Issued: 28 July 2021
By Patrick “Snowhunter” Thorne
North American Roundup
Australia is making world snow headlines for a second week with the ongoing storm totals now past 1.5 metres (five feet) for some ski areas and there’s still more in the forecast. Frustratingly, most major cities and the whole state of Victoria, where the ski areas have seen the heaviest falls of all, have spent another week locked down to try to stop Delta variant outbreaks. The good news, as we go to publish though, is that the Victoria lockdown has just ended and resorts say they are re-opening from Wednesday.
Elsewhere, some New Zealand ski areas have posted reports of epic days after fresh snow with blue skies and so have some centres in Chile. Although across South American ski fields the dry weather remains the main factor for the 2021 ski season so far and a few of the continent’s most famous resorts, including Argentina’s Las Lenas, remain closed whilst they await some snowfall.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the heat continues to be the main thing to report and that has now knocked us down to single figures for the number of centres still open, all but one of them in the European Alps. Here, Tignes, in France, is scheduled to end its summer ski season on Sunday.
The last ski area open in Asia has now closed so we have removed this section until centres start to reopen there in the autumn. The same is true for Scandinavia, in Europe, where glacier areas have closed earlier than hoped but may reopen within the next two months.
The main news in the Alps this week is that the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, above Kaprun near Zell am See, in Salzburgerland has closed for the season, on Saturday. That leaves two downhill glacier ski centres open in each of Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland. With nowhere open in Scandinavia now that means we have a European total of eight areas open.
The last glacier ski area open in Scandinavia, Fonna in Norway, has now closed to most skiers (race teams can still make private bookings we understand) so we have removed this section until centres start to reopen there in the autumn. After closing earlier than they hoped the centre did stay open another week, to last Sunday, which was longer than they’d hoped. Another early closure, Galdhøpiggen, hopes to re-open in less than two months time in mid-September.
ALPS REPORT| Those nice round-numbers of two glaciers open for downhill summer skiing in each of the ‘big four’ Alpine ski nations look like they will only be the case for a week as Tignes (0/150cm / -/60”) scheduled to close this coming Sunday, 1st August, for a few months before its autumn opening. That will leave only Les 2 Alpes (0/105cm/ 0/42”) open in France.
The weather in the Alps has been largely dry and sunny over the past week. Hitting the 20s Celcius in the valleys, and rarely getting below freezing even up on glaciers so the thaw of the snow covering the glacial ice has continued. Things have been a little more unsettled since the weekend with periods of rain and spells of light snow for some.
As mentioned, in Austria the Kitzsteinhorn glacier has now closed leaving only the Molltal (0/290cm / 0/116”) and year-round Hintertux (0/190cm / 0/72”) open for downhill skiers, although cross-country ski trails are open on the Dachstein. The Molltal reports its terrain park has now closed for the summer. The 20km of slopes open at Hintertux is one of the largest areas currently open in the Alps and it reported a few centimetres (an inch) of fresh snow covering on Monday.
It equals that at Zermatt (0/150cm / 0/60”) with Europe’s highest slopes on the Klein Matterhorn. Its neighbour, the recently reopened Saas-Fee (0/300cm / 0/120cm) has 13km (8 miles) of piste and a terrain park open and is now the only ski area open around the world posting a 3 metre/10 feet snow depth.
Zermatt’s other neighbour, this time over the re-opened Italian border at Cervinia (0/150cm / 0/60”), also remains open with cross-border skiing available and the second Italian option Passo Stelvio (0/165cm / 0/66”) is now fully open to all.
ALPS FORECAST| It is looking increasingly warm and unsettled weather for the week ahead in the Alps with the humid conditions bringing increasingly stormy weather. At best this will deposit some summer snow on Alpine glaciers but there may also be periods of rain, unfortunately, even at 3000m, and the storms may also bring strong winds and potential lightning strikes.
