Issued: 14 July 2021
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
There’s been little fresh snow to report anywhere in the world this past week. But it’s a slowly improving picture for most areas in the Southern Hemisphere with cold temperatures allowing consistent snowmaking after some snowfall in New Zealand, at last. More terrain opened up at ski areas in Australia and more centres opened in the Andes, where there’s been some fresh snowfall too, just no big dumps as yet. In the Northern Hemisphere, there remains just over a dozen centres open in seven countries on three continents but high temperatures continue to impact snow cover and the best conditions are early in the morning. It is the height of summer, of course, so that is to be expected. However, we’re still seeing record highs in multiple areas at times, thawing glacial ice in the Alps.
There’s little change on a week ago in Europe, with 10 glacier ski centres open in the Alps and Scandinavia. The weather has been predominantly warm (well it is July) but that has increasingly led to storms bubbling up in the Alps, with many areas closing lifts on Tuesday this week due to bad weather. Some of the storms actually brought a little overnight snowfall to some glaciers to start this week, including at Tignes in France.
ALPS REPORT| We have dropped to only eight areas open in the Alps this week after Val d’Isere, which has one of the shortest summer ski seasons in the Alps, opening for just a month each June-July, ended its 2021 summer ski season on Sunday. However, we’ll be back up to nine centres open on Saturday with Switzerland’s Saas-Fee scheduled to open for its 2021-22 ski season, which lasts for some nine months through to the end of April 2022.
For the ski areas that are open, there’s been a mixed bag of weather with some stormy conditions reported bringing heavy rain and strong winds at times, but then there have been spells of warm sunshine at others.
In Austria, there remain three areas open although the Kitzsteinhorn (0/145cm / 0/58”), above Kaprun, is down to its final 10 days or so with the centre planning to close for a few months the weekend after next. For now, there are about 6km of runs open although the terrain park is reported closed. Hintertux (0/330cm / 0/132”) has seen a little more cover lost from its snow depth but not so much as the previous week. It continues to have one of the larger areas open in the world at present, with some 20km of runs skiable. The Molltal glacier (0/290cm / 0116”) is the third Austrian option at present but with only 3km of slopes open.
With Val d’Isere ending its 2021 summer ski season, there are two areas still open, both with about 20km of runs. Firstly Val d’Isere’s neighbour Tignes (0/150cm / 0/60”) should be open to the end of this month, then Les 2 Alpes (0/185cm / 0/74”), which hopes to stay open through August as well, is the second option. Both saw a warm, sunny weekend, but it has been cloudier and much colder since the new week has begun, hardly getting above freezing in the daytime on their glaciers and dropping to 7 or 8 degrees below overnight, when a week ago it was hardly dropping below freezing even in the middle of the night. A dusting of fresh snowfall was actually reported here on Monday night.
Italy also has two options for skiers and boarders at present, with similar conditions. The skiing above Cervinia (0/150cm / 0/60”) with cross-border links to Switzerland’s Zermatt is open, as is the skiing at Passo Stelvio (0/190cm / 0/76”), from 6.30 am to 12.45 daily. The six weeks of operating has only been available to people staying in local hotels whilst waiting for official certification, required from Rome for the public opening of the lifts. A technical overhaul in the spring appears to be over too with an announcement that the main Trincerone access cable-car had re-opened to all from Monday this week.
Until Saas-Fee opens on Saturday, Zermatt (0/150cm / 0/60″), with Europe’s highest ski lifts and one of the Northern Hemisphere’s largest summer ski areas, in terms of both extent and vertical, remains the only area open for skiers and boarders in the country. It has 20km of runs skiable and a summer terrain park open.
ALPS FORECAST| It does look quite a lot cooler on alpine glaciers in the week ahead, even though we’re reaching mid-July. Temperatures should be dropping well below freezing at night again and not getting much above in the middle of the afternoon, good news for snow preservation and quality. There’s even a chance of some snow showers in the afternoon and evenings as things cool again in the daily cycle.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Two glaciers are still open for summer skiing in Norway but snow cover is reducing fast. The Fonna Glacier Ski Resort (100/200cm / 40/80”) was posting the deepest snow depth in the world at over 5 metres (200”) until quite recently, it seems, but those numbers have been falling fast in recent weeks. The region’s highest slopes, at the Galdhøpiggen Sommerskisenter (20/130 cm / 8/52″), isn’t diminishing so fast, but it does hope to stay open to late autumn. Recent weather has been mixed with sunshine mixed with cloudy/rainy spells. Overnight temperatures have been down towards freezing on the slopes but are hitting 10-15 degrees in the daytime.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| There’s some midweek rain forecast followed by sunny weather to ends the week. Temperatures continue to be (just about) freeze-thaw with overnight lows around zero Celsius.
