Andermatt, Switzerland, open and with snow... and more in the forecast...
It's snowing in Europe, as local and national authorities argue over Xmas opening...
The mountains are waiting for us... please stay safe and follow local advice on travel. We can't all go skiing just yet but we can dream!
The Snow Headlines - 3rd December
- Some fresh snow in the Alps, with more coming.
- More than 100 North American ski areas open.
- France, Italy and Germany lobby EU to keep ski areas closed until January.
- Austria will open ski lifts to locals from Christmas Eve, but not hotels.
- St Moritz opens all three of its ski areas.
- Snow in New Zealand for first day of southern hemisphere's summer.
- World Cup Races moved from snowy Alberta to Val d'Isere move again to Italy.
- Glencoe aims to open this weekend.
It was a snowy start to meteorologoical winter this week in much of Europe with resorts excited to get 5-10cm of snowfall after the mostly dry November. Snow cover remains good up on the glaciers and high slopes, less good below about 2000m altitude for most.
Significant snowfall is expected later this week.
Snow cover may be academic in an increasing number of countries in the Alps and possibly a wider swathe of Europe though with a plan by some EU leaders to keep ski slopes closed into January.
What's happening changes by the hour, but so far it looks like Swiss resorts will be open (more announcements are pending); French resorts will be open, but not allowed to run ski lifts until mid-January; Austrian resorts will open from 24th December but only to locals, with no hotels open and in Italy they say "Christmas holidays in the mountains can't happen". Other EU countries are still making their minds up...
An estimated 100+ ski areas have now opened in North America as the 2020-21 ski season continues to gather pace in Canada and the USA. Most of the continent's big-name ski resorts from coast to coast are now open with Jackson Hole and Whistler Blackcomb among the latest to join them. Most of those that haven't yet opened plan to do so this coming weekend.
With only a few dozen ski areas open in Switzerland and Scandinavia at present the number of areas open in North America dramatically outnumbers those in Europe as we start December and winter.
For those interested in snowfall around the world, ski areas in Morocco and Iran/Kurdistan both reported their first snowfalls of the winter at the end of last week and ski areas in New Zealand reported a bigger snowfall than the one in the Alps in what was the first day of summer there.
In the Alpine Forecast
Snow has arrived in the Alps, and more is forecast. Heavy snow is expected for parts of Switzerland, Italy, and Austria over the next few days.
Some heavy snowfall forecast for Europe
Re-publication :- our Snow Report Summary, being the text above this line, is free to re-publish, but must be clearly credited to www.J2ski.com with text including "J2Ski Snow Report" linked to this page - thank you.
The Austrian government's decision to re-open ski areas from Christmas Eve, but not allow holiday visitors until January 7th, came after pressure from neighbours Germany to agree to the proposed EU-wide plan to keep slopes closed until January.
Austrian ministers had previously said that full closure would cost the country at least €2 billion. As to the weather – if ski areas can open – it has been colder the past week and there has been some snowfall, but the best snow remains up on the glaciers.
French ski areas received a dusting of snowfall on Tuesday morning but cover at low levels remains limited and probably inadequate for opening much terrain, even with snow-making. Of course French areas are not allowed to open anyway so that's not the issue it might otherwise have been.
Ski resorts and ski regions are however increasingly angry about the enforced closure by the government and are organising local and regional protests and petitions. The next government announcement on the issue is due on or by 11th December with most thinking this will set out the terms of the closure into January although some still hoping the Christmas closure plan could be reversed.
With resorts 'open' other than not being allowed to run lifts lots of people are reported to be in the mountains ski touring raising concerns this could lead to issues if avalanche safety measures and ski patrol services are not being maintained. Race teams are allowed to carry out ski training on glaciers with Les 2 Alpes reported to be allowing racers to train there, joining Tignes.
A very similar picture politically and in terms of snowfall and snow conditions in Italy as in France. Resorts here are protesting ski area closures too, also arguing that they can operate safely in terms of the pandemic.
There has been some light snowfall to start the week in Italy also and there's more forecast. Conditions on high slopes, particularly glaciers, remain very good and race teams have been training up on the glaciers.
Switzerland remains the big exception to ski area openings in the Alps with more than a dozen ski areas open here, and the start of the 20-21 season appears to be continuing as normal.
