Issued: 17 November 2021
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
At least a dozen more ski areas have opened over the past week in the Northern Hemisphere, taking the count of areas operating past 50. Individual resorts opening in Austria, Switzerland and the USA takes the total number of areas open in each to double-figures. The weather, however, has not held much excitement for skiers in the past seven days. True, there have been some small to moderate snowfalls on mountains across Europe and western North America but it has still been too warm to make much progress towards opening in many areas, with North America’s East Coast remaining unseasonably warm. It’s too warm for some in the west too. America’s largest ski area, Park City in Utah, which had been due to open Friday, has postponed doing so and at the start of this week more leading ski areas in Arizona, California and Colorado have done the same.
That said, it has been an improving picture to start this week with temperatures dipping in many areas and some significant snowfall in parts of the Alps and the Rockies since Sunday.
The big world snow news of the week came from China where parts of the northeast of the country saw their heaviest snowfalls for 70 years, sparking the highest level of weather alerts. Up to 53 cm (21 inches) dumped on some cities Reuters reported. It is unclear if more of the hundreds of ski areas in the region will have opened early as a result. Ironically, media in Europe and North America were coincidentally running a story about fears of no snow for the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics as the region is usually very cold, it’s also normally very dry.
This coming weekend is due to see more resorts opening in France, Germany (its first) and Italy, with dozens more due to open in North America ahead of Thanksgiving and therefore, could be seen as the beginning of the winter season. For France and Germany, this should be a poignant moment with neither country able to run their ski lifts for most of last season, certainly not in November 2020. This was also the case in Italy where resorts opening have already been celebrating the fact that for most it is their first operation in more than 600 days.
Finally, news of an unusual late spring snowstorm in the Southern Hemisphere to start this week, bringing up to 25cm (10”) of snowfall to ski slopes in Australia and New Zealand just a few weeks from the start of summertime.
It has been another week of rather warm weather at lower elevations but staying mostly cold in the mountains. There’s not been much fresh snow, other than a front that brought 5-15cm (2-6 inches) on average across the Alps at the weekend, as shown at World cup races in Zurs in the Austrian Arlberg. Otherwise, it has been mostly a mixture of overcast or sunny skies, but dry. Another dozen or so ski areas have opened for the season, including some famous names like Arosa, Crans Montana and Verbier, taking the totals for Austria and Switzerland into double figures for the number of resorts open. The biggest lift-served vertical skiable has also gone past 1,500 vertical metres already, not bad for mid-November. But generally, it’s limited early-season terrain so far of course, and a lot of it is down to snow-making. This coming weekend looks like a big one with the start of the main season in France (where currently only Tignes is open, compared to more than 30 areas to choose from across Austria, Italy and Switzerland). Up in Scandinavia, a few more resorts have opened but almost all of the region’s big-name centres plan to open this coming weekend to really get the season started there.
AUSTRIA REPORT| Four more ski areas opened in Austria at the weekend taking the total open here to 13, the most of any country in the world at present. Although it has been a little warm at lower elevations, Hochzillertal, which opened last weekend after the big snowfalls at the start of the month, decided not to do so again last Saturday and Sunday. That might have been a mistake as fresh snow started falling on Saturday and continued through the weekend. The resorts that are opening now are non-glacier areas with high altitude slopes reliant on natural snowfall, including Obergurgl and Schladming. The resorts that have already been open for months like Hintertux (0/135cm / 0/54”), Solden (30/110cm / 12/44”) and the Stubai (62/107cm / 35/43”) are also opening more terrain, now at at least 40km (25 miles) of runs each. Solden opened its Giggijoch sector at the weekend increasing the amount open there to 67km (42 miles) of runs. The next Austrian area to open is scheduled to be Obertauern, opening this Thursday, November 18th.
AUSTRIA FORECAST| After snowfall to start the week it’s looking drier over the coming days, temperatures well below freezing in the mountains, but well above in the valleys. Snow showers are likely at times but not amounting to much.
SWITZERLAND REPORT| Switzerland has joined Austria in getting into double figures for the number of ski areas open there with three more well-known resorts opening at the weekend, some initially at weekends only. Along with Crans Montana, Arosa Lenzerheide opened as did Verbier. Most Swiss areas enjoyed some fresh snowfall to start the week after a dry spell up to the weekend. Unfortunately, a number are initially only open at weekends so need to wait until Friday or Saturday before the fresh cover can be skied. Televerbier announced that initially, the Lac des Vaux piste would open with a coffee and croissant offered to the first 100 skiers on Friday morning. As soon as possible and depending on the snow conditions, Televerbier will open the piste from Attelas to Les Ruinettes. The slopes at Hörnli were open in Arosa as well as on the Urdenfürggli in Lenzerheide. After Saas-Fee (5/165cm / 2/66”) became the first ski area in the Northern Hemisphere to offer 50km of open terrain a week ago, Andermatt announced it would be offering 1500 metres of lift-served vertical descent from the weekend at their Gemsstock area with snow covering a run between 1,453 to 2,962 metres above sea level and addition terrain open up top. The resort credited its snow-farming, which made it possible to have the slopes open in late October, combined with natural snowfall and snow-making. These four join the eight already open to give us a choice of a dozen Swiss destinations open now. Along with Saas-Fee, Zermatt (15/150cm / 6/60″) has one of the biggest areas of terrain open in the world so far.
