Skiinfo reports that as mid-May approaches the number of northern hemisphere ski areas still open has dropped below 50 – less than the number of indoor snow centres to choose from! But more heavy snow in New Zealand means that Mt Hutt is hoping to open two weeks ahead of schedule, and for the first time in a decade this would mean a May opening in just a few weeks.
But for those northern hemisphere ski areas still open, there has been Fresh snow. In Europe, Chamonix in France, which was the last in the country to close, along side Tignes, last weekend, did so in style with a further 25cm (ten inches) of fresh snow. The country’s ski areas now begin a five week break which will end with Les 2 Alpes opening for summer skiing on June 13th, with Tignes following a week later and Val d’Isere a week later still on the 27th.
Norway’s three summer ski areas are all open and Folgefonn has seen some of the best new snow of the past week with 20cm (eight inches) more falling. The Galdhøpiggen and Stryn glaciers are also now open. Riksgransen in Sweden's Arctic circle is another Scandinavian choice, with 24 hour daylight and midnight skiing due to begin any day now.
In Switzerland there are three ski areas currently operational. Engelberg has another 11 days of the season to go with the Titlis glacier currently reporting a 425cm (14 feet) base and temperatures still hovering around zero by midday. The Diavolezza glacier ski area near St Moritz in the Engadin region will stay open later in the month. Two lifts are open serving three runs.
Austria currently has the most ski areas open of any country in Europe, with five to choose from – equalled only by the US. The Molltal glacier currently has the deepest snow base in the country with 410cm (nearly 14 feet) but it is in the middle of a 10 day close down for maintenance – re-opening on the 20th from when it will remain opening right through to 16 May 2010! The Dachstein glacier also has an 11+ month season but is closed this month. So the Tux glacier, with a 395cm (13 foot) base and the biggest ski area currently open anywhere, with more than 64km (40 miles) of runs still available, has the biggest and deepest ski slopes at present. It doesn’t really close at all, all year, weather permitting. Other options currently open are the Kaunertal and Kitzsteinhorn (above Kaprun) glaciers. The Pitztal glacier is also open, through to 24th May with its remarkable new Israeli-built plus-temperatures (if needed) snowmaking system. Currently it has a 315cm (10 foot, 6 inch) base at the top so perhaps it’s not needed. The Stubai glacier near Innsbruck is another good choice with 12 lifts and 12 runs still operating and a snow base 5cm (two inches) deeper than Pitztal’s! It is open for another month through to mid-June.
In Italy only the Presana Glacier above Passo Tonale is currently open with three red and black runs to choose from. It will be joined in a few weeks by two more summer ski choices of Val Senales and Passo Stelvio but in the meantime claims some of the deepest snow depths in Europe with around six metres (20 feet) accumulated.
Elsewhere in Europe ski areas in the Pyrenees have finally ended operations after their spectacular 2008-9 season, but Europe’s most southerly major ski area, Sierra Nevada in Spain, is open for a final weekend, with 80-300 cm (3-10 feet) of snow still lying near the Mediterranean coast to enjoy (with perhaps a swim in that warm sea in the afternoon).
There has also been fresh snow on the hills of Western Scotland, although no ski-areas have re-opened.
In the US, Squaw Valley in California called it a day last weekend, but there’s still a handful of resorts to choose from for a final snow fix, throughout the West. Arapahoe Basin in Colorado will be open until June 7th, it currently has a 140cm (55 inch) base after receiving three inches (8cm) of new snow in the past week. Mammoth Mountain in California has sunny conditions and has announced it intendfs to stay open until at least June 14th, "maybe longer". Current base is up to 10.5 feet (315cm). In Utah, Snowbird’s long season continues, with skiing on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until May 25th, conditions permitting. Season snowfall to date has passed 15.5 metres, (621 inches) with 3.2 metres (128 inches) currently at mid-mountain. Timberline in Oregon is reporting the most snowfall of the past week with 20xcm (Eight inches) of new snow topping up it’s base depth of over five metres (17 feet), it’s looking good for skiing through to the annual two week shut down in September. Also in Oregon, Mt Bachelor has entered its last week of the season with an inch (2.5cm) of fresh snow reported in the past 24 hours. The resort closes on the 17th and currently has a base depth of 3.5 metres (140 inches) at mid-mountain.
North of the border just two ski areas remain open in Canada. Sunshine near Banff in Alberta will wind up its long 08-09 season this weekend with the 81st annual Slush Cup party, taking place May 18th. The long weekend party starts May 16th and ends on Canada’s Victoria Day. It features live performances by BC/DC, fun competitions, the Molson Beer Gardens, and of course, the Coors Light Snow Bunnies. Competition participants are encouraged to dress to impress – skiers and riders dressed in creative and original costumes, along with the skill to clear the chilly, slushy pond, will have a chance to win some great prizes. Prizes will also be awarded for Awesome Air, Best Belly Flop and Excellent Enema. Temperatures on the slopes are still between 3 and 10 degrees below zero and fresh snow has been falling – 2cm (an inch) in the past 24 hours and 10cm (four inches) in the past week, more than 50 runs are open for the final weekend. To the west, Whistler in British Columbia’s season still has months to run with glacier skiing on offer, before it finally winds down 08-09 a few months before the excitement reaches even greater fever pitch and the long awaited 09-10 Olympic ski season begins. Whistler Blackcomb has revised its late spring operating dates to offer skiing and riding through May 18 on Blackcomb Mountain and snowpack permitting until June 14 on Whistler Mountain. There will then be a five day break before summer skiing starts on Blackcomb glacier from June 20th to July 26th. Whistler too has had fresh snow, with 4cm (2 inches) in the past 24 hours and 14cm (6 inches) in the past week, snow base is 189cm (over six feet) with 3000 acres still open.
In New Zealand skiers and riders can look forward to hitting Mt Hutt’s slopes later this month as ski area staff work to open two weeks ahead of schedule for the first time in at least 10 years.
Mt Hutt (picture attached) has received more than 170cm (nearly six feet) of snow over the past 12 days resulting in a 110cm (nearly four foot) snow base and a decision to work towards a Saturday 30 May opening (conditions permitting). It’s the best early snow the ski area has had in decades, according to Dave Wilson, Ski Area Manager for Mt Hutt. "We’ve got awesome snow conditions so have decided to open early for some May skiing. But it’s been a big call to make", he said. "There are huge logistics involved in opening a ski area ahead of schedule". Mr Wilson said the mountain crew would be working around the clock to bring their original schedule forward. "We need to ensure our suppliers can meet our deadlines, go through all of our health and safety checks and ensure we have enough staff to provide the best possible snow experience from opening day. A lot of staff have changed their plans to get here early which is humbling. We’re also bringing in staff from our sister mountains (Coronet Peak and The Remarkables) in Queenstown to help us out". Mr Wilson said the Summit Six Chairlift, the Quad Chair and the Magic Carpet would be operating for the early opening and that the Triple Chair would open in the following weeks, snow dependant. "Our outlook for a 30 May opening is positive as long as conditions remain favourable and the weather permits on the day", he said. Paul Creswick, from the Mt Hutt Marketing Group and owner of Brinkley Resort in Methven, said the news was fantastic. "This is spectacular news for every tourism operator in town. The early opening and reports of lots of snow coupled with the soft New Zealand dollar and some great airline deals bodes well for everyone in Methven and the surrounding area this season", he said."Many operators are already reporting a significant increase in domestic and international enquiries from last year", he added.