NORTH AMERICA REPORT| It remains hot in North America but perhaps not quite so hot as it was a fortnight ago when the record highs were recorded in western Canada.
Timberline, in Oregon, remains the only lift-accessed snowfield in North America open to the public, with race teams on the slopes early, then the skiing public allowed on between 9.30 am and 2 pm. The centre’s terrain park is also open. Over in Colorado, the terrain park at Copper Mountain continues to operate too, but only for those resident at the local Woodward summer camp.
In ski news from the region, five Seattle climbers have become the first team to summit and ski five volcanos in the state of Washington over five days, achieving their goal in July. The fifth of the five glaciers, the Suiattle Glacier en route to the summit of Glacier Peak, reportedly requiring nearly 27 hours of consistent movement, carefully timed to maximise climbing through the night and avoid the record daytime heat.
Further south, we also have seismic activity news with an earthquake hitting the Lake Tahoe region on Thursday at 4 pm. The factor 6.0 quake caused a surf-wave type roller along the Lake’s surface and required surrounding ski areas to check over their lifts to ensure the quake hadn’t caused any issues.
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.
It’s another hot week ahead with California and Colorado, in particular, expected to see more very high temperatures. The whole west of the continent is impacted, if not quite so hot as the record highs hit in the last week of June. For Timberline it’s another week of mostly non-stop sunshine with daytime highs in the high 60s or low 70s Fahrenheit and not cooling down a huge amount at night either.
ASIA INTRO| Japan’s Gassan ski area (0/150cm / 0/60″) appears to be still operating, although its usual mid-July season-end is near. The snow has gone from all but the upper reaches of the slopes, with lower runs now buried in deep foliage. The weather this past week has been the usual summer mix of sunshine, fog and with strong winds at times. Temperatures 15-20 Celcius.
ASIA FORECAST| More mixed weather forecast with warm summer weather and the end of the summer ski season nigh.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRO| Although virus fears are always lurking, another problem for many ski areas in the Southern Hemisphere has been a lack of snowfall so far this winter. However, almost all of the ski areas in Argentina, Australia, Chile and New Zealand have now opened, with some of the recent additions including Mount Lyford in New Zealand and Caviahue in Argentina, at the weekend. But it is not yet a great start to winter anywhere really and some of the bigger resorts in South America, including Las Lenas in Argentina, are yet to open as they await better snow. Chile’s Portillo, which last had its lifts running in 2019, also hasn’t opened yet. But that’s believed to be more down to issues with pandemic restrictions and the lack of international tourism. In Australia and now New Zealand there’s been some fresh snow but resorts have been more excited about consistent low temperatures allowing them to run snowmaking and open more terrain that way. Across the Southern Hemisphere’s ski slopes the main good news continues to be that most ski areas in most ski nations are open; very different to last year when it was mostly just those in New Zealand open in July 2020.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| It’s been a largely cold, dry week on Australian slopes allowing resorts to open more terrain thanks to good snowmaking conditions. In fact, Australian ski areas are currently posting the largest amount of terrain open anywhere in the world, led by Perisher (25/55cm / 10/22″), the country’s largest, with 45km (28 miles) of groomed runs currently open. More terrain accessed from the Quad Express has opened since the weekend and night skiing is go this week. Thredbo (20/55cm / 8/22”) is in second place in the country/world at present with 35km (22 miles) skiable. In terms of the pandemic, it’s a mixed picture with New Zealand resuming its travel bubble with the state of Queensland as of Monday because there have been little of no new infections there. But, unfortunately, the outbreaks in New South Wales continue to be an issue and the lockdown in Sydney continues. Ski areas in New South Wales have been tightening pandemic prevention measures in some areas.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| It’s not looking great midweek with rain rather than snow showers in the forecast again, with periods of strong wind also looking likely. But in the medium term, lower temperatures into the weekend should bring a return of snowy weather. There’s currently some uncertainty but, hopefully, the weekend dumps could be fairly significant
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| New Zealand had one of its better weeks since the season began with generally benign conditions, not too much warm weather and periods of low temperatures, which allowed those with snowmaking systems to pump out more white stuff. There’s been some natural snowfall too, although that remains the thing most missed and still preventing some areas from opening (and many of those that are open from opening much). Mt Hutt (30/230cm / 12/92″) continues to post the deepest snow by some distance thanks to the big storm there seven weeks ago now, which remains the only big snowstorm reported in the Southern Hemisphere all winter. Just a centimetre (a half-inch) of snow reported there in the past week and ‘packed powder’ conditions. It has 32km (20 miles) of runs open but Coronet Peak (35/80cm / 14/32″) is gaining ground now with 30km, or just a mile less, terrain skiable. Most of the country’s ski areas are now open, with Mt Dobson one of the latest to start its 2021 season, but a couple of small club fields are still waiting for more natural snowfall to arrive before opening.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| Temperatures should be staying close to freezing through midweek with the main issue being the potential for strong winds during the next few days for many areas. The weather is expected to stay dry. There’s some hope of the long-awaited ‘big dump’ arriving from the end of this week, continuing through the weekend and into next week with forecast models predicting cumulative totals of 60cm (two feet) or more for some areas, which would really transform things if it plays out like that.
