Thursday, September 3, 2009

Europe Resorts Gearing Up For 09-10 As Snow Still Falls In Southern Hemisphere

Skiinfo reports that there is some debate each year as to when the old ski season ends, and the new one begins. The problem is that a few resorts like Hintertux in Austria and Zermatt in Switzerland never really close. In September and October however ski resorts that have been closed for weeks or months open a fresh and aim to stay open right through to the following Spring, which feels rather like the start of the ski season. The first scheduled opening of 09-10 therefore could be this weekend, at Solden, although warm temperatures mean there is some doubt whether it will open this Saturday, September 5th as planned. However the resort has just reported 10cm (four inches) of fresh snow on its twin glaciers. After Solden, Pitztal is due to open slightly later in the month. It, (along with Zermatt), is one of two resorts offering the new Israeli IDE snow making system which can make abundant snow at almost any temperature. Then Tignes will be the first ski area to open in France, later in the month.
Whether these early openings constitute the ‘start of winter 2009-10’ remains open to debate. It’s in October that more resorts begin to open in Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland, most offering ‘ski test’ weekends and start-of-the-season parties. So the momentum gains pace as we move towards November.
However the continuing warm sunny weather in the Alps, coupled with the scheduled closure of both remaining French summer ski areas last weekend means the number of glacier ski areas has dropped to single figures this week for the first time this year, which doesn’t bode well for the imminent ‘start of winter 09-10 either.
Italy has three glaciers to ski on at Passo Stelvio, Cervinia and Val Senales, each reporting a metre (3.3 feet) of snow, but Cervinia will close for the summer this weekend (Sunday 6th September) as scheduled, re-opening in mid-October for weekends then permanently from the start of November.
It’s a similar picture in Switzerland where Zermatt and Saas Fee are both open, both still operating their terrain parks and both again with around a metre of snow depth. In Saas Fee’s case the precise figure is 80cm (2.7 feet) and the resort notes it has had no fresh snow since august 4th, almost a month ago. It describes the snow conditions as, "Hard, Spring-like".
In Austria only the Molltal; and Hintertux glaciers are open, with the Kitzsteinhorn at Kaprun closed due to lack of snow – reporting 8cm (three inches) on the slopes. Hintertux is claiming the deepest snow and the biggest ski area open anywhere in the northern hemisphere at present, with 165cm (5.5 feet) of snow and 15km (nine miles) of groomed piste.
The only other ski area open in Europe is in Norway where Folgefonn is open, but only to groups who reserve in advance (typically national teams).
Across the Atlantic we’re in to the last week of skiing in North America since winter 2008-9 began there 11 months ago. Timberline in Oregon, the country’s only near-year-round resort will shut down for the best part of a month after the coming weekend, re-opening on October 2nd. The resort’s two lifts are operating between 7.30am and 1.30pm until Sunday, serving easier terrain from Magic mile and expert only terrain on the Palmer Snowfield, the terrain park is still closed and snow depths are around three feet (90cm).
Back across the Atlantic and in to the southern hemisphere South Africa’s Tiffindell is still reporting itself open and still reporting temperatures below zero with a 1.2km piste open, 50cm (20 inches) deep. The webcam image makes it appear the resort is having difficulties maintaining the snow cover as the season winds up. Over in Lesotho, Afriski updated their snow report at the weekend and thus appears open. The resort notes snow depths of up to 1.2m (four feet), a one kilometre run and the terrain park open, and that access roads are clear.
In South America conditions have quietened down a lot after the big snowfalls a little over a week ago and there has been little or no fresh snow at any of the continent’s ski centres. Fortunately however the accumulated base at most areas, particularly those in Chile, means that a long snowy Spring is in prospect even without any fresh. Portillo, for example, is 100% open with a 220cm (over seven foot) base on upper slopes and 155cm (over five foot) at the base.
In Australia there has been fresh snow at several areas in recent days. Perisher has been a particular beneficiary receiving 13cm (five inches) of fresh flakes over the past 24 hours bringing the resort’s new snow total to 19cm (eight inches) since Sunday. Cover is still in very good condition across the open trails, with 48 lifts, 4 fusion terrain parks, a Rider X course and the Superpipe all open. The resort’s Spring Carnival is coming up next week from 7 to 20 September. There’ll be live music, family entertainment, fireworks spectacular, kid’s activities, special overnight deals, Flake Film Festival, night snow shoe tours and food and wine dinners, all at no extra cost to the lift pass.
In New Zealand resorts have been buffeted by extreme weather conditions in the past week, including low-visibility and strong winds, but there’s still a healthy snow base at most resorts – typically between one and two metres (3-7 feet). The strong winds did lead to temporary closures at most of the country’s ski areas last week. However the weather extreme has also brought plenty of fresh snow. 20 – 30 centimetres of new snow has landed at Coronet Peak and The Remarkables ski areas in the past few days taking the seven day total to 62cm (over two feet) at Coronet Peak and 69cm (2.3 feet) at The Remarkables. On Mt Ruapehu, Whakapapa reports packed powder on trails, variable off trail with pockets of wind blown snow. The resort received 10cm (four inches) of fresh snow overnight and has an upper mountain base of 179cm (six feet). Neighbouring Turoa received 5cm (two inches) of fresh but has a deeper 238cm (eight foot) base.
David Ovendale, General Manager Sales & Marketing for NZSki which owns Coronet Peak, Mt Hutt and The Remarkables, said the latest snowfall has set the ski areas up perfectly for the southern hemisphere’s spring. "There could not be a better time to come for a quick ski fix – it’s affordable, the conditions are fantastic and we can offer something for everyone", he said.
As we enter September most of the major competitions the country’s ski areas have been staging are winding up and thoughts have moved on to Spring season events. However some of the top athletes in the world are still in the country and several will descend on Mt Hutt today and tomorrow (September 2-3) for the Red Bull Speed Camp (picture attached), offering visitors the chance to watch some of the fastest skiers pushing their speeds to their limits. In its 2nd year, the Red Bull International Race Training Arena has already been visited by World Cup racing superstars such as Overall World Champion Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway and Marlies Schild of Austria.
Paul Marks, Head of Race and Events at Mt Hutt, said the action will be "fast and furious". "Conditions are top-notch and spectator viewing should be as good as it gets", he said. This year, New Zealand’s "Capital of Speed" will see the likes of the top Swiss, German and Canadian women and Swedish men take to the slopes alongside the German, Australian and Dutch Paralympic ski teams. As well as supporting the race training arena at Mt Hutt, Red Bull supports some of the world’s top downhill alpine skiers and the world’s fastest and scariest downhill course, the "Hahnenkamm" in Kitzbuhel, Austria. Thanks to a new start platform at the top of Mt Hutt, athletes will move from 0 to 80km/hr in just seconds. Further down the course athletes will hit the Red Bull launch pad at over 90km/hr sending them through the air up to 40m down the hill. Athletes will face camel bumps as well as a second jump before they reach the finish line in the base area in under a minute.