SWITZERLAND FORECAST| As we pass the mid-point in November it will be mostly cold on Swizz ski slopes, not getting above freezing day or night above mid-mountain. Lower down though warmer in the daytime, getting 5-10 degrees into positive temps. Most areas will be dry up to the weekend.
FRANCE REPORT| The French ski season is just about to kick off properly this weekend, all being well, for the first time in two years. The Grands Montets ski area up at Argentière in the Chamonix Valley along with the slopes at Europe’s highest resort, Val Thorens, were already due to open and they’re now being joined by Montgenevre, which is opening a week earlier the planned thanks to the big early November snowfall, and down in the Pyrenees, Porte Puymorens. They all join already open Tignes (10/70cm / 4/28”). The past week has been a predominantly sunny one although there was light snowfall on higher slopes to start the new week. Temperatures in the mountains have remained subzero allowing for snow-making. Down in resort though it has been quite warm, especially at lower elevations, hitting double digits in the afternoons.
FRANCE FORECAST| A mostly dry week forecast in the French Alps with a mixture of sunny periods and overcast skies. Temperatures remain subzero 24 hours a day in the mountains but 0-10 degrees above freezing in the valleys.
ITALY REPORT| Italy is the country where, more than any other, there’s been palpable excitement as ski areas have begun to re-open after last winter’s lockdown. Cortina (0/50cm / 0/20”) opened one run served by one lift several weeks early at the start of last week and other resorts are aiming to open early to make the most of being able to do so. This coming weekend Madonna di Campiglio has announced that thanks to already abundant snowfall they plan to open about 20 km (13 miles) of ski slopes between 2,500m altitude at Cima Grosté down to 1,650 m in the Fortini area. Six Italian ski areas are already open with 3 Zinnen Dolomites (10/30cm / 4/12”) the latest joining Cervinia (15/50cm / 6/20”), the Presena Glacier (5/100cm / 2/40”), Sulden (20/30cm / 8/12”) and Val Senales (0/80cm / 0/32”) as well as Cortina. The weather in the region has been generally dry although some resorts, including Sestriere, did see some significant snowfall to start the week.
ITALY FORECAST| It’s staying well below freezing in the Italian mountains over the coming week, warmer in the valleys. Freezing overnight down there but 5-10 degrees above in the daytime. Down at resort level temperatures in the region of 0-10 degrees above freezing. So the snow will stick up high, not so much down low as yet. Some light snowfall is expected in the Dolomites over the next few days but clearing to sunshine at the weekend.
GERMANY REPORT| Germany didn’t really get a ski season last year, just a few smaller centres were allowed to open back at the start of spring. Cases have been rising and restrictions increasing but there’s currently a hope that the Zugspitze glacier will finally open after more than 20 months closed to skiers this Friday 19th. Images from the slopes there, Europe’s highest, show lots of snow lying.
GERMANY FORECAST| Temperatures remaining at or below freezing at Zugspitze in the lead up to opening day. Dry and sunny midweek with cloud starting to build towards opening weekend.
SCANDINAVIA REPORT| A few more Scandinavian areas have opened for the season at the weekend but this coming weekend is the one when nearly all of the region’s big resorts plan to open. The weather is fairly good with subzero temperatures for snow-making, although for most only occasional light snowfall. Tärnaby was the third Swedish centre to open but the country’s big-name resorts like Are are due to start opening from this coming weekend. Tarbaby will join already open Kåbdalis (20/95cm / 8/38”) and Idre Fjäll (10/70cm / 4/28″). Over the border, Kvitfjell opened in Norway at the weekend as the Galdhopiggen glacier finally ended its extended 2021 spring-autumn opening, but like Sweden the country’s bigger resorts including Geilo, Hemsedal, Trysil, Voss and Hafjell all plan to open this Saturday. Finland’s Levi (5/30cm / 2/12”) and Ruka (5/50cm / 2/20”) remain open, having added additional terrain, and are due to be joined by Pyhä and Ylläs among other Finnish centres opening this coming weekend.
SCANDINAVIA FORECAST| There’s not much change in the immediate forecast with predominantly overcast skies, occasional light snow flurries and temperatures staying close to freezing, below in the mountains, in most areas. A little snowier further north where accumulations may be measured in inches rather than centimetres.
