Issued: 01 September 2021
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
Another week of lockdowns and some fresh snowfall north and south of the equator as the Southern Hemisphere’s ski season enters springtime and its final weeks, whilst the Northern Hemisphere sees the start of autumn by the meteorological measure of the season. September is also the month when the number of ski areas open in the Alps starts to climb again ending the long decline from April to August.
Snowfall has been reported on four continents in the last seven days, with the picture in the Andes, for the final weeks of South America’s 2021 season, looking better than it has all winter. There’s been fresh snow in Australia and New Zealand too. Although, like almost all ski areas, they have been closed for another week by ongoing lockdowns. It is hard to know whether it will be worth getting excited, about the condition of the snow, when lockdowns lift. We’ve had more snow in the North American Rockies and in the European Alps up high, raising anticipation for the current season too.
Elsewhere in the world, the ski season at Lesotho in southern Africa has come to an end, taking the number of continents with ski lifts currently operating down to just three: Europe, Australasia/Oceania and South America.
Another week that has seen some more light fresh snowfall on alpine glaciers, both currently operational and ready to open in the next 2-6 weeks, which is raising anticipation. There are about a dozen glacier or high-latitude ski areas due to open between mid-September and mid-October in the Alps and Scandinavia and all continue to build up to opening day, counting down – 50 – 540 – 30n or just 15 days to go to the start of their 21-22 ski seasons. Some, in countries that were in lockdown last winter, say they have been reassured by governments that won’t happen again this year.
The last glacier summer ski area open in Scandinavia has now closed so we have removed this section until centres start to reopen there in the autumn.
ALPS REPORT| It’s definitely been getting colder in the Alps with glaciers posting images of snowfall every morning since the end of last week. Initially, it is just a dusting each morning but good to see things are moving in the right direction, if not yet with quite so much snowfall as we saw at the end of August 2020.
It has been a mostly sunny week, although with some low cloud at times bringing the light snowfall later in the day to the high alpine. There’s no real change in reported snow depths from a week ago and hopefully, it won’t be long until these numbers start growing again with the spring/summer thaw ending and (we hope) more significant autumn snowfall.
We have four glacier ski areas currently open, with no change on the situation seven days ago. All ski areas are closed until October in France (when Les 2 Alpes and Tignes are due to open) but Italy’s Passo Stelvio (0/150cm / 0/60”), due to stay open to the end of October, remains open and you can still access Europe’s highest glacier slopes above Zermatt (0/150cm / 0/60”) from Cervinia (0/150cm / 0/60”). It claims the largest amount of terrain open in the Northern Hemisphere at present, 21km (13 miles). Italy will have a second ski centre open in less than a fortnight now with Val Senales scheduled to open the weekend after next. Apart from Zermatt, the ski slopes at Saas Fee (0/270cm / 0/108”) are also open and in Austria the year-round slopes of Hintertux (0/105cm / 0/42”) remain open too.
ALPS FORECAST| Sunnier weather but fairly cool up at 3000 metres, getting below freezing overnight, a few degrees above in the afternoon. Much warmer down in the valleys. Towards the weekend some precipitation is possible, rain at lower elevations but possibly snow in glaciers, although at this stage it’s not looking like any huge falls yet
NORTH AMERICA INTRO| It’s, unfortunately, a mixture of smoke as well as snow reports from some western North American ski areas this week with huge forest fires continuing to rage in multiple ski states and provinces across the continent. It feels odd to see the sky orange in webcam pictures and the weather report just saying, “smoke”. A number of ski areas around South Lake Tahoe, in California, are reported to be under evacuation order with fires getting dangerously close. One area, Sierra-at-Tahoe, has had a forest fire burn through but appears to have survived relatively unscathed after using its snowmaking guns to soak everything with water.
