Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mixed Snowfall Messages With Record Snowfall Here, Delayed Opening There

Skiinfo reports a mixed picture for snow cover across the northern hemisphere as the main start of the ski season approaches. Hundreds of ski resorts are now open, but while some continue to open earlier than planned because of big snowfalls, others have had to delay opening, despite having sizable snowfalls in late October or early November, as subsequent warm weather has melted snow and thwarted snow making efforts. Warm weather is always a problem for those areas that invest in snowmaking as a ‘snow guarantee’.
Western Canada – and particularly the Pacific coast of British Columbia - continues to report the most remarkable snowfall, in fact an ‘extreme weather event’ in November, with Mount Washington and Whistler both reporting all-time record levels of snowfall for the month, in Whistler’s case now more than five metres (17 feet). The snowfall has not just broken decades-old records, it has smashed them, and passed the old record levels more than a week before the end of the month with snow still falling. The snow has created great conditions for snow sports but challenges for operations and in some cases high avalanche danger to be be wary of if heading off piste. The big snowfalls have been less dramatic but still spectacular further inland, where many Albertan and British Columbian resorts opened early and continue to do so, with Fernie the latest to announce it will do so for a preview weekend on November 28th and 29th.
But it’s not all good news, on the East Coast ski areas are struggling to open with temperatures too warm .
The snowfall window seems quite narrow too, Alyeska, the largest resort in Alaska, to the north of British Columbia is opening today but is having to rely on machine made snow to open a few runs. In the main US states to the south it’s a similar West/East split to Canada with most resorts in the West that intended to open, now open ready for Thanksgiving and reporting fresh snow if not at the dramatic levels to the north. Vail is one of the latest to open with fresh snow there. Last week snow fell on several consecutive nights in Mammoth and on Friday 20 November a powerful storm hit Tahoe, dumping between 10 and 12 inches of new snow in the upper elevations. The following day when Tahoe’s major resorts opened - Heavenly, Squaw Valley and Northstar - the storm had blown over and skiers and snowboarders were greeted with fresh powder and blue, sunny skies.
In Europe the picture is also mixed, no more so than around Western Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc, where Chamonix reported 50cm (20 inches) of fresh snow at mid-mountain yesterday on the French side, while Courmayeur on the Italian side announced it was postponing its planned opening this weekend due to lack of snow. Lech and St Anton have also delayed opening.
The problem has been limited fresh snow and/or warm temperatures in parts of the Alps over recent weeks after the big snowfalls that many areas received earlier in the month, although Skiinfo continues to issue powder alarms for big snowfalls in some places, with resorts in Italy and Switzerland reporting 20cm (8 inch) plus falls in the past 24 hours. Monterosa is another western Italian area that has announced it will postpone its opening planned for this weekend however. Yesterday 15 cm (six inches) of fresh snow fell on the glacier near Laax in Switzerland, bringing it to a snow depth of 90cm (three feet) on top (3018 metres). Saas Fee has had 10cm of fresh snow so far this morning .
There have been reports of more fresh snow in France with Val d’Isere receiving a foot or so and an editor from website WeLove2Ski.com reporting skiing 1,500m of vertical at Tignes yesterday.

Elsewhere in Italy the snow is still falling, with the giant dolomite superski area scheduled to starty opening this weekend. It’s Alta Badia sector around Corvara is one of the biggest beneficiaries of recent falls adding 45cm (18 inches) in the past few days. Cervinia has had a foot, much of it yesterday, generating a Skiinfo.co.uk powder alarm. The Presena glacier above Passo Tonale has some of the greatest snow depths in Europe at present with 130cm (4.3 feet) of snow.

