Issued: 08 September 2021
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
With September and (by the meteorological measure of time) springtime here, it’s the last full month of winter 2021 in the southern hemisphere, although some centres stay open into October, even November in a few cases. In Australia, lockdown extensions are taking us very close to what would be the end of the season anyway, to the great frustration of ski areas that have had more fresh snow and report their slopes in perfect condition.
For New Zealand, it’s a brighter picture with ski areas able to re-open from the 8th, so many should see a month more of skiing, with conditions generally among the best they’ve been all season. They are not quite back to where they were before the lockdown though as mask-wearing and indoor social distancing will be required for the first time in more than a year for the ski centres.
All ski areas that want to be open remain open in South America although the first there have started shutting down at the ends of their 2021 seasons, which to be fair have been around twice as long as those of 2020. Many others will close over the next few weeks. The big surprise has been Portillo opening for the 2021 season, having previously said it wouldn’t be open at all, with just weeks of the season left.
In the northern hemisphere, we’re inching closer to the main launch of the 21-22 season for glacier resorts, with the first new opening for months due next week in Italy, then more following in Austria, Switzerland and France as well as up in Scandinavia in coming weeks.
In North America, there’s been more fresh snowfall up high but the ski world’s focus has been on fire season rather than snow, with a massive forest fire that impacted Sierra-at-Tahoe a week ago moving on to Heavenly and Kirkwood.
There was more high-altitude snow, above around 2,500 metres, in the Alps over the past week. Among the ski area not yet open to report snow up high at the end of last week were St Anton am Arlberg, in Austria and the Zugspitze glacier above Garmisch in Germany. There was also some snow at lower levels in Scotland, but that was made by a TechnoAlpin Snowfactory at The Lecht for a weekend freestyle event.
Excitement is building as more glacier areas prepare to open, with several in Austria announcing they’re going to open sooner the planned due to all the fresh snowfall up high over the past few weeks. The first of them, Solden, this coming weekend.
Up in Scandinavia, Galdhoppigen is expected to re-open in the next week or so (last year it was September 14th), having closed through the hottest months of summer, but so far no update. Levi and Ruka, up in Lapland, are expected to open for their 21-22 seasons at the start of October.
ALPS REPORT| It’s been a sunny few days in the Alps after some cloudy, stormy weather at the end of last week closed some centres for a day or two. The Molltal glacier, currently closed for skiing but hopefully reopening the next few weeks, was closed for three days straight.
We begin the week with four ski areas open, as has been the case for over a month now, but the good news is that Solden announced on Monday it will open for the season this Friday 10th September, to join Hintertux (0/105 / 0/42”) as the second Austrian and second Tirol area opening. It is actually opening more than three weeks earlier than previously hoped, in October, and more than six weeks ahead of its staging of the opening 21-22 season World Cup races. It may be a statement that Austrian skiing is back for 21-22! Hintertux currently still has the most terrain open in the Alps, 20km (13 miles) of runs.
A third Austrian Tirol area, the highest, Pitztal, has brought its opening forward by a week and plans to open a week on Friday, the 17th.
Elsewhere, in Italy Passo Stelvio (0/150cm / 0/60”), remains open with 6km (4 miles) of runs open. Cervinia (0/150cm / 0/60”) stays open until mid-September providing access to the Plateau Rosa skiing share with Zermatt (0/150cm / 0/60”) across the Swiss borderline. Another Italian area, Val Senales, is scheduled to open the weekend after next.
Besides Zermatt, Saas-Fee (0/270cm / 0/108″) is the other Swiss area currently open, although with only 6km (4 miles) of slopes reported skiable at present. It still has the world’s deepest reported snow depth at present.
No French resorts are expected to open this month, with Les 2 Alpes and Tignes both targeting October start dates.
ALPS FORECAST| The current good weather is set to continue for the week ahead in the Alps with mostly sunny days, temperatures up high a few degrees below freezing overnight, plus temperatures in the daytime, but just a degree or two above freezing.