With Timberline, in Oregon, having closed a few weeks earlier than the planned end of the season next Monday, there remains nowhere with lift-served skiing open in North America at present. But there have been more dustings of fresh snow reported on high peaks, particularly in the northern Rockies with more snowfall for Sunshine, near Banff, continuing to build excitement. Images of people making turns on snow were posted but it is unclear if they were skiing the fresh August snow or if these were old images and video.
In any case, it is hopefully now a little more than a month until the start of North America’s 21-22 season, with a number of them targeting early next month for their opening day, although they’ve yet to name a date. One of them, Keystone in Colorado, issued this statement last week.
“Skiing in October has a nice ring to it! With our recent snowmaking investment and a little magic from mother nature we’re planning to open as early as possible in October.”
In other North American news for the upcoming season, the country’s largest operator, Vail Resorts, say they do not currently expect to have to repeat the position of autumn 2020 when only season pass holders could book slope access in the first weeks of the season up to December.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST| After the recent snowfall it’s looking a little warmer unfortunately as we enter fall and there’s no real likelihood of more snowfall over the next few days. Temperatures are set to be 5-10 degrees above freezing point and the weather is largely sunny in the western US over the next few days at least.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRODUCTION
It has been another snowy week in the Southern Hemisphere with heavy snow again in the Andes; further great news after two months of almost no snow. Accumulations of up to 60cm (two feet) in the past few days have been reported and ski areas have gone from not having enough snow, to being able to open, to warnings of high avalanche danger due to all the snow suddenly arriving. There’s been more snow, if not those sorts of volumes, in Australia and New Zealand too. Although here there’s more a feeling of frustration than excitement with the recent lockdowns having closed all ski areas in New Zealand and most in Australia extended for at least another week, longer for sure in the case of New South Wales. There has even been some snowfall for southern Africa where the 2021 season ended on Sunday.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| There’s no sign of ski areas in Australia being able to open in the near future, indeed New South Wales have now extended the lockdown which is keeping resorts like Perisher closed there until at least 10th September. But, so far, no ski area has announced they’re giving up on the season, which typically runs to late September or early October and it keeps snowing. Indeed, the irony of having some of the best conditions in years when no one is allowed on the slopes has not been lost on Australian media. In Victoria, where most of the rest of the country’s ski areas are located, at the time of writing, the lockdown is currently scheduled until 11.59 pm on Thursday 2 September, raising slight hopes of skiing there this weekend. Most ski areas have posted 10-20cm (4-8”) of snowfall in the past week, but Thredbo has had 30cm (a foot) since Thursday last week. Mt Hotham (45/120cm / 18/48”) has the country’s deepest base, Perisher (35/80cm / 14/32”) the most terrain open in the country (and the world) when allowed to open. Only Tasmania remains open for lift-accessed skiing at Ben Lomond, which has also reported some fresh snowfall.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| After the recent snowfall and then a cloudy few days at the start of this week most Australian ski areas should see the sunshine through the remainder of this week and into the start of September. Temperatures could get very warm in the daytime, double-digits above freezing, so not good news for the snowpack. But, alas, dropping back to freezing overnight.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| New Zealand’s ski areas have now completed a fortnight in lockdown and while (at time of publication of this report), most of the country, including areas with ski centres, are moving to the lower ‘Level 3’ operations rules under the pandemic from the highest level 4, that still prohibits snowsports and self-guided skiing tours. These definitely don’t fall under the low-risk level 3 recreation threshold. This is only made more dangerous by the pause of mountain operations. Reports in New Zealand media are quoting ski area management starting to question whether it will be worthwhile re-opening at all even if allowed to later in the month, with only a few weeks of the standard season remaining. There’s frustration as lockdown has come just as the country sees the best conditions of the season after a challenging first few months of winter 2021. Resorts have been reporting up to 60cm (two feet) of snowfall from further snowstorms over the past week. So, if they can re-open where are the best conditions? Well, it’s looking good almost everywhere. Mt Hutt (40/240cm / 16/96″) continues to post the deepest base in the world at present and just about has the most terrain available anywhere too (so long as Australia’s Perisher remains closed) with about 40km (2w5 miles) of runs. But snow depths have been increasing on Mt Ruapehu where Whakapapa (65/105cm / 26/42″) and Turoa (75/176cm / 30/70”) tend to stay open latest in the country and in the Southern Hemisphere, to the latter half of October or even November. So, they are perhaps the best bet for the season’s final weeks and months.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| It is looking sunny across the country for at least the first five days of September. Temperatures should be in the range of five degrees on either side of freezing so hopefully, there should not be much negative impact on the snow base.
