Issued: 21 July 2021
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
We’re in mid-summer, or mid-winter, depending on which side of the world you’re on. Snow has been falling on most ski slopes in the Southern Hemisphere this past week and most resorts are open now in Australia, New Zealand, South America and southern Africa. Although a few remain closed, including a few famous names like Portillo and Las Lenas; the latter due to there being no snow at all there at present after some promising pre-season dumps.
In terms of snowfall around the world this past week, it has been a much snowier week than previously in July 2021 so far. There were some decent accumulations of 20-40cm in parts of the Andes and in New Zealand but the biggest falls reported have actually been in Australia, where, ironically, ski areas in the state of Victoria have been forced to close for the fifth lockdown there since the pandemic began. Hopefully, resorts will reopen shortly to great powder. There’s even been fresh snow in the Northern Hemisphere, with widespread falls last week above around 2,200m altitude in the Alps.
More unusually there was some snowfall above 2,000m as extreme weather hit Europe at the end of last week. This coincided nicely with Switzerland’s Saas-Fee opening for its 2021-22 ski season on Saturday.
Despite this, we are back to ski areas open on five continents worldwide now, with the last area still known to be operating its lifts in Asia, Gassan in Japan, ending its 2021 season. We’re left with 10 areas open in Europe, one each for Africa and North America, then 50+ now in South America, Australia and New Zealand.
The big news in Europe this past week has been plenty of fresh snowfall. This was perhaps not such good news for centres trying to push their summer hiking and biking programme like Val Thorens, which saw lots of snow above 2,000m but was welcomed once the weather cleared by the nine open summer ski centres, most of which saw fresh snow. Of course, the extremes of weather had much more severe consequences in other parts of Europe. Their number actually increased by one this past week (after dropping by one with Val d’Isere ending its summer ski operations just over a week ago) with Switzerland’s Saas-Fee opening for its 2021-22 ski season through to next spring 2022, the second resort to do so after Austria’s Molltal last month. It means three of the ‘big four’ Alpine ski nations now have two glacier ski areas open each, whilst Austria has three. Skiing and boarding also continue, just about, up in Scandinavia, but we’re down to just one glacier centre and it appears to be on borrowed time.
ALPS REPORT| As mentioned in our Europe introduction, the severe weather that brought flooding and strong winds to parts of Europe also brought snow to some of the continent’s glacier ski areas. Some centres were also closed for periods due to the bad weather though.
There’s not a huge amount of change on 7 days ago, other than that bit of fresh snow against the overall normal summer trend of gradual thawing.
The snow depth figures are continuing to drop quite quickly though in the summer heat and all now below 3 metres (10 feet) with several having been well over 4 metres just a few weeks ago. Austria’s Mölltal Glacier (9/290cm / 0/116″) now has the deepest base of an open area in Europe, overtaking Hintertux (0/254cm / 0/102″) although the latter has one of the biggest areas open on the continent, some 20km of slopes still. Molltal was one of those forced to close due to bad weather at the end of last week and into the weekend. The third open Austrian area, Kitzsteinhorn (0/110cm / 0/44”) has only half a mile (.8km) of slopes open and is coming up to the final weekend of the season.
In France the slopes remain open at les 2 Alpes (0/135cm / 0/54”) and at Tignes (0/150cm / 0/60”) – both with around 20km of slopes skiable.
In Italy, the cable car at Passo Stelvio (0/180cm / 0/72”) has finally got the certification it had been awaiting for over a month to allow it to re-open to everyone, not just people staying in local hotels. It reported fresh snow cover on Friday morning, as did the only other Italian centre currently open, Cervinia (0/150cm / 0/60”), with access to Zermatt’s slopes.
As mentioned, Switzerland’s year-round destination of Zermatt (0/150cm / 0/60″), with 20km of slopes open too and Europe’s highest runs and biggest lift-served summer ski vertical has now been joined by its neighbour Saas-Fee where glacier skiing is also open and new-season ski testing is already underway.
ALPS FORECAST| After the wild weather of the past week, conditions do look to be stabilising and returning to sunshine across the Alps in most cases. Temperatures down in the valleys will of course be hot, 15-25 degrees above freezing. But it should be closer to freezing up at 3,000 metres, though some thawing will no doubt continue and the usual rule of best conditions earlier in the morning will apply. Some light snow is possible on some glaciers at nighttime depending on local climatic conditions.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| Both Norway’s Fonna and Galdhøpiggen glaciers have decided to call it a day on their 2021 seasons as the snow has melted from the underlying ice on their slopes. In Fonna’s case the closure comes perhaps six weeks earlier than they might hope – mid-July rather than late August which is makes it to some years. It was reported in the middle of last week that the terrain still skiable was no longer suitable to beginners and intermediates and that the remaining snow was thawing fast. By the weekend it said conditions had improved but there was plenty of blue ice showing through and that this would probably be the final opening for the general public, although it would stay open longer for ski teams. Since then it has announced a slight season extension but looks set to close now any day. Its base was Europe’s deepest for an open area back from April-June but has thawed fast in recent weeks and months and it follows the short-opened Stryn summer ski centre in closing earlier than might be hoped. Norway’s other still open ski area, its highest altitude centre at Galdhøpiggen (20/100cm / 8/40″) announced a more sudden closure at the weekend after the snow went “at record speed.” It hope to re-open in mid-September if conditions allow by then.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| There’s a largely sunny week ahead at Galdhøpiggen with temperatures down below freezing overnight but climbing to 5-15 degrees above freezing in the daytime. So ongoing thawing looks likely which may impact operations moving forward.
