Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fresh Snowfall Tops up Northern Glaciers, Heavy Snow South of the Equator

Skiinfo reports that as the long 2008-9 ski season finally winds down in the northern hemisphere, heavy snow in both Australia and New Zealand has led to the southern hemisphere’s ski season beginning five weeks early last weekend. Meanwhile there are still dozens of ski areas open in North America and in Europe, where the summer ski season is just starting off for 2009.
In the Alps several dozen major resorts called it a day for winter 2008-9 last weekend as May began, many reporting record or near record snow accumulations and better financial results than predicted by a pessimistic media, the largest resort owning business on the continent, the Compagnie des Alpes, amongst those announcing a 2% increase in sales for the season this week.
Two resorts are left open in France, but both Chamonix and Tignes will close for the winter this weekend on Sunday May 10th. Then there’s a month’s wait until the country’s three summer ski options – Tignes, Val d’Isere and Les 2 Alpes open. In the meantime the only snow skiing in France will be indoors, at the Amneville indoor slope.
Anyone fancying a final French snow fix for ‘winter’ 2008-9 will be pleased to hear that fresh snow is still falling on the mountains. Chamonix has added another 40cm (16 inches) of snow in the past week taking upper slope base depths to 375cm (12.5 feet) and Tignes has added 10cm (four inches) since last week. The base depth on the remaining ski slopes open there is 175cm – just under six feet.
Most of the conventional Austrian ski areas which had remained open in to May finally closed at the weekend, with St Christoph and Ischgl amongst those running their lifts for the last time this winter last Sunday. But half a dozen Austrian glacier ski areas remain open through June including Kaunertal, Kitzsteinhorn and Tux. The Stubai glacier, which currently has a 3.5 metre (12 foot) base, added 10cm (four inches) of fresh snow – the ski season here began last September, more than eight months ago! Elsewhere The Molltal glacier remains open until this Sunday when it will close for five weeks, the Pitztal glacier a little longer, to late May. Meanwhile the Dachstein Glacier is closed for most of May, re-opening on the 31st.
In Switzerland Saas Fee has moved ahead of Zermatt for the greatest snowbase in the country, with 446cm (nearly 15 feet) compared to Zermatt’s 402c,m (over 13 feet) – so academic really. Saas Fee is also currently in the middle of an annual 10 day shut down before re-opening next week on the 13th to continue its near year-round ski lift operations. Engelberg and the Diavolezza glacier near St Moritz are both also open for snow sports.
In Italy the Presena glacier above Passo Tonale has clocked up still more snow and looks set to stay open through June. It is reporting the country, and probably Europe’s biggest snow base with six metres (20 feet) of snow lying. The snow on the glacier has fallen as rain at lower altitudes, increasing the avalanche risk once again on the remaining snow pack now that the sunshine has returned.
The season ended on Sunday after a great winter in Andorra but it’s still possible to ski on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. Boí Taüll and Masella are both open to the end of the coming weekend on May 10th. Further to the south on the Spanish Mediterranean coast Sierra Nevada, Europe’s most southerly ski resort, will be the last resort in the country top close and will be open for more than a week longer, until May 15th. It is currently offering half price ski passes, sun, three metres (ten feet) of spring snow and more than 50km of slopes to enjoy.
In northerly European latitudes the ski season is till in full swing at resorts like Sweden’s Riksgransen, which will soon offer its annual treat of lift operating at midnight when 24 hour daylight returns. On Saturday (May 9th) the third of Norway’s three summer ski destinations, Galdhøpiggen, will open, joining Stryn and Folgefonn (which has a 400cm/13 feet base). The latter posted one of Skiinfo.com’s few powder alarms this week, reporting 20cm (eight inches) of fresh snow on Monday.
Finally for Europe, a sixth indoor snow centre, The Snow Centre, has opened today at Hemel Hempstead, close to London, bringing fresh snow year round for the British capital’s skiers.
In North America the ski areas still open in Canada are limited to Sunshine in Alberta and Whistler in British Columbia. South of the border there’s a larger choice in the Western US states with Mammoth and Squaw in Caliofornia, Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, Snowbird in Utah and Mt Bachelor and Timberline in Oregon all at least still partially open.
In the southern hemisphere the Australian ski season began five weeks earelier than planned when Mt Buller decided to run its ski lifts and open to the public at the weekend with an unprecedented 35cm/14 inch snowfall. "It's the best snow we've had this early since we opened in 1964, so it's pretty huge for us", Mt Buller spokeswoman Gillian Dobson told local media.
The snow arrived soon afterwards in New Zealand where enthusiasts dug out their gear and hiked up to the top of Canterbury’s Mt Hutt over the weekend to also enjoy ‘first tracks’ of the season. Snowfall on Thursday and Friday last week and continued cold temperatures has resulted in a 45cm (18 inch) base at the high country ski resort. James McKenzie, Assistant Ski Area Manager for Mt Hutt, said there were a number of keen skiers making the most of the early snow over the weekend. "We’ve got some awesome powder at the moment so it’s great to see locals hitting the slopes and having some fun so early in the season", he said. The ski area is officially scheduled to open and start running its lifts in just over five weeks on 13 June.