Issued: 06 October 2021
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
We’re back to ski areas open on four continents with the first ski centre reported to have opened in China for the 21-22 ski season. This will kick off the winter, when the country will host the next Winter Olympics, in less than four months’ time.
After a few stalled weeks when glacier areas in the Alps delayed opening and there wasn’t much to report from Scandinavia either, things are looking much more promising with several Austrian and Swiss glaciers announcing they’ll be opening later this week and Finland’s 21-22 season also due to get underway.
In North America after a long, hot summer and with fires still burning in many mountain regions, there has been a turn of the seasons with snowfall reported on higher slopes across the west. In some regions, like western Alberta, it’s just the latest of many modest snowfalls over the past month: ski areas are due to start opening here in less than four weeks’ time.
As we enter October, the second month of spring in the southern hemisphere, most ski areas have now closed for the 2021 season. Just a handful of resorts remain open in the Andes (where the few ski resorts still open in the Andes reported fresh snowfall at the weekend) and Australia, but more in New Zealand where some centres have announced extended season to the end of the month and for some, hopefully, into November.
In terms of the pandemic, the governments of more and more ski nations in Europe have made statements that their ski areas will be open to tourism this winter, with pandemic operating precautions remaining in place of course. It looks like being double vaccinated will be a major advantage.
After only small snowfalls up high in September (compared to 2020) it’s an improving picture in the Alps with more and in many areas heavier fresh snowfall to start this week. Another three centres (so far) have announced plans to open for the season this weekend, taking us back into double figures for the numbers open for the first time since July. It’s also looking colder and snowier for the week ahead. Up in Scandinavia, the Galdhopiggen summer ski area in Norway has also re-opened for the first time since July, and two of Finland’s largest ski areas will open their 21-22 seasons this weekend thanks to snowfarming. Elsewhere in Europe, it’s a typical early-autumn picture with increasing reports of snow coverings up high including in the Pyrenees and on mountain ranges in Eastern Europe too.
AUSTRIA REPORT| Things had stalled a little in the Austrian Alps after the promising start to September when the Solden (0/45cm / 0/18”) and Pitztal (0/15 / 0/6”) glaciers opened earlier than planned due to early snowfall. There were some light accumulations since but nothing significant and the Stubai still hasn’t opened, which only happens one year in five they say.
They have now named the day though, this Friday 8th October, and the Kitzsteinhorn glacier above Kaprun also says it will open then. The Molltal glacier, which had been temporarily closed also says it will re-open, meaning seven Austrian glaciers will be open from the weekend. After a largely dry week, the weather is also changing with more snowfall on the way. Solden says it has more than 34km (21 miles) of runs open with the link between the Rettenbach and Tiefenbach Glaciers reopening last Friday as it prepares to host the first Alpine World Cup races of the 21-22 Olympic season in just over a fortnight’s time. That’s the largest area open anywhere at present. Hintertux (0/90cm / 0/36”) has 23km of slopes open and Kaunertal (90/490cm / 0/16”) is also open. Pitztal reported Norwegian racer Henrik Kristoffersen was training there last week.
AUSTRIA FORECAST| It’s looking more changeable in the Austrian Alps over the coming week. The weather will turn increasingly wintery down to lower elevations by Wednesday/Thursday with widespread snowfall in the mountains. The weather should clear with warmer temperatures by the weekend but staying cold at altitude.
SWITZERLAND REPORT| After nearly three months of having Saas Fee (0/155cm / 0/62”) or Zermatt (0/150cm / 0/60”) as the two ski areas open to choose from in Switzerland, October is set to see up to six more Swiss glacier areas open by the end of the month. First up on the list of new additions is Engelberg which has announced that its Titlis glacier ski area will be opening for the season this weekend. Conditions should be good for opening day with fresh snowfall on Swiss glaciers to start this week.
SWITZERLAND FORECAST| Snowfall should continue at higher elevations into the middle of this week and by Wednesday/Thursday extend down to valleys as temperatures drop. Warmer and drier over the weekend but with overnight lows remaining at or below freezing in the mountains.
FRANCE REPORT|France remains the only one of the big four alpine nations with no ski slopes open as we enter October. Tignes has further reduced its operation, which once saw it open year-round then always aiming to be open for at least part of every month of the year, to give up on August and September opening having missed its September opening date for several years now. Les 2 Alpes may be the first to open lift-served slopes in France, from 12th October, but this will initially be for pre-booked race teams only. Tignes aims to open to all in just over a week’s time, on the 16th and then Les 2 Alpes will be open to all for two weeks from the 23rd. This week has had a wintery start in French mountains with the country’s highest resort, Val Thorens, posting -3C on Tuesday morning.
FRANCE FORECAST|It’s a rainy start to the week in the French Alps and that should continue to Wednesday/Thursday with the likelihood of snow at higher elevations. Warmer, drier and sunnier from Thursday on.