NORTH AMERICA INTRO| There has been more snow at higher elevations in North America, particularly up at northerly latitudes, and it’s probable the start of the 21-22 season is now only a month away with resorts like Keystone and A-Basin aiming to open as soon as possible in October. But currently, there’s no lift-accessed skiing open in the state.
However, the main ski focus of the past week has been the intense and massive Caldor forest fire, in California, which has threatened three ski areas in the past week, Heavenly, Kirkwood and Sierra-at-Tahoe, leading local communities to be evacuated. Many other Californian ski areas shut down and sent people and heavy machinery to help. Fortunately, the three ski areas have survived the fire as far as can be ascertained.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST| Remaining largely warm and sunny in most of western North America. Some precipitation is likely at the weekend when temperatures should be cooler.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE INTRODUCTION
We are into the final weeks of the 2021 season for many centres in the southern hemisphere, although some will hopefully have as much as a month more. Most regions have reported some more fresh snowfall in the past seven days but at this point, it’s really about ensuring there is enough snow lying to see out the season. That said a bit of springtime powder never goes amiss.
The main concern for some centres remains whether they’ll be abler to open at all. New Zealand got good news on Monday, that resort’s can re-open from Wednesday this week after nearly three weeks in lockdown. For Australian areas, though things look less promising with lockdowns in the main ski states there looking set to last to very near what would be the end of the normal season.
In South America, there’s a definite end of the season feel with many of the continent’s ski areas likely to close this coming weekend or the one after and the season has already ended in southern Africa.
AUSTRALIA REPORT| Sadly, the mood has got progressively gloomier over the past week in Australia with no real end in sight to lockdowns in the two main ski states of New South Wales and Victoria. This is whilst spring snow conditions are reported to be excellent (after more fresh snowfall over the past week) but time is running out as spring takes hold. Interviews with resort managers in Australian media indicate optimism is waning. Staff have had to be laid off and hopes for being able to re-open in time are declining. In New South Wales. there are requests for federal financial assistance for shut ski areas. The closures here have been more prolonged during 2021 than those of 2020 now. In Victoria, the government has said they hope to ease lockdown after 23rd September, the target date for having 70% of the population at least having had the first dose of the vaccine, but they’ve also said that the state’s largest city, Melbourne, which is a big supplier of clients to the ski slopes, will stay in lockdown into October. With most Australian ski areas usually closing in late September or early October for the season in a normal year that doesn’t sound good. Whilst all the big centres, several of which had had the most terrain open of anywhere in the world for most of the past few months (Perisher was the only one worldwide to report more than 60km (37 miles) of slopes open since early May), are in New South Wales or Victoria one ski region remains open, Tasmania. The problem is, there’s not very much snow there this season.
“Plenty of Tasmanians have been doing snow dances to get the ski season underway, and with Covid closing all ski fields on mainland Australia and in New Zealand we were all hoping that Mt Mawson might have the unique distinction of being the ski resort open in Australasia this weekend. Unfortunately, this season the weather has refused to play ball, with insufficient southwesterly weather to allow the snow base to build up,” a statement from the centre, which reported just 10cm (4”) of snow lying and temperatures hitting +17C at the weekend.
It was a similar story from Ben Lomond (10/30 / 4/12”), which did manage to open limited terrain in the past week, but very limited, snow play and a beginner’s area. They were able to make snow over the weekend thanks to cool temperatures and say they plan to stay open until October 10th.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| The rest of this week will see generally fine weather but fresh snowfall is expected to start to move in from Friday with heavier snowfalls at the weekend.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| In contrast to Australia there is excitement in New Zealand as ski areas re-open. The country, apart from Auckland, moved down to level 3 from its highest level 4 alert at the start of the month and now it’s at 2, which means ski areas can reopen. An initial three-day lockdown to a nearly three-week-long one, to try to suppress an outbreak of the Delta variant in the country. While things have been quiet in terms of updates from Australian areas, for New Zealand there were regular updates from ski areas across the country, mostly stressing they had staff on site prepping for reopening day.
