Skiinfo reports that the 2009 ski season has kicked off in the southern hemisphere with Mt Hutt in New Zealand the first resort to open. In North America skiing at the last Canadian resort open for snow sports, Whistler Blackcomb, has finished earlier than expected due to warm weather, but a handful of resorts are still open. More than a dozen ski centres are still open in Europe across six countries, with fresh snow reported in the past week at open glacier ski areas in Austria and Norway.
In Austria the Dachstein Glacier re-opened for snow sports at the weekend after a month of closure and it’s due to remain open now right through to Spring 2010. There’s extensive cross-country ski trails and 50cm (20 inch) snow base on the glacier. Downhill skiing and boarding is served by the Hunerkogellift and Austriaschartelifts. The Dachstein re-opening took Austria’s open ski area tally to five, up from a low of four in the latter half of May, but it’s back down to four for another week at least as the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier above Kaprun, which has a 348cm (11.5 foot) snow base is just entering an eight day closure period for maintenance through to Jun 10th when it re-opens. The Kaunertal Glacier has received another 14cm (seven inches) of fresh snow in the past week, taking its seasonal total since last autumn very close to the 10 metre mark (over 33 feet), on 984cm. Snow depth is 139cm (four and a half feet) on upper slopes at 3250m. On the Stubai Glacier near Innsbruck there are five lifts and five blue and red grade runs open on a 280cm (9.3 foot) base. The Hintertux glacier near Mayrhofen currently has one of the largest ski areas open with eight lifts operating serving 23km (14.5 miles) of terrain open including the ski-run down to Tuxer Ferner House at 2,660m. Snow depth is 325cm (11 feet).
It’s just ten days until the ski slopes re-open in France with Les 2 Alpes the first of the three remaining French summer ski areas (with Tignes and Val d’isere following ) to re-open on the 13th.
In the meantime the other two choices in the Alps are Italy and Switzerland. In Italy the two red and one black run on the Presena Glacier above Passo Tonale were joined last weekend by the re-opened Passo Stelvio summer ski area. Temperatures on the upper slopes have been hovering a few degrees below zero and fresh snow is expected there at the weekend. A third Italian summer ski area, Val Senales, is scheduled to open in 10 days on the 13th. With Saas Fee still closed the 365-day-a-year open snow slopes of Zermatt are the only lift-served skiing in Switzerland at present. Two long reds are currently open down from Furggsattel to Trockner Steg. These are not the highest ski runs in Europe that make up the resort’s usual summer ski area higher up the ‘Matterhorn Glacier Paradise’ ski slopes, but at the bottom of the area, 500 vertical metres below the main area.
In Scandinavia there’s still a week of skiing left at Finland’s Ruka, which was one of the first resorts to open in Europe last October and is clocking up a 200+ day season. One run is open until at least June 11th. Norway has the biggest choice in the region with three glacier areas to choose from at Stryn, Folgefonn and Galhoppigen. Of the three, Folgefonn has posted the most impressive statistics of the past seven days, reporting a fresh 70cm (over two feet) of snow for those lucky enough to be visiting. It has a 450cm (15 foot) snow base on the groomed piste.
Riksgransen’s midnight sun skiing days when the lifts opened from 10pm to around 1am in the 24 hour daylight at its northerly latitude ended on Sunday when it finished the season with a natural snow base of 79cm (2.5 feet).
Although public skiing has ended a few weeks ago in Spain, Europe’s most southerly ski resort is currently playing host to the Spanish Alpine Ski Team which is training on the slopes of the resort’s Veleta Mountain at 3000 metres. The Spanish national team coach, the Italian Marco Viale, said, "The snow conditions are extraordinary ... in the morning the snow quality is perfect hard-packed allowing skiers to train for at least three hours and that is really good for elite skiers. ... It is very important to be able to train in your own country. I hope this will help us to be ready for Vancouver 2010".
Elsewhere in the world as northern India is facing an intense heat wave, Rohtang Pass in India's northern state of Himachal Pradesh is proving popular with tourists escaping the heat of the plains. The 4,000m / 13,000-foot-high Pass was opened last week. It’s the highest point on one key road in the region and an important destination on the itinerary of tourists visiting the picturesque Kullu valley. A variety of adventure activities like ski scooters, snow tubes, skiing, sleigh and yak rides attract thousands of tourists here daily. Visitors are reported to be extremely excited about seeing snow in the middle of a summer season.