ITALY REPORT|Similar conditions to the rest of the Alps this past week, with snow at higher elevations to start the week, at Italy’s two open areas, Passo Stelvio (0/155cm / 0/62”), which has 6km (4 miles) of runs open and Val Senales (0/80cm / 0/32″), which has under 2km (1 mile) of groomed runs.Cervinia is due to re-open access to the joint glacier area shared with Zermatt on the 16th , the weekend after next.
ITALY FORECAST|The snowy conditions should last to midweek with subzero temperatures down to the valleys overnight, daytime highs of 4-8C. Skies will clear for the remainder of the week with sunny weather from Thursday and a little milder, but still cool.
GERMANY REPORT| Germany is hoping that there will be a season in 21-22 after it was one of the three large European ski nations that kept most ski areas closed (one region opened a few areas at the very end of last winter). The first ski area to open there will most likely be the Zugspitze glacier, home of the country’s highest slopes, in late November.
GERMANY FORECAST| A cold week in Bavaria with snow up on the Zugspitze likely right through until Friday and daytime temps hardly getting above freezing. Warmer and drier from Saturday on.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT|It has finally turned wintery in Scandinavia and the region’s highest ski area, the Galdhopiggen (5/50cm / 2/20”) summer ski centre, has re-opened after two months for a final month of operations for the season. It uses a mixture of farmed snow and some fresh cover. This Friday will also see the first areas opening in Finland for 21-22, Levi and Ruka, using snow they saved from last season spread back out on the slopes. Sweden’s first area to open looks set to be Idre Fjall on the 22nd of this month.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST|Cold and cloudy but largely dry over the coming week on Scandinavian hills, temperatures ranging from just below freezing up to 5-10 degrees above.
SCOTLAND REPORT| Scottish ski areas are aiming to open for the season in early December, although if we’re lucky and there’s significant early snowfall, centres have opened as early as Halloween in years past, though not for a while. All now have all-weather snowmaking machines to help things along. There was some snow reported up high on Ben Nevis, the country’s highest mountain, last week, which started to get pulses moving.
SCOTLAND FORECAST|It’s looking a little warmer this coming week than last with an ongoing mixture of sunshine, rain showers and strong winds.
SPAIN / ANDORRA REPORT|Ski areas do not usually open in the Pyrenees until the very end of November or start of December, although they have been known to open at the end of October/early November occasionally if there are early winter conditions and significant snowfall, as was the case in 2019. The first snow of the season has been reported at higher elevations over the past week and this week started with heavier snowfall down to lower elevations.
SPAIN / ANDORRA FORECAST|After the snowfall, it’s going to warm up considerably this week with daytime highs in the upper teens Celsius, although remaining fairly cool at night, just a few degrees above freezing. A return to sunny weather too.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA REPORT|After the snowfall a fortnight ago that led some boarders to take to higher slopes in Romania to get in first turns, it has not been so snowy, but overnight lows remain cold. Poiana Brașov in Romania has seen sub-zero nights, daytime highs only 5-10 degrees above freezing and it’s a similar picture for other ski areas in the region. The season normally starts in early December for most.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA FORECAST|Similar temperatures forecast for the next seven days, the latter half of the week seeing rain moving through before skies clear at the weekend.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA REPORT| As with other mountains in the region, the Czech and Slovak Republics have both already seen early, temporary snow coverings on higher slopes. Most resorts in the region will aim to open in late November or early December.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA FORECAST|After a sunny start to the week precipitation will move in Wednesday/Thursday and temperatures cool meaning a chance of snow up high, more likely rain down below. Skies clearing to end the week but it’s a cooler picture by then with sub-zero temps forecast overnight through the weekend.
NORTH AMERICA INTRO| October is the month when North America’s 2021-22 season is due to get underway, the only question is where will be open first? Ski areas in Colorado are usually the first, or among the first, to open and the good news is that there’s been fresh snow in the Rockies over the past week, so whilst there’s a way to go, it’s a good start to the month. Actually, there was snowfall on mountains across western North America at the end of last week, which raised spirits. The only resort known to have specified an October opening date, all being well, was up in Canada. But Lake Louise has set the target date back a week now to November 5th.
ROCKIES REPORT| The race is on between ski areas like Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Loveland and Wolf Creek, in Colorado, to be the first to open for the 21-22 season, hopefully later this month.But it was actually Crested Butte, not due to open until the latter half of November, that posted some of the heaviest snowfall images.
ROCKIES FORECAST|It will remain cool over the week ahead in the Rockies with mostly clear skies but the chance of snow is up high at the weekend. Overnight lows at or below freezing most days.
USA WEST REPORT| The first snow of the autumn was also reported on some high slopes in California, including up on the peaks above Mammoth Mountain. Actually, the snowfall was more widespread with ski areas in New Mexico and Arizona reporting as much as 4″ (10cm) of fresh cover on higher slopes, the first of the autumn for many. The ski season is due to begin in the region in November.
USA WEST FORECAST| The latter half of this week should see more mountain snow as temperatures drop and a front moves in. Drier at the weekend and temperatures climbing once more.
