Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More Summer Skiing in Europe as Southern Hemisphere Season Starts Early

Skiinfo reports that there has been fresh snow in the past few days at ski areas in both northern and southern hemispheres. Arapahoe Basin, still open in Colorado for the northern hemisphere’s 2008-9 season, has had a few more inches; in the southern hemisphere big falls continue in New Zealand where the first ski areas are due to open at the weekend, a fortnight ahead of schedule, because of all the snow in May. It will be the first May opening in New Zealand since the 1990s.
The number of ski areas open worldwide remains around 20 (Excluding the hundreds of indoor snow and artificial surface slopes). A few areas have closed but new summer ski areas have opened and the numbers open will continue to increase over the next few weeks and months as more ski areas re-open for summer now than are left to close for winter 2008-9.
In Austria, although the Pitztal glacier closed last weekend, the number of ski areas still open will be back to five next weekend when the Dachstein Glacier is scheduled to re-open for summer skiing and boarding on Friday (29th May). The glacier currently has a 150cm (five foot) snow base and will be open from 7am daily so skiers and boarders can get on the slopes early to make the most of snow before the afternoon thaw sets in. Dachstein joins the still-open-since-2008 Kauntertal, Kitzsteinhorn, Stubai and Tux glaciers. Kaunertal currently reports a snow depth of 40-140cm (16 – 56 inches) with five lifts open serving a variety of terrain including the resort’s terrain park. Kitzsteinhorn above Kaprun closes for a week next week for maintenance but in the meantime there’s up to 303cm (just over 10 feet) of snow to enjoy on upper slopes, and still more than 80cm (nearly three feet) at the base of the summer ski area. The Stubai has a 280cm (over nine foot) base at 3,000m and seven runs – blues and reds – open, served by 11 lifts. Tux has a 325cm (nearly 11 foot) snow base and perhaps the largest ski area currently open in Europe with 42km (27 miles) of piste still open, served by 10 lifts.
To the West, Engelberg has finally closed for the season and with Saas Fee still closed for maintenance, two Swiss snow resort choices remain. The Diavolezza glacier, and the long 1,000 vertical metres descent from the top of it, remains open in the Engadin, close to St Moritz, in Switzerland. Only one run is open, and snow depth is down to 20cm (eight inches) at the 2,000m base of it (60cm/two feet at the 3,000mm top) but it’s one long run to be skiing in late May! The other choice is year-round ski destination Zermatt, which continues to operate its ski lifts on the continent’s highest runs, touching 3,900m.
France still lacks an open outdoor ski area as the country awaits the start of summer snow sports there next month, so the only other centres open in mainland Europe are in Italy, where the still open Presena Glacier above Passo Tonale (which still has two red and one black run open on a big snow depth with a 275m vertical) is joined by Passo Stelvio in Valtellina on Saturday (May 30) which will operate nine lifts to service its 20km (12 miles) of piste between 2760m and 3450m.
The only other lift-served Spring skiing still available in Europe is in Scandinavia where Norway, Sweden and Finland all have centres open. Norway’s Folgefonn glacier has a 450cm (15 foot) base, and the Stryn and Galdhøpiggen summer ski centres are also looking good.
Up in the Swedish Arctic, Riksgransen is bathed in 24 hour daylight making it possible for the ski lifts to run at 12 o’clock at night for skiing under the midnight sun. Over in Finland Ruka will continue to keep one run open for skiing through to mid-June.
In North America only Whistler remains open in Canada which currently has a healthy snow base of 159 centimetres (over five feet) with over 1,000 acres available to ski and ride. There’s also the added attraction of lift accessed downhill mountain biking in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park which is now open. The Upper Dave Murray Downhill run is hosting 14 jib features and a 35 foot jump before it transitions next winter into the Men’s Alpine Downhill course for the 2010 Winter Games. South of the border there are four ski areas to choose from. Arapahoe Basin has reported another 8cm (3 inches) of snow fell last Friday with base depths staying over a metre ( 3.3 feet). Snowbird in Utah is open to mid-June after extending its season and has 91 inches (2.3m) of snow lying at mid-mountain. In California Mammoth Mountain is also open at least until mid-June and has two – four feet (60-120cm) of snow lying with slope access via Broadway Express 1, Face Lift Express 3 and Chair 23. Timberline Lodge in Oregon kicked off its summer ski and snowboard season on Friday (22nd May), giving it the longest opening in the US. In the coming months, skiers and snowboarders from around the world will flock to the Palmer Snowfield, high on Mt. Hood’s south slope. After the first ski camp accessed the Palmer Snowfield via snowcat and surface lifts in the summer of 1956, the novelty of skiing in the summer started to become popular. Then, with the building of the original Palmer chairlift in 1978, the word quickly spread, and modern day American summer skiing was born. The Palmer chairlift was upgraded in 1996 to a state of the art high speed quad chairlift and the resort also offers expert grooming and innovative freestyle terrain features.
In the southern hemisphere it’s New Zealand that has the most snow news, with another 25cm (10 inches) of fresh snow falling on Sunday (May 24th) at Mt Hutt, meaning the resort is on course for it’s first May opening this millennium with the resort still reporting mid-winter conditions that have lasted throughout May and a base depth of one metre (40 inches). It’s the best early snow the ski area has had in decades, according to Dave Wilson, Ski Area Manager for Mt Hutt, which is aiming to open two weeks ahead of schedule, this Saturday, May 30th, subject to weather conditions. "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. 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". Mt Hutt received more than 170cm (nearly six feet) of snow in the first fortnight of May and has had regular falls since. For non-New Zealanders there’s an added benefit to heading south of the equator this year – the lowest prices for many years as well as the great snow, because the New Zealand dollar has fallen by more than a third against the Euro and the US Dollar and is even down against the British pound. 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.
Meanwhile more fresh snow fell on other New Zealand ski areas up to last weekend, which coming on top of consistent snowfall throughout May, is delivering spectacular pre-season conditions. Coronet Peak ski area, scheduled to open in less than two weeks on Saturday 6 June, received 50 - 100cm of snow over four days resulting in an 80cm base at the top of the mountain and a 50cm base at the bottom. Hamish McCrostie, Coronet Peak Ski Area Manager, said they couldn’t have asked for a better build up to season opening. "It’s just fantastic. We’ve had consistent snow falls since early May which is unusual but very welcome", he said. "We’ve started packing the snow already which bodes well for a really good base for the season to come". Across the valley at The Remarkables, the ski area received 45cm of fresh snow in 48 hours and has received 150cm over the last two weeks, resulting in a solid 120cm base across the mountain. The Remarkables Ski Area Manager Ross Lawrence said he was excited about current conditions stating "it is the best start to the season anybody can remember for many years (...)These are magic conditions for this time of year so we’re all hyped up for some superb skiing and riding from opening day", he said.