ARGENTINA REPORT| In Argentina more ski areas have been opening but some have been unable to. However, the reason for that this year is more snow than virus related. There’s not been enough snowfall for some areas to open yet. The South American continent’s largest centre, Catedral (25/25cm / 10/10”), near Bariloche, has been open for a week or so but only had a small beginner area open yet. It was able to extend that small area at the weekend thanks to snowmaking, but its main slopes remain closed due to lack of cover. “We want winter as much as we all do, just a little more snow to go,” a resort spokesperson told frustrated local skiers a few days ago. Cerro Bayo (20/80cm / 8/32″) is actually reporting the best snow depth in the country and has about a third of its 12km (8 miles) of runs open. There has already been some limited snowfall though and Chapelco (20/40cm / 8/16”) did decide to open with limited terrain on Sunday, having previously delayed doing so first due to the virus then due to a lack of snow. Caviahue (20/20cm / 8/8”) has also opened with so far the carpet lift at the base and one drag and chair lift open but a plan to open more as fresh snowfall allows. Antillanca (5/30cm / 2/12”) was one of those still not able to open at the weekend though, reporting only 10cm (4”) of snowfall, but then on Monday said it would open with just two lifts, Don Pedro and Flecha, operating. What snow there was earlier this month at Vallecitos has almost all gone with temperatures hitting +10C and sunny skies.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| Another week of mixed conditions ahead with the best chance for snowfall for most areas looking like the final days of this week when 20-40cm (8-16”) accumulations are possible for some areas (best case scenario). Otherwise, a mixture of cloudy and sunny weather through the week with on-mountain temperatures below freezing day and night for most resorts, climbing to 5 degrees above at the base of the mountain.
CHILE REPORT| Like Argentina, most of the ski areas in Chile have now opened for the 2021 season, for many a little later than in a ‘normal’ season but for all much earlier than last winter. For some, such as Nevados de Chillan (20/20cm / 8/8”) and Valle Nevado (35/50cm / 14/20”) it’s actually their first seasons for two years having not opened at all last winter. Valle Nevado is actually reporting the most terrain open in Chile and indeed South America at present, 25km (15 miles) of slopes. Nevados de Chillan, by contrast, has only beginner terrain open at present like Catedral over the border in Argentina. La Parva (25/50cm / 10/20”) was one of the latest areas to open in the past week. There has also been some improvement as operating rules in the pandemic have eased for some resorts. For example, Corralco (30/70cm / 12/28”), initially only allowed to open midweek as a pandemic measure, can now open in certain circumstances at weekends too. It has 10km of runs open. But lack of snowfall continues to be an issue, as in Argentina, despite some fresh in the past week, and the lack of international travel being impossible at present is also impacting ski areas like Portillo, which don’t expect to open until August, if at all now, this season. If they miss the next season that would be three years since last opening, assuming there’s an improved picture by 2022.
CHILE FORECAST| Most ski areas in Chile look set for a week of sunshine, with temperatures below freezing day and night on the ski slopes, but a little warmer down at valley resorts. There is a chance of snowfall for some areas, but not much and not all. Friday looks the best bet for snow with 10-20cm (4-8″) accumulations likely. Long term forecasts point to another fall possible at the start of next week following a sunny weekend.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| There’s been fresh snow falling in southern Africa once more for the start of this week. It’s a year this week since there was any sign of any life at Tiffindell, although it never opened last season and is showing no sign of doing so this. Afriski (20/50cm / 8/20”), in Lesotho, remains fully open though, with the main run now largely complete thanks to snowmaking, as is the Kopoko snowpark. Largely sunny here with temperatures hovering around freezing.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| More sun and little snowfall in the forecast, temperatures hovering a few degrees above and below freezing, so more snowmaking time likely. Hopefully, little thawing will occur.