St Moritz was the latest resort to open last weekend, opening its main ski areas to join the already open Diavolezza glacier. Other resorts already open include Andermatt, Arosa, Crans Montana, Davos, Gstaad (Glacier 3000), Saas Fee, Verbier and Zermatt.
Most of the rest of the country's ski areas are set to open over the next three weekends with Zermatt announcing it will open its wider area beyond the year-round Klein Matterhorn slopes from this weekend with 62km of runs expected to be open, believed to be the largest area in the world at present. Here too there was some fresh snowfall, but not a lot, to start the week, and snow conditions are divided between pretty great up high to rather lacking on lower runs.
Scandinavia has also been struggling with both the pandemic and the weather. The main factor that has delayed many ski areas opening has been warm weather, but most are now saying it has been cold enough in the past week for snow-making and there's also been natural snowfall for many – from social media and webcam images they're generally looking snowier at resort level than centres in the Alps.
More resorts are expected to open this weekend joining the 10 or so small centres open so far in Norway, Finland and Sweden. In terms of the pandemic Finland and Norway are doing reasonably well at present and have been cleared to open ski areas in most cases. In Sweden it's more of a problem and there seem to be more doubts about opening.
It is unclear whether Scandinavian countries in the EU will be impacted by the French/German/Italian call to close ski centres.
Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada
Ski areas in the Pyrenees remain on hold for opening. On the French side they now look certain not to open their ski lifts until January, for Andorra and Spain the jury is still out. With so much of Andorra's economy based on wintersports it seems less likely they'll be keen to sign up to the EU Christmas slopes closure plan.
The area has been one of the snowiest in Europe this past week, with Sierra Nevada, further south, reporting a big 40-80cm accumulation (lower and upper slope totals) at the end of last week and some lucky racers got to 'test' the snow at the weekend, though the centre has been forced to remain closed to the public.
Scotland has had some cold days and nights and some fresh snowfall over the past week, up high at least. All of the centres except Nevis Range say they'll open on or before December 19th, using their all-weather snow-making machines to do so if there's not enough of the natural stuff. They can create areas big enough for a beginner area on a terrain park and most are already in action building bases.
Glencoe say they'll open a small snow area this weekend (December 5th) and more slopes sooner than the 19th if adequate snow arrives - the forecast for the weekend is quite promising.
It's a similar picture to the Alps and Pyrenees in Eastern Europe in terms of resort openings being on hold depending on the attitude to opening of national governments, most of them in the EU so part of the current discussions. It had been rather too warm and dry in November for many areas in the region to have been able to open much at this point anyway, even without the pandemic issue, but recent weeks have been colder and snow-making systems firing out snow so it starts to look more possible if they get the green light.
Canada's ski areas continue to open as the snow keeps falling but pandemic restrictions mount. Alberta continues to see almost daily 5-15cm top ups of snow cover at resorts around Banff.
Ironically this is where World cup races were due to have been staged at Lake Louise, but were moved to Europe to save racers having to travel back and forth across the Atlantic during the pandemic; races have now had to be moved from Val d'Isere due to too little snow cover there.
Over the provincial border in British Columbia "all but essential travel" is banned so travelling to ski areas such as from Vancouver to Whistler is not permitted. Conditions remain more marginal in the east but there was more light snowfall and the largest resort in the region, Mont Tremblant, is now open.
US ski areas are treading a fine path as the continent's pandemic cases rise and individual states announce a variety of steps to try to suppress this. The USA has by far the world's highest infections and death numbers. However, so far, most ski areas have been allowed to open.
There appears to have been a much more coordinated approach between ski areas and health and local government bodies in North America than in the Alps with operating procedures worked on and agreed for many months in advance. A key difference between North America and much of Europe being a strict limit on numbers on the mountain, and on numbers using shared lifts to allow social distancing, as well as online ticket purchasing only and other measures to avoid any danger of crowds developing.
Many ski areas are selling out their limited number of available tickets daily in advance.
All areas are emphasising the need for skiers to stick strictly to operating rules to "save the season." Snow conditions are variable, although most areas have adequate cover. Resorts in the East had to delay opening due to it being too warm and precipitation falling as rain until a week or so back. There have also been operating issues caused by gale force winds at ski areas on both east and west coasts.
Not every US ski area has been allowed to open however, Taos in New Mexico has had its season start delayed by state restrictions there although it is now permitted to open.
Base depths on the western side of the country are now past the metre mark on upper slopes at many resorts.
Still with us? We're missing the days when all we had to worry about was snow...