MIDWEST REPORT|The 20-21 season actually saw the Midwest record the first lift-accessed runs open in North America in the middle of October last year. A cold snapallowed Wild Mountain, in Minnesota, to open a run and terrain park after a cold snap brought some snow and good snowmaking conditions to the Midwest. So far, it’s not looking so promising this year with temperatures in the high 60s F (20s Celsius) and sunny weather, but things can change quickly at this time of year.
MIDWEST FORECAST| There’s no real change in the weather expected over the coming week. Temperatures should stay warm, day and night and the skies largely clear, so it’s looking like snowmaking systems won’t be able to start working yet.
USA EAST REPORT|Although we tend to look to the Rockies as the first area to open in the US each autumn, there have been tears when New England ski areas managed to open runs first, thanks to their mighty snowmaking arsenal. Sunday River, in Maine,, often one of the first to open in the region, had a test firing of their system at the end of last week.
USA EAST FORECAST|Despite the snowmaking tests it’s looking largely warm and dry for the week ahead on the east coast, daytime highs in the low 70s F and overnight lows still well above freezing.
CANADA WEST REPORT| Ski resorts in western Canada have posted some of the snowiest pictures in the northern hemisphere. The most consistent falls have been over the past six weeks or so with repeat coverings at ski centres like Marmot Basin up near Jasper and Sunshine and Lake Louise, near Banff. Most of this snow tends to melt away again but these areas are aiming to open in a month’s time and the signs are currently good.
CANADA WEST FORECAST|After a warm start to the week temperatures will drop day and night (getting well below freezing overnight) with the next snow forecast for the latter half of the weekend after a largely sunny remainder of this week.CANADA EAST REPORT|Eastern Canada’s 21-22 season will most likely begin in November. Conditions are currently getting autumnal with temperatures in the mid-teens above freezing point and a mixture of sunshine and showers.
CANADA EAST FORECAST|There’s no real change in the forecast with typical autumnal weather and too warm for snowmaking or natural snowfall.
JAPAN REPORT| Japanese ski areas tend to start opening from late November, but a few use all-weather snowmaking machines to open a short trail in October. Across the Sea of Japan and indeed along way west to the middle of the Asian mainland, the Keketuohai International Ski Resort in Altay prefecture, in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, opened last Friday for its 21-22 ski season following a heavy snowfall. It’s believed to be the first ski area in Asia to open for the 21-22 season and means ski areas are currently operating on four continents. Conditions for opening day were foggy. The ski area has expanded rapidly in recent years installing a snowmaking system last winter and a new 4,300-square-metre ski equipment hall this winter.
JAPAN FORECAST| It is cooling in Japan’s mountains with overnight temperatures getting down towards freezing, but daytime highs are still 19-20 degrees above freezing so we’re some way off the arrival of snow for most areas.
The 2021 season continues to wind down in the southern hemisphere but not everywhere has closed yet with about a dozen centres in the Andes, Australia and New Zealand still open, and several announcing they plan to stay open for most of this month.
Australia’s New South Wales entered another 7-day lockdown at short notice last Thursday and the country’s largest resort, Perisher, announced that was the end of the season as far as they were concerned. The state’s other large ski area Thredbo had already closed the previous weekend. Ski areas in the other main ski state of Victoria closed at the weekend. So the only ski areas still open in Australia now are the small hills on Tasmania, Ben Lomond and Mt Mawson, following a big end of September snowfall which provided some of the best conditions of the season very late in the day.
At least six New Zealand ski areas have announced they’ll be staying open to the latter half of October as ski areas in Australia appear to be largely ending their 2021 seasons this Sunday, October 3rd. Cardrona (35/85cm / 14/34”) say they’ll stay open to October 24th and Mt Hutt (55/255cm / 22/102”), which was the first in the country to open last June and has one of the largest areas open on the planet at present with 38km (24 miles) of slopes groomed, until the 25th.
“We’re extending our season by a week – our new Closing Day is October 24th. Facilities for the last week will depend on snow and resources, but we’re aiming for at least McDougall’s and the Learner Conveyor,” a Cardrona statement reads.
On the country’s North Island the two ski areas on Mt Ruapehu, Turoa (94/205cm / 38/82”) and Whakapapa I(34/167cm / 24/67″) are usually the last open in the southern hemisphere each spring and the resort has signalled it hopes to operate into ‘Snowvember’ this year if it can. A fifth resort, The Remarkables (85/110cm / 34/44”), looks to be aiming to stay open to the latter half of the month too though, aiming for the 17th, and a sixth, Temple Basin (30/260cm / 12/104”), also the 17th.
Most other ski areas in New Zealand have either already closed or will do this coming Sunday the 10th. Centres open until the weekend include Rainbow and several others. The past week has seen some beautiful conditions, some of the best clear bluebird days of the season in fact, at centres still open.
Across the Pacific most ski centres in the Andes have now closed for the 2021 ski season but a number are staying open for a few more days. Among them the South American continent’s largest by uplift, Catedral (0/17cm / 0/7”), which was one of the ski areas in the Andes reporting around 10cm (4”) of fresh snowfall at the weekend to give a final refresh, Antillanca (40/130cm / 16/52”) is believed to be the last centre still open in Chile, until this coming weekend.