NORTH AMERICA REPORT| The Palmer snowfield at Timberline, in Oregon, remains the only area open to everyone in North America. It’s been another sunny week there, and the centre no longer publishes summer snow depth information. But everything remains open and temperatures do appear to have cooled a little compared to the end of June and the start of this month. That said, the resort has been warning of exceptional dryness and extreme wildfire risk in the area at present, asking everyone to be vigilant. The slopes are open until 9.30 am to teams for training, then to the general public for the remainder of the morning through to 2 pm, the centre’s terrain park is also open. Talking of terrain parks the continent’s only other lift-accessed outdoor terrain park continues for those camping at the Woodward facility at Copper Mountain in Colorado. The snow is surrounded by greenery and gradually thawing away, but for now, remains usable.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST| Yet another week of full-on sunshine ahead with no real sign of clouds on the horizon. Temperatures somewhere between the 50s and higher 60s Fahrenheit which will continue to impact snow cover. The centre aims to stay open to early September if it can.
ASIA INTRO| The double chairlift at Gassan in Japan is still operating and the centre reports a 1.5 metre (five feet) base up high but they are also saying the T Bar used to access the ski slope is no longer operational this season, which points to the season being over for all but ski tourers. The 1.5 metres reported snow depth also doesn’t seem to have been updated for a month now, despite temperatures in the 20s Celsius / 70s Fahrenheit, which seems odd after the regular decline in the 10-metre base they opened with in April over the first two months of the season. All in all, though, we think the last lift-accessed slopes still open in Asia in 2021 are now closed.
ASIA FORECAST| Dry weather in the forecast for Gassan with plenty of sunshine and temperatures around +15 to +25 Celcius.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRO| There’s been some fresh snowfall for parts of South America, southern Africa and in New Zealand but the biggest dump of the past week, and indeed the past month, have been reported in Australia where accumulations of over half-a-metre (20 inches) were reported by the weekend in what is an ongoing series of snowstorms. Unfortunately, not all areas have been able to enjoy it with ski areas in the state of Victoria currently in a five-day lockdown due to the virus, closing centres just as the snow arrived. Some areas in New Zealand have had small to moderate snowfalls but here the storms have been more of a mixed bag again, with damaging wind and rain mixed in.
In South America, more areas have been opening and those already open have added more terrain, but here too snow cover is a big issue. Although most resorts, including some of the biggest like Argentina’s Catedral and Chile’s Valle Nevado are open (albeit with limited terrain), several others are not. Among them is Argentina’s Las Lenas, where the cam images reveal absolutely no snow, along with Chile’s Portillo, which has some snow but is yet to confirm an opening date. Neither opened at all in 2020 but pandemic restrictions wouldn’t allow them to at this point in the season last winter anyway.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| It has been the best week of the season so far in Australia in one way, snowfall. But the worst in another, pandemic closure. After some light snowfall midweek, it really started dumping in Australia on Thursday night and it hasn’t really stopped since. But that’s the same period that ski resorts in the state of Victoria have initially been told they have to stay closed. The snow has kept falling and the country’s largest area, Perisher (40/80cm / 16/32”), was the first in the world to report more than 50km of slopes open since ski areas in the Northern Hemisphere shortly before they closed in early May. A resort spokesperson said Saturday was the best of the season so far with 40cm (16”) of snowfall by then, and it was still dumping. However, continuing snowfall later in the weekend and at the start of this week has allowed Perisher and other areas outside Victoria to open more and more terrain for those lucky enough to be able to reach it, with fresh powder stashes too. 5-10cm more was reported by many areas on Tuesday. Ben Lomond, down in Tasmania, was one of those reporting a fresh snowstorm blowing in.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| The snowfall is likely to ease through the middle of the week but is expected to ramp up again at the weekend, improving conditions still further. Cloudy but dry weather through the middle of this week will turn wetter from Friday with precipitation quickly turning to snowfall above about 1650 metres altitude, then heavy snowfall is forecast over the weekend.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| The snow situation in New Zealand continues to improve with many areas posting small to moderate snowfalls in the last seven days. On Thursday Treble Cone (30/60cm / 12/24”), which had had to delay opening last month several times due to limited snow cover and then opened with very limited terrain, opened its key Saddle terrain after a 25cm (10”) fresh accumulation. By Friday, the snowfall across many of the country’s ski areas was being driven in on strong winds and several centres closed reporting blizzard conditions and very low visibility. Once again, it wasn’t all snow either with many centres reporting periods of rain too, and once again the storm caused logistical impacts such as landslips on access roads, in some cases. Conditions have definitely picked up at many New Zealand ski areas though following a fresh weekend storm. Some reported “wet snow” but Mt Dobson (60/118cm / 60/120”) said they had 25cm (10”) of light, untouched powder. “Fantastic skiing and riding …with unlimited visibility,” they reported. The country’s biggest ski centre by some measures, Mt Ruapehu on the North Island, with Whakapapa (45/25 / 18/10″) and Turoa (35/55cm / 14/22″) areas, is still struggling to open much terrain due to thin cover there.