow, served by a drag lift though.
ASIA FORECAST| Another week of sunshine and showers set to further thaw the remaining snowpack. Temperatures 15-20 degrees above freezing at the base, 10-15 degrees above up at the snowline.There’s more rain, warm temperatures and low cloud forecast for the Gassan region as we move further into summer and the start of July. The snowpack seems unlikely to remain complete for much longer the way things are going, inevitably.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRO|
The virus and the snowfall continue to cause issues for ski areas in Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa, a month after the first Southern Hemisphere ski areas opened for the season.
In Australia, things are looking better (hopefully) in both regards compared to a week ago, with local lockdowns ending in most cities. Successfully suppressing the virus spread and cold, snowy weather has allowed resorts to open more terrain. New Zealand has had more of a snowfall issue than a virus problem, to date. Although Australia’s problem with the virus impacts bookings in NZ with the travel bubble between the two countries closed at what should be a peak school holidays travel time. But snow conditions are improving in NZ and more areas opening now and some Australian destinations are now back to quarantine free travel since Monday.
In South America, the past week has seen most ski areas in Chile open, some for the first time in two years and the first in Argentina opening too. There remains a snow cover problem for some here, which now seems to be the main cause of opening delays, more than virus concerns.
With the 2021 ski season now underway in Argentina, Australia, Chile, Lesotho and New Zealand it means South Africa (again) is the only Southern Hemisphere ski nation where lifts (at Tiffindell ski area) remain closed.
Away from the main ski regions, unusually cold weather has brought snow to southern Brazil this past week, a country better known for its sunshine and beach life. People in the southern state of Santa Catarina have had three days of snow, blanketing a number of cities and delighting residents, according to local reports.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| It has been an improving picture for snowfall in Australia, whilst remaining challenging for skiers and resort operators due to pandemic restrictions. Winter is taking hold in the ski areas right now and although there have not been huge snowfalls, there’s been consistent cold weather and light to moderate snowfall. Falls Creek (30/30cm / 12/12”) posted 28cm (11”) of natural snowfall over the weekend and said its snow cannons had been able to run for more than 50 hours straight. The snowfall and cold temps have meant a doubling of terrain open at resorts like Perisher (25/55cm / 10/22″), which is posting the biggest chunk of terrain open anywhere in the world at present with 51km (32 miles). Whilst Thredbo (20/54cm / 8/22″) has almost as much, 45km (28 miles), about two-thirds of its runs now open. In terms of the virus, so far small clusters of the Delta variant has led to lockdowns in several Australian cities, including Sydney. It’s an ever-changing and fast-developing picture but at the time of writing it seems cases are being controlled and lockdowns, already lifted in some cities, could hopefully end in Sydney too later this week.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| Mostly dry over the coming week with just light snowfall possible. Sunny midweek and next weekend but cloudy for many resorts Thursday/Friday. The good news though is temperatures staying low, a lot of the time below freezing and not getting too warm when the numbers do turn a little positive. So snowmaking should be able to continue at times and there shouldn’t be much/any thaw.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| It’s an ever-improving picture in New Zealand after what one of the country’s ski area managers described as having been, “…a really dry June and a little bit warm.” Last week saw a bitterly cold southerly blast from the Antarctic, which brought fresh snow as well as cold enough temperatures for snowmaking, that pushed some areas (forced to delay opening) finally over the line and into operation for 2021. Among them, Coronet Peak (20/45cm / 8/18”), which got a good snow dump of 25cm (10”) allowing them to open with their Coronet Express and Meadows chairlifts running along with the conveyor carpets on beginner slopes. Treble Cone (23/30cm / 9/12”) was another which had delayed opening but decided to at the weekend, although with limited terrain and cover to start with. Stratford Mountain Club also opened their Manganui Ski Area but, like Mt Dobson, strong winds were impacting cover. The Antarctic blast blew a lot of snow off the mountain for the former (although there was still plenty left) and made it too windy for safe operations on Monday at Dobson. Cardrona (5/40cm / 2/16” was another that decided to close on Monday blaming strong winds, snow and rain. Mt Hutt (25/250cm / 10/100”) continues to post the deepest base in the Southern Hemisphere and with 25km (17 miles) of runs open has the largest number of lift-served terrain yet open anywhere too. At the time of writing, the Trans-Tasman bubble (that allows Aussies to come to ski in New Zealand) should have just re-opened for residents of South Australia, ACT, Tasmania and Victoria meaning some Australians should still be able to visit over the latter half of the school holiday period
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| Heavy snowfall, which could bring a transformative 50cm (20“) of snowfall to some areas by the end of Wednesday, is just beginning to impact New Zealand ski areas as we complete this report. Although skies should clear for most by Thursday morning, temperatures are set to stay low and generally well below freezing for most areas. So, it appears winter is finally here.