NORTH AMERICA INTRO| Timberline ski area in Oregon remains the only ski area open to the general public in North America. A private terrain park for team training and ‘campers’ at the local Woodward complex is believed to be still operating at Copper Mountain in Colorado too. Timberline does not publish summer snow cover data but has had a very hot June and July and it has been another sunny week there. However, the slopes remain open with private team training before 9 am and publish skiing and boarding on about a mile of summer trails on the permanent snowfield between 9.30 and 12.30 each morning.
NORTH AMERICA FORECAST| After the full sun of recent weeks there’s a little more cloud forecast for the next week, although still quite a lot of sunshine and temperatures still in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit (15-25 C).
AUSTRALIA REPORT| It’s been another remarkable week for snowfall in Australia with several areas in Victoria reporting snow totals passing the 1.2-metre mark (four feet) from the ongoing storm system. Ski areas in the state were however closed, as feared, for a further week after the initial five-day fifth lockdown in the state in the battle to suppress outbreaks of the Delta variant. As we complete this report the news is that the lockdown is over from Wednesday, meaning ski areas should be able to re-open with much better conditions than when it began 12 days before. However, stringent rules will be in place including no arrivals from over the border in New South Wales where ski areas have stayed open. But with Sydney in lockdown, areas have not been seeing many skiers to enjoy the epic powder days of the past week. Skiers who can visit must also present a negative COVID test. Perisher (30/70cm / 12/28”) has 103 of its 111 trails open and 45 lifts turning, that’s almost everything of course, with most lifts running and amazing conditions. It’s had the best part of a metre (40″) of snowfall in the past 72 hours and is believed to have the most terrain open of any ski area worldwide at present. For ski areas in Victoria, the snow numbers are more impressive and we expect all to re-open if they have not by the time you’re reading this. Falls Creek (95/147cm / 38/59″) was posting the country’s deepest base at the time of compilation but with the snow still dumping these positions may change.
AUSTRALIA FORECAST| There’s not a huge let up expected in the ongoing snowy conditions with heavy snowfall forecast for New South Wales, a bit of a lull in the latter half of the week then more snow arriving at the weekend. Temperatures remaining around freezing or a little below. Similar conditions and timings forecast for Victoria, overnight lows down towards -1-C at the top of the slopes.
NEW ZEALAND REPORT| It has been a weather roller-coaster week with several good snowfalls for some areas, followed by perfect blue-sky days leading to big crowds and big queues as skiers and boarders, lucky enough to live in New Zealand, tried to get to the slopes. At the same time though there have been more periods of warm, wet weather bringing snow-damaging conditions that have closed centres for days here and there through the week. In addition, the New Zealand Government has announced that the Trans-Tasman quarantine-free travel bubble between them and Australia has been closed for at least 8 weeks by New Zealand due to Delta virus cases in Australia, ruling out much of the rest of the ski season. This will hit some ski areas hard and may lead to low-season slope closures with some areas saying 60% of August bookings had been Aussies, which are now all cancelled.
Mt Hutt (30/230cm / 12/84”) saw what were reported to be massive queues for the Summit Six chair on Friday, the final day of the area’s school holidays, after a “bluebird” day on Friday following 15 cm (6”) of snow on Thursday. The centre’s car parks had already reached capacity by 8.20 am on the day.
Other ski areas reported similar scenes including Mt Dobson (58/114cm / 23/46”), which became the second ski area in the country to pass the 1m/40” base depth mark on upper slopes after a very snowy week, including 25cm (10”) on Thursday there.
Porters reported it had 20+ cm of light, dry powder snow lying on Tuesday morning but left the upper mountain closed for ongoing avalanche mitigation, opening Wednesday instead.
There’s some excitement at Cardrona (11/60cm / 4/24”) as the new snow there means that the resort’s new Willow’s Quad built over the summer and 65 hectares of new terrain will be opening for the very first time on Thursday and left ungroomed for the first users.