Most of the country’s larger centres have 3-5 weeks of the normal season left, although centres on Mt Ruapehu, on the North Island, usually stay open to late October or November. For most, conditions are currently among the best they’ve been all winter. Level 2 does not yet quite mean a return to pre-pandemic type life though, which New Zealand had enjoyed for much of the past 18 months. Instead, it is more like much of the rest of the world at present. Face coverings will be required when in buildings and riding lifts, scanning in is mandatory, skiers should keep to their bubbles, and there are physical distancing requirements in rentals, restaurants and ski school.
So as centres re-open, how’s the snow looking after three weeks without use? Well, the good news is it has kept snowing and almost all areas now have at least 60cm (two feet) of snow lying on lower slopes and over a metre (40″) up above. Temple Basin (50/250cm / 20/100”) has the deepest snow lying up high, overtaking Mt Hutt (50/245cm / 20/98”) which has been posting the deepest base for three months up to now, following a huge pre-season storm. It has 40km (25 miles) of runs open though still, one of the biggest areas in the world at present
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| It is looking increasingly cold and snowy for the week ahead in New Zealand, with centres on the North Island likely to see moderate to significant snowfalls daily, potentially totalling several feet (60cm) by Sunday. The snow arriving slightly later on the South Island, temperatures below freezing day and night so a nice taste of winter to mark the season restart.
ARGENTINA REPORT| We’re probably into the last week or two of the season in Argentina now. Temperatures will be warming up soon and there’s not much snow lying still. That said, it has been cold and snowing again in the last few days, so it’s a good end to the season! Chapelo (10/40cm / 4/16”) may not be reporting much snow cover but does have one of the largest amounts of terrain open anywhere in the world at present, with 35km (22 miles), about 75% of its total terrain. The continent’s largest area by uplift, Catedral (25/35cm / 10/14”), has 20km of runs open including some longer runs on the upper mountain. Caviahue (100/180cm / 40/72”) has the deepest reported base in South America.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| After a midweek spike in temperatures, climbing up to double-figures above freezing, a fresh front will move in around Thursday with snow forecast for many Argentinian areas through the weekend with temperatures plummeting to well below freezing.
CHILE REPORT| A slightly dramatic week for resort news in Chile over the past seven days with the surprise announcement that Portillo has opened for its 2021 season, some 23 months after it last operated in autumn 2019. The surprise was because the resort had said it wouldn’t open at all for a second winter in a row last month after international borders were kept closed. However, a big dump of around 75cm (30″) of snowfall in the recent big storm that finally hit the Andes appeared to mean they could not resist turning the lifts on for locals, with day passes on sale. Four lifts, Plateau, Las Lomas, Princesa and School 3 are open and skiers and boarders must complete Chile’s ‘traceability form’ in order to be able to hit the slopes. The resort’s famous yellow hotel and its services (swimming pool, gym, etc.) do remain closed.
In less good news, a second Chilean ski area, Lagunillas in the San José region, has closed for their season three weeks earlier than expected just as Portillo opens. A resort statement described the past 2021 winter as “short but beautiful.”
The weather has been quite changeable over the past few days with springlike conditions seeing temperatures climbing five degrees on either side of freezing. Quite a few areas saw very low temperatures and snowfall on Tuesday, but it’s back to warmer, sunnier weather for most now. A few light snowfalls but it has been predominantly dry. Base depths remain fairly uninspiring, with nowhere in the country reporting more than a metre (40”) of snow lying even on upper runs. Nevados de Chillan (49/98cm / 19/39”) has the deepest reported base and by far its best numbers of the season to date. Corralco (30/70cm / 12/28”) has the best numbers for terrain open with 25km (16 miles) of runs, almost its entire area.
CHILE FORECAST| The sunny weather should continue for most until the weekend with springlike conditions again, temperatures yo-yoing around the freezing point day and night. The weekend should bring colder, more mixed weather with fresh snowfall for some.