ARGENTINA REPORT| Argentina’s 2021 ski season has got underway a little later than it would in a ‘normal’ season, but a lot earlier than it did last year when nowhere opened until well into August. This year, thankfully, almost everywhere is open or opening this coming weekend, meaning some ski areas have their lifts turning for the first time in nearly two years (for the ski season at least). The country’s (and the world’s) most southerly full ski area, Cerro Castor, down towards Tierra del Fuego, was the first to open last Friday. South America’s largest ski resort, Catedral (30/30cm / 12/12”), also started to open from Monday. Although, initially, it’s just beginner terrain which is open. Other areas, including Cerro Bayo and Chapelco, say they’ll be opening this coming weekend. The snow news isn’t all good though. Caviahue announced it is delaying opening until conditions there improve and another leading resort, Las Lenas, which had targeted this coming weekend for re-opening after nearly two years, reported on Monday it had to postpone whilst awaiting better snow conditions.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| Temperatures should continue to hang around close to freezing with sunshine and cloudy periods in the run-up to the weekend. However, Thursday to Saturday could see some significant snowfall for some areas with up to 50cm (20 inches) of much-needed snowfall forecast before the sunshine returns at the weekend.
CHILE REPORT| From there being no ski areas open in Chile, now most of the country’s leading centres have opened. Although one of the most famous, Portillo, hasn’t done so yet. But Valle Nevado (42/68cm / 17/27”) is one that’s back after a two-year gap. Like other centres in the country though, only limited terrain is currently open due to pandemic operating with the Mirador, Vaivén Escondida and Prado lifts only open to start with. The slopes were closed over the weekend too and the Plaza La Góndola sector is closed. In common with other areas, tickets must be purchased at least two days before skiing/boarding. El Colorado (30/65cm / 12/26”) and Corralco (30/70cm / 12/28”) also opened in the final days of June along with Nevados de Chillan (18/18cm / 7/7”). La Parva (25/50cm / 10/20”) was the latest to join them, opening on Monday this week. Most have 5-15km (3-9 miles) of terrain open. Chile’s government has been easing restrictions as COVID infection levels drop but resorts are stressing the need to remain vigilant, along with stressing the mental as well as physical health benefits for people able to travel to the mountains again for ski holidays. This winter’s re-opened resorts are stressing the need for skiers to keep socially distanced, wear masks, buy ski passes in advance online where a COVID status questionnaire may also be completed and follow the usual procedures. The country’s police force has been mobilised to help ensure compliance. Chile’s borders remain closed so international tourism will not be happening for the second year in a row. One of the country’s most famous resorts, Portillo, which relies heavily on international guests, has not yet opened and reports indicate it won’t open until mid-July, at the earliest. As to the weather, it has been a largely dry week, albeit a cold and sunny one, limiting the terrain open so far.
CHILE FORECAST| There’s more sunshine in the forecast and unfortunately, little or no snowfall. But it should remain cold on Chilean ski slopes, typically between freezing and 5-10 degrees below. So the snow lying shouldn’t melt, except down at the mountain base, where it’s a bit warmer, and any snowmaking systems should be able to operate overnight.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| The sunny weather has continued at Afriski (25/50cm / 10/20”), in Lesotho, where most of the centre’s terrain and terrain park are open thanks to snowmaking. Temperatures are close to freezing. There remains no update from South Africa’s Tiffindell. There was a post on their site, “Tiffindell is going ahead with the 2021 winter ski season …We will take all precautions to ensure your health at the resort.” …but it’s unclear when this was posted and there have been no updates on social media for a year now, sadly.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| Low temperatures, clear skies and sunshine. Temperatures only a degree or two above freezing. So, although no fresh snow is forecast, what’s there should stay in good shape.