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| A more wintery feel over the coming week although daytime base temperatures are still 4-8 degrees above freezing. Colder up on the slopes and overnight though, with moderate snowfalls forecast around Thursday then at the weekend for many areas in the South Island. On the North Island snow is also expected Thursday but with the next fall hopefully on Monday, perhaps heavier than on the South Island
ARGENTINA REPORT| The good news for Argentina’s skiers and boarders is that the country’s largest ski resort by uplift, Catedral (30/20cm / 12/8”), near the famous ski town of Bariloche, was finally able to open some of its chairlifts and drag lifts to provide some terrain for skiers above novice level thanks to some fresh snowfall last week. From Thursday it had half-a-dozen slopes open although it still has only a fraction of its lifts running and terrain open. Unusually for ski areas in general, although less so for Catedral, there’s more snow lying on the lower mountain than on higher slopes. It’s not unusual as the centres which have opened so far, most have very little snow cover and only a few kilometres/miles of runs open. In the former category Cerro Bayo (5/80cm / 2/32″) has the deepest base, on its higher slopes at least, and Chapelco (5/20cm / 2/8″) the most terrain open in the country, a whole 6km (3.5 miles). There’s less good news in the south with another of the country’s leading resorts, Las Lenas, which did not open at all last winter but has been hoping to open this season for a month now. There’s still absolutely no snow there and temperatures are 10 degrees above freezing under full sun in the afternoons, so a big change in the weather is needed here.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| Mixed weather for Argentina’s northern mountains with temperatures fluctuation around zero and some sunny, some cloudy days. Things look like they should get more exciting for resorts like Catedral towards the weekend when some good snowfalls should begin. Alas, for snowless Las Lenas though the forecast brings no signs of better times ahead with more days of non-stop sunshine expected and temperatures rarely getting down to freezing, mostly 1-10 degrees above.
CHILE REPORT| Some, but not much, fresh snowfall in Chile over the past week. Most, but not all, areas are now open there, which is a big improvement from last winter when the pandemic’s first wave stopped any opening until mid-August and many never opened at all. Antillanca (30/50cm / 12/20″) is one of the latest centres to open for the season in Chile, saying it is now open every day after starting its 20-21 season at the weekend. As with all South American centres, it notes limited lift capacity, limited terrain open and that it is essential to book your day pass for a specific day online and in advance. Of the areas that have been open a few weeks now, Valle Nevado (35/50cm / 14/20”) is posting the most terrain open with 25km (16 miles) of runs skiable and Corralco (30/70cm / 12/28″). That general lack of snow continues to be a bigger issue than pandemic restrictions for some centres in the country. Lagunillas is one in this category, issuing a statement to say they were sorry they could not open as they have no snow and await a good snowfall. One of the country’s best-known resorts, Portillo, remains closed until at least the end of the month. It’s got some snow but wants more and is also hoping a plan to re-open international borders from 1st August will come to fruition.
CHILE FORECAST| There’s no sign of any fresh snowfall for ski areas in Chile over the coming week, on the contrary, wall-to-wall sunshine is forecast with temperatures ranging about 6 or 7 degrees on either side of freezing. Cold enough for overnight snowmaking at resorts that have it. Alas, the forecast for Lagunillas so far offers no hope, with temperatures between freezing and ten degrees above and continuing warm, dry, full sun conditions every day.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| There was enough snow cover to build some quite substantial snowmen in many parts of South Africa’s Western Cape in the latter half of last week. But, as far we’ve been able to ascertain, the country’s one commercial ski field, Tiffindell, remains closed, with no response to enquiries and no updates on its website or social media for over a year now, sadly. It’s a much happier picture over the border in Lesotho where the Afriski centre (20/50cm / 8/20”) remains open and has its main ruin complete and its terrain park operational as well as beginner runs and most other facilities.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| After the snowy weather for parts of southern Africa at the end of last week, we’re looking at predominantly sunny weather for the next few days, overnight below freezing, a few degrees into positive numbers in the daytime. Things look like they’ll get much colder and possibly snowy later in the week and at the weekend.