SCOTLAND REPORT| Another week of rather warm temperatures, no frost and occasional rain showers for Scotland’s slopes. There has been more snow at altitude but daytime highs continue to melt much of what does fall so far.
SCOTLAND FORECAST| There’s plenty more rain in the forecast for the coming week in the Scottish highlands and overnight temperatures look set to get down towards freezing at the tops of the mountains, but it doesn’t yet look like there are enough consistent low temperatures for bases to be able to start building much.
SPAIN / ANDORRA REPORT| The start of the season is getting closer in the Pyrenees. Although most of the region’s major resorts plan to open around the 27th of November in just over a week, some like Massella are hinting they’ll try to go earlier, reporting on a combination of natural snow and snow-making building up enough to fill in runs and get the groomers out. The region’s highest area, Sierra Nevada, has already posted a video of ski clubs in training on its pre-season snow cover. Over the border in France, Porte Puymorens has confirmed it will open this weekend so that may be the first in the Pyrenees, though it seems likely others might join it at short notice if they can. The past week has been fairly cold in the mountains, mostly dry but with some light snowfall to start the week.
SPAIN / ANDORRA FORECAST| Fairly promising conditions as we near the start of the season, cold in the mountains 5-10 degrees above freezing down at resort level, so moving in the right direction. Dry for the next few days.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA REPORT| Bulgaria’s ski slopes are currently looking pretty green on the whole in the webcams, but the start of the season is still around three weeks away, in early December. Pamporovo posted a video of snow cannons being tested. Temperatures have been getting down below freezing in the mountains overnight, but in the daytime still reaching 5-10 degrees above, and 15 above down in the valley.We’re still three weeks away from the likely start of the 21-22 season in south eastern Europe. The weather has been autumnal; cool and wet in recent days rather than looking wintery. But there’s still plenty of time for a change.
BULGARIA / ROMANIA FORECAST| Not much change in the forecast, unfortunately, dry weather and a little too warm for reliable snow-making yet in most areas, although cold enough overnight up high to make some snow for base building.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA REPORT| Rather too warm over the past week in the Czech and Slovak republic for much snow build-up, although the higher slopes still have some snow lying. It’s been mostly a mix of sunshine and cloudy spells with temperatures a few degrees above freezing in the mountains, warmer down at resort level. Most don’t plan to open until early December so there’s time yet.
CZECH REPUBLIC / SLOVAKIA FORECAST| Following the sunny midweek weather there should be some fresh snowfall as temperatures drop and a front moves in towards the weekend.
NORTH AMERICA INTRO| Mixed conditions across North America with temperatures warmer than most would like and some periods of rainfall at mountains across the country, but also some fresh snow too with up to 10″ reported on the mountains of the west and in the Rockies. The difficulty in the US is an inconsistency that has prevented snow-makers from making quite the progress they might have liked at East Coast and Midwest resorts.It is unusual to have so few areas open in the east this late into September and the first opening in the Midwest is running a month behind 2020 now. In the US the crucial Thanksgiving Holiday long weekend is fast approaching so resorts will be aiming to be open by then. It is looking a bit shaky in some areas though with more warm weather coming up and the largest ski area in the US, Park City, announcing it has to delay its 19th November target opening date this week because of conditions. Other Vail-owned resorts including Heavenly and Northstar in California have followed suit, and Steamboat in Colorado has delayed by a week. In Canada to the north things are looking more promising with a significant snowfall in the west to start this week.
ROCKIES REPORT| Two of the big hitter resorts of world skiing, Breckenridge (4/18” / 10/45cm), and Vail (2/18” / 5/45cm), opened last Friday, with some fresh snow but limited early-season terrain. That means six areas on 75% of the open areas in the US are in Colorado at this point. Most of the rest of the ski areas in the Rockies will open this coming weekend or just in time for the Thanksgiving Holiday long weekend. It has been a mixed bag of weather, there have been some snowy spells when ski areas have reported 4-8 inch (10-20cm) accumulations, in some cases on multiple occasions over the past week, Winter Park (opening Wednesday) posted 13” (33cm) at the weekend. But there have also been complaints of warm spells and rain at times for some. Steamboat has delayed its opening by a week to the final weekend of the month, Arizona Snowbowl says it has no snow yet and that it has been too warm for snow-making. Of the centres that are open there are just a few miles (3km) of runs open at each area so far with Arapahoe Basin (12/20″ / 30/50cm) reporting it now has top-to-bottom skiing available. Nowhere is reporting a base depth above 20 inches (50cm) yet. As mentioned in our intro America’s largest ski area, Park City, which had been due to be the first in Utah to open, on Friday 19th, has been delayed due to the conditions with no new date announced yet. Despite all this up high there have been a number of avalanches reported already and the avalanche danger level where there’s enough snow is, officially, currently, moderate.