But other ski areas were less fortunate seeing more rain than snow and/or strong winds, closing slopes at the end of last week and/or the start of this. Mt Cheeseman Ski Area saw two landslips due to heavy rainfall and has delayed its opening further. Treble Cone was among the areas closed on Monday due to stormy weather there.
NEW ZEALAND FORECAST| The snowy weather that has been a feature for many areas at the start of the week should ease by mid-week to be followed by dry weather for the remainder of the week. Temperatures around freezing but getting a bit warmer in the afternoon and there could be quite strong winds. More snow is forecast at the weekend.
ARGENTINA REPORT| It’s been another week of battling to open terrain at Argentinian ski areas with little or no fresh snow to report and most of the country’s centres operating on a 10-40cm (4-16”) base. Most, but not all, as sadly Las Lenas still has no snow cover at all and cannot open. Catedral (10/15cm / 4/6”), the biggest in South America by uplift, has battled to somehow open 20km of runs. It posted pictures of staff manhandling large sheets covered in snow to fill gaps on the slopes to open upper mountain runs. On Sunday, it announced limited opening times to try to limit the use of the slopes and preserve the thin cover. Caviahue (30/45cm / 12/18”) has the deepest reported base and 5km of runs open, about a third of its normal area.
ARGENTINA FORECAST| Alas, there’s very little for Argentinian skiers to get too excited about in the forecast. In the northern Andes there may be some snowfall going into the weekend but further south it is another week of non-stop sunshine expected. Ironically, temperatures where the skies are clear look set to be sub-zero day and night from top to bottom of the mountain, whereas further north daytime highs can be 5-10 degrees above freezing. Cold enough for snowmaking at night almost everywhere though if it is worthwhile trying.
CHILE REPORT| It’s far from being an epic season in Chile, but conditions are marginally better on South America’s Pacific side than its Atlantic-facing one. Corralco (30/70 cm / 12/28”) is posting the deepest base on the entire continent and has 10km of slopes open. Valle Nevado (35/40cm / 14/16”) has less snow cover but the most terrain open in South America with 25km (16 miles) of slopes open. Most other Chilean ski areas are open with snow depths and similar terrain available. It’s been another week with fairly cool temperatures, sub-zero on the mountains overnight, but mostly sunny weather and little or no fresh snowfall reported. The big-name exception is Portillo, one of a diminishing number of centres not to have operated since 2019. The latest update from there is that they hope to open on August 14th, another fortnight’s delay on the last date given. It is not an epic year for snow there yet either but the bigger problem is closed borders. The resort had hoped borders would open to allow international arrivals this coming weekend, but it’s now looking more like mid-August. In terms of resorts that have reported some snowfall, Nevados de Chillan (40/80cm / 16/32”) said they had 5cm (2”) and were opening a little more terrain at the start of this week. Up to then they had only had beginner runs open.
CHILE FORECAST| There’s very little to get excited or very optimistic about for the coming week with again predominantly dry, mostly sunny conditions. Perhaps the only real positive to cling to is that it should be cold overnight on the slopes so what cover there is shouldn’t be thawing, and it will be cold enough for snowmaking overnight at most areas that have the equipment who wish to use their machines (some have said costs are currently too high to run them with little income from ticket sales thanks to pandemic restrictions). There are early signs of more unsettled conditions towards the weekend but it’s not yet clear if that will amount to much.
SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT| There’s still no sign of life at Tiffindell, South Africa’s only ski area, and it remains unclear if it will not now open for a second successive year and if so whether this is a temporary or permanent closure. Afriski (30/50cm / 12/20”) over the border in Lesotho remains open, however, and reports its full main runs complete and terrain park open, thanks to its snowmaking arsenal.
SOUTHERN AFRICA FORECAST| It’s another dry, sunny week forecast for Lesotho and Afriski. Temperatures ranging from 2 to 9 degrees above freezing, forecast to get warmer towards the end of the week. The season runs until the end of August so we’re entering the last month of winter 2021 here.