ARGENTINA REPORT| There’s been lots more fresh snowfall in Argentina for a second successive week. Caviahue (100/180cm / 40/72″) has had the most with 59cm (two feet) of snowfall in the past five days. It’s the first and only South American ski area to report the snow lying a metre (40″) deep even on lower slopes; most haven’t reached that figure for their higher slopes still. The country and the continent’s largest area (by uplift), Cerro Catedral, near Bariloche (55/65cm / 22/26″), is also in its best shape of the season to date with 50cm (20″) more snowfall and a sudden change from warning that there’s not enough snow cover, to opening the upper mountain, to warning run opening will be delayed due to high avalanche danger. The country’s other best-known ski area of Las Lenas continues to look like it won’t be opening for a second successive season, despite fabulous conditions now, after a two-month drought. Webcam images show perfect snow freshly groomed, but no lifts are running and there are just pictures of children sledging on lower slopes.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| After a snowy few days to start the new week it’s looking like a few days respite now with sunny skies to enjoy the snow. But more is forecast for later in the week. That said though temperatures are set to climb up towards double figures, particularly in valleys, which may start to have a springtime impact on the snow during the day. The season in Argentina usually ends in the latter half of September in most areas anyway.
CHILE REPORT| Ever better conditions are reported in Chile despite a return to warmer conditions at the weekend. The snow that accumulated in the last week or two of August after two months of nothing has really transformed things, and there’s been more snowfall in the past week too. El Colorado (30/60cm / 12/24”) and La Parva (15/35cm / 6/14”) both reported about 40cm (16”) of fresh snow in the latter half of last week. Some got a little more snowfall at the weekend but for most, it has been dry over the past few days. Among the news for the past seven days is that the Lagunillas ski centre was able to open at the weekend thanks to all the snowfall, “We finally open!!!” was the euphoric message from the centre’s operators. Antillanca (40/130cm / 16/52″) is one of the first in the Andes to report a snow depth of more than a metre, it has about half of its 22km (14 miles) of slopes open. All that excitement at the recent snowfall aside, we remain in a pandemic season with limited numbers allowed on the slopes, most centres opening limited days each week and only opening small 10-20% parts of their terrain, even now they do finally have the snow to be able to open more were it viable to do so. Valle Nevado (40/80cm / 16/32”) has the most terrain open in the country at present with 20km (13 miles). That actually puts it in the world top five for terrain open currently. Portillo remains closed and will miss its second full season.
CHILE FORECAST| The dry, sunny weather that has returned is expected to continue for most of this week. However, although its springtime temperatures are not expected to get above freezing and indeed drop back well below overnight, so hopefully little of the long-awaited snow gains of recent weeks will be lost again. The end of the week and the start of next looks more promising for changeable weather and potentially more snowfall.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| The ski season in southern Africa came to an end on Sunday with Afriski (20/50cm / 8/20”) ending its season on schedule and with the added bonus of a light dusting of snow overnight on Friday just ahead of the final weekend. Cold enough temperatures and improved snowmaking meant it was able to keep its main run operational all season. Alas, the Tiffindell ski area, over the border in South Africa, doesn’t appear to have opened at all and there’s no update from there for the second year in a row.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| Afriski will be able to watch the snow melt now, but with no huge rise in temperatures forecast, it’s likely it will take a while.