ROCKIES FORECAST| Although temperatures are below freezing up high, the lower mountain down to resort level is seeing very warm temperatures, and largely dry sunny weather, unfortunately.It is getting cooler towards the weekend however so hopefully, things are starting to improve.
USA WEST REPORT| A mixed bag of weather in the West, with a few days of snowfall in the middle of last week benefitting already-open Mammoth, reporting 9” (23cm) at the end of last week but then some resorts saw rain to quite high elevations. Resorts like Boreal and Palisades Tahoe, which opened in October after a big snowfall but have closed again, have remained closed. Other resorts in the region were due to begin their main season opening over the next few days with Heavenly and Northstar both planning to open this Friday but on Monday they announced they were delaying doing so.
USA WEST FORECAST| It’s not looking ideal for the season starting this coming week with temperatures mostly above freezing, if only by a degree or two in the mountains, but much warmer down at resort level. The forecast is predominantly sunshine too.
MIDWEST REPORT| Ski areas in the Midwest are now running more than a month behind their earliest opening date in 2020 following an unusually warm Fall. Things did start to change at the weekend though with low temperatures at last and snow. There was a severe winter weather warning in several parts of the region. As we publish this week’s report no centres had reported opening yet but several say they’re opening as soon as possible. Spirit Mountain, in Minnesota, received local media coverage on Monday as it started snow-making, planning a Thanksgiving weekend opening.
MIDWEST FORECAST| It’s finally a promising week ahead for snow-making with temperatures sticking at or below freezing point day and night for most areas. Predominantly dry but with some natural snowfall possible at the weekend too.
USA EAST REPORT| It’s still only Killington (0/30cm / 0/12″), in Vermont, open at the time of writing but as temperatures have dipped a number are poised to open as soon as they can make enough snow. Many already have some made up on higher slopes. Hunter Mountain, in New York, Mount Snow and Stowe, in Vermont and Wildcat, in New Hampshire, had originally planned to open from this Friday if they can. Appalachian Ski Mountain, in the southeast, reported snowfall from Saturday and cold enough temps for snow-making from Sunday; it hopes to open Thursday.
USA EAST FORECAST| Yo-yoing weather conditions continuing with a cold midweek period followed by a warm and wet 24 hours before colder temperatures and snow again later in the week and into the weekend. Hopefully, the change that’s required.
CANADA WEST REPORT| here’s been more snow in Western Canada, improving conditions at already open ski areas and building bases for those about to open, which this coming weekend include Cypress Mountain (Thursday), Grouse Mountain (Friday) and Sun Peaks (Saturday), all being well, the first in BC, as well as a fifth resort in Alberta, Marmot Basin up at Jasper. The snowfalls got heavier at the start of this week after 5-10cm (2-4) inch falls last week. Bases remain thin so far though and the terrain open so far limited to a few kilometres. All three Banff areas are now open, with Sunshine (15/50cm / 6/20”) the latest to open posting the deepest base. It has reported more than 40cm (16”) of fresh snowfall over the past few days. Nakiska (15/32cm / 6/13”) is also operating.
CANADA WEST FORECAST| After the snowy start to the week it’s looking drier now through to the weekend, but cold. Well below freezing in resort and double-digits below in the mountains.
CANADA EAST REPORT| There’s still no ski areas open in eastern Canada thanks in part to rather warm and wet weather dominating in autumn. It has now turned colder though in the past few days so things are looking promising now and hopefully we’ll hear of the first centre opening imminently. Most of the resorts in the region have posted images in the past few days showing their slopes turning white.
CANADA EAST FORECAST| It is a mostly promising picture for the week ahead in eastern Canada, the only ‘blip’ coming for a brief period later in the week when a warm front is expected to shoot temperatures up well above freezing and bring rain. Aside from that, temperatures should stay around freezing and there’s snow forecast so it looks to be all about how much damage that brief warm spell brings to base building efforts.
JAPAN REPORT| The big snow news for eastern Asia over the past week was heavy snowfall in North-East China with up to 50cm (10″) of snow deposited on ski slopes in provinces including Jilin. The snowfall was one of the heaviest storms on record and for at least 70 years for this early in November. It’s unclear as yet how many ski areas have opened as a result. Across the Sea of Japan, the snow arrived a few days later, not quite in the same volumes as the Chinese mega-dump but enough to get skiers excited with resorts due to begin opening from this coming weekend.
JAPAN FORECAST| We’re in a cycle of cold, dry weather then temperatures climbing a little above freezing to bring rain to valleys, snow up high. The trend is towards ever lower temperatures which will hopefully mean more snowfall towards the end of the week and indeed the rest of the month.