It’s a mixed picture, once again, in Austria where some resorts are reporting fresh snow and on-schedule openings while some big names, notably Lech and St Anton in the Arlberg, have postponed their openings – Lech by a week to December 5th, St Anton as yet undecided for how long. However Sölden has had another 10cm (4 inches) in the past 24 hoursand there’s nearly 90cm (three feet) lying on the glacier now. There's also great skiing and boarding on offer this week at one of Austria's highest ski areas - in the country's southernmost province of Carinthia, known as the sunny side of the Alps. The Mölltal glacier has nine lifts and skiing up to 3,122m, with a great range of superbly-groomed pistes for every level of skier. Skiinfo reports it currently has the deepest snow on the continent with 170cm (5.7 feet) lying. Mölltal is near the lovely Carinthian ski village of Heiligenblut, which is open this weekend (Nov 28/29) and has fabulous skiing and boarding against the stunning backdrop of the Grossglockner, Austria's highest mountain at 3,798m. Ischgl says it will open this weekend. "There are perfect snow conditions for our opening! All lifts will be open on November 27th" said Andrea Gintsberger, Marketing Manager of the Paznaun – Ischgl Tourism association. "With a valid ski pass there is free entrance to the Kate Perry concert this Saturday November 28th at 6pm. We expect about 20 000 guests to come that day!". The annual Santa Claus World Championships are again taking place at Samnaun over the mountain in Switzerland.
In Germany the best place to ski remains the Zugspitz glacier with 105cm (3.5 feet) of snow.
Scandinavian ski areas are having a similarly mixed picture, but most of the major resorts are now open.
In Sweden mild weather during last week delayed the openings of more ski resorts but the resort of Ramundberget opened a week earlier than planned on Saturday with a snow depth of 50cm (20 inches) thanks to some healthy snowfalls during the weekend, (without any artificial snow). The region’s largest ski area, Åre, which opened up one slope, Hamrebacken in the Duved area got 10cm (4 inches) of fresh snow on Monday. The resort will hosts the Ladies World Cup (Slalom and Giant Slalom) on December 11-13th and... "There's plenty of manmade snow already on the World Cup slopes, that together with forecasts of colder temperatures, looks promising", said Nalle Hansson and Anders Aspholm, managers at Åre.
It’s snowing at the moment in Norway where leading resorts Geilo and Hemsedal; have had some of the best snow of recent days and weeks.
Elsewhere in Europe there’s been heavy rain but no snow in Scotland and most of Eastern Europe continues to wait for snow. In Spain and the Pyrenees the good conditions and heavy snow earlier this month have also lapsed and planned openings this weekend at some resorts in that area are currently rather doubtful.
On the other side of the planet (Japan) heavy snowfalls the past couple of days primed Niseko's powdery slopes for the much-anticipated season opening today (picture attached), Powderlife Niseko has reported. The Grand Hirafu lifts were switched on at the weekend with hundreds of skiers and boarders turning out and hitting the mountain throughout the day to get their first taste of the 09-10 powder. Those keen enough were up waiting in line for the familiar opening bells and sirens to sound, and a steady stream of people continued to flow through the gates all day to sample the upper half of Hirafu. A solid one metre base up top allowed plenty of powder for all to share. And although there was only one official run open for business, everyone had a smile on their dial, happy to be up there on Day 1. At around mid-morning, many were treated to a brief bluebird moment which beautifully lit up the piste, trees and surrounding mountain ranges. The 'official' upper runs off the Ace #3 chair were pretty well tracked out by around 10am, but some skiers and boarders may have accidentally missed their download lift, sampling the goods all the way from top to bottom. Meanwhile, a group of Japanese and a handful of 'gaijin' (foreign) locals gathered outside the Welcome Centre on Saturday morning for the official resort opening ceremony. The cultural opening saw local identities, business owners and resort staff pay their respects, laying wreaths and blessing the area in anticipation of another great season. Niseko, on the island of Hokkaido, is Japan’s most famous ski resort and is becoming known for having some of the lightest, driest powder snow in the world.
India’s 2009-10 ski season has also started according to Gulmargski on Twitter, "The ski and snowboard season has started in Gulmarg, 70cm of fresh snow in this freeriding resort in the Himalaya!".