Across the Pacific in the US it’s the last few days of Arapahoe Basin’s ski season. The last open resort in Colorado will end its season this Sunday, June 7th, but can report 9cm (three inches) of fresh snow in the past 72 hours topping up its 80cm (32 inch) base. It currently has two lifts running. Snowbird in Utah, which is currently closed midweek and had previously said it expected to close on 15th June, an extended closing date, now appears to be planning to also close on June 7th. "At this time our available terrain is recommended for advanced to expert skiers and riders only", said a company spokesperson. Mammoth in California and Snowbird in Utah expect to stay operational for at least a week longer than that. Mammoth hasn’t had any fresh snow and skiing is on a 60-120cm (2-4 foot) base with 4 or 5 lifts operating. A fourth choice in the US is Timberline, Oregon which normally stays open for most of the year, except for a fortnight closed period in September. This currently has a 12 foot (360cm) base on the Palmer snowfield with lifts operating between 8am and 2.30pm. North of the border Whistler Mountain which had the last ski slopes in Canada still open for the 2008-9 season, closed for snow sports earlier than planned on Sunday, May 31st, two weeks ahead of the publicised closing date of June 14th. "Epic spring conditions that were enjoyed up until this past weekend have deteriorated very quickly over the past few days", says Bob Dufour, Whistler Blackcomb’s vice president of operations. "The snow quality is quickly diminishing and posing more hazards by the day. Looking at the warm weather and sunshine in the forecast, the conditions will obviously deteriorate further". A number of closures had already been forced, including popular runs in the Emerald zone such as Green Acres, Bobcat, Chipmunk and Beansprout. Deterioration of conditions has also required crews to close the terrain park located on the Upper Dave Murray; a few park features were relocated for the final days to upper Jolly Green Giant. Crews continued to work hard to maintain ski outs to the bottom of the Emerald and Red Chairs through to Sunday. In addition, the Peak Chair had to be closed intermittently last week due to high avalanche danger because of warming conditions. "Guest and employee safety is obviously our number one concern and there are just too many hazards that are emerging to operate safely. With a season as long as Whistler Blackcomb’s, it is always a race against the weather to the very end", continued Dufour. There’ll now be a near three week break for Canadian snow sports before glacier skiing begins on Blackcomb Mountain on Saturday, June 20th. A variety of ski and snowboard summer camps kick into high gear, and public skiing and riding will be available on the Horstman Glacier through July, weather permitting.
Meanwhile in the southern hemisphere sunny skies, bubbles and smiles all round were the hallmarks of the opening of the ski season at Mt Hutt in New Zealand for opening day on Saturday, May 30th More than 2000 Cantabrians and visitors to the region turned out to welcome the snow and celebrate skiing in May at Mt Hutt. The high country ski area opening was two weeks ahead of schedule as a result of early snow coverage. Ski Area Manager Dave Wilson says it was the first time the mountain had opened in May for more than a decade. "We have a one metre snow base which is phenomenal for this time of year. Getting the mountain open early has been a huge challenge for staff but we had a great day today making it well worth the effort". "Feedback and support from the local Methven community has been very much appreciated – everyone is delighted to be open early. It’s a fantastic start". First on the chair honours (picture attached), complete with t-shirts, went to Suzanne Fenwick, Ian Beale, Mike Roberson and Stef Waldon of Christchurch on the Quad while Ashburton’s Michael Borland, Michael Geddes, Benjamin Mort, Lance Cotter, Callum Brooker were first on the Summit Six along with 11-year-old Sophie Sinke of Christchurch. Lindauer flowed for the early birds and glasses raised to toast the 2009 season just on 9am as the chairs opened.
Mr Wilson said stormy weather bringing more snow was expected to hit the mountain tonight (Saturday) and Sunday with weather clearing again for Monday. "Today’s weather was really one out of the bag. The forecast wasn’t too flash so we were rapt to wake up to a bluebird day. Definitely life as it ought to be today". Mt Hutt is expected to remain open until early October. Coronet Peak in Queenstown is scheduled to open next Saturday, June 6 with The Remarkables following on Saturday June 20.