Wednesday, December 9, 2009

After A Warm Snap Inflicts Some Weekend Damage, It’s Back To Snow For Most

Skiinfo reports that although the snowfall has eased in the Alps from a week ago, it is still continuing with at least a few inches of fresh on the upper slopes at many resorts. Italy was a major beneficiary at the weekend and its resorts now have some of the world’s deepest snow cover at present. At the start of this week its Switzerland that is posting the most powder alarms with resorts reporting 20 or 30cm of new snow. Elsewhere the western US is seeing some big snowfalls with Squaw Valley above Lake Tahoe, California, reporting 60cm (two feet) of snow on Monday.
Italy has had the most snow anywhere in the past week and currently has some of the world’s biggest accumulations. The biggest falls were in the north-west of the country (Piemonte, Lombardia, Valle d'Aosta) and in the last few days in Alto Adige. However the snow cover isn’t universal and in Friuli a lack of snow las lead to the start of the season being postponed.
The biggest accumulation of the past seven days has been in Val d'Ultimo which reports 190cm (6.3 feet) of new snow. Val Senales / Schnals is not far behind with 160cm (5.3 feet) and Santa Caterina is on 130cm (4.3 feet), Cortina d'Ampezzo 110 cm (3.65 feet). The Arabba Marmolada glacier currently reports the deepest snow anywhere in the world with 312cm (10.5 feet) on upper slopes, 55cm (22 inches) at the base. It’s a similar picture, just a few centimetres less, on the Presena Glacier above Passo Tonale. Bormio, one of the winter’s early openers six-weeks ago, has 190cm (6.3 feet) on upper slopes, 30cm (a foot) below. Madesimo and Cervinia - Breuil each has about 1.5 metres (five feet) on upper slopes.
Thirty resorts have already partially opened their ski areas in France, of which six are currently only open at weekends. That number will grow to at least 40 this weekend. After a warming period following last week’s snow, with some rain damage to lower slopes, more snow has started falling again and Orelle, lift-linked to Val Thorens in The Three Valleys (each of which is now at least partially open) in the northern Alps, issued a powder alarm yesterday with a 20cm (eight inch) snowfall. Resorts scheduled to open this weekend include La Plagne, Serre Chevalier, Flaine, Vars and Avoriaz. La Clusaz currently reports the best snow depth in the country with 120cm (four feet) of snow. In the Pyrenees, Bareges and La Mongie have the most snow with 90cm (three feet). Val d’Isere will host the 54th edition of the "Critérium de la Première Neige" this weekend on the 11th - 13th December for Women and the following weekend (18th -20th December) for men.
There has been limited new snowfall in Austria, however the country’s glacier ski are reporting some of the deepest snow available anywhere. The snow line in Austria is between 500 and 800 metres today and the Austrian Broadcast Corporation ORF predicts more snowfall for Saturday and low temperatures between -6 and 0 degrees (Celsius) for Sunday. The Molltal glacier has among the three biggest snow depths in the world at present with 2,2m (7.3 feet), while Pitztal, Solden, Stubai and Hintertux glaciers all have at least 1.5m (five feet)of snow. Kaprun has released powder alarms reporting 40cm of new snow in the past 24 hours. Austrian resorts which will open this weekend include more of the SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser with 15cm (six inches) of snow in Brixental and Kleinwalsertal (opening on the 12th) with up to 40cm (15 inches) of snow at the Nebelhorn ski area. Seefeld – Rosshütte, Gerlos/ Zillertal and Lermoos/ Tiroler Zugspitz Arena will also open with 30cm (a foot) of snow.
It’s a similar picture over the border in Germany where the Zugspitzplatt has the most snow with 125 (4.1 feet). Oberstdorf has 30cm (a foot).
After heavy snow last week in Switzerland almost cut off the resort of Engelberg and other resorts reported bug falls, Swiss resorts have again been announcing substantial snowfalls of at least 20cm in each in the past 24 hours. Davos, Gstaad and Les Diablerets are among the latest to note substantial new snowfalls, with Engelberg also reporting another 20cm (eight inches). Verbier had the biggest single snowfall, with 30cm (a foot) of new snow. Swiss resorts are now reporting some of the deepest snow depths in the world, with Andermatt recording some of the deepest snow, a1.3m (4.3 feet) base at the bottom of the slopes and 1.9m (6.3 feet) on upper runs.
In Andorra and Spain the news is less good as pouring rain and warm weather ruined some of the great conditions reported only a week ago. Only Spain’s largest resorts of Baqueira (30-60 cm and 77 km) and Formigal (10-80 cm and 64 km) continue to offer good conditions. However Panticosa (30-60 cm and 22 km), Cerler (20-65 cm and 18 km), Astun (20-80 cm and 20 km), Candanchu (15-65 cm and 29 km), Boi Taull (15-30 cm and 20 km), La Molina (10-20cm and 3 km), Masella (10-25 km and 9 km) and Grand Pallars ski resorts (Espot, Port Ainé and Tavascan, 15-40 cm with 60 km) all in the Pyrenees, are still open. Outside the Pyrenees only Sierra Nevada with 10-30 cm and 5km of runs is open for skiers. A cooling trend is expected for the weekend however, allowing ski resorts to put snow making facilities back in to operation.
In Scandinavia there has been a similar roller coaster of weather to the Alps and Pyrenees with just a few centimetres of snow for some resorts.
However Åre in Sweden is hosting the ladies WC this weekend and they are giving away one free day pass to all spectators who come to watch the competitions. The ski resort of Säfsen will open up two slopes this weekend.
In Scotland, Cairngorm remains open and has extended the terrain available, with a descent to the bottom of the funicular on a narrow band of snow possible this week. Low temperatures should help to maintain this possibility. The country’s other four centres have insufficient snow to open.
There are no reports of any ski areas open yet in Eastern Europe although Bansko in Bulgaria has said it plans to open this weekend and the webcams are showing a snowy picture in the Czech Republic.
Across the Atlantic most areas of North America have seen improved conditions. The exception is possibly British Columbia (Canada) where conditions couldn’t really actually improve much on the record breaking November snowfall. The only problem there is that it’s very cold – as low as -40C overnight, so wrap up well! Kicking Horse and Fernie are now open, joining the rest. Virtually all of the province’s ski areas are now open, although Panorama still has to join them, with opening scheduled for this Friday, November 11. At Fernie conditions are described as, “fantastic” with over a six feet (1.8m) of settled snow base in the five alpine bowls. Heli-skiing is the latest snow sport to benefit from the great snow in BC with Great Canadian Heli-Skiing announcing that its first paying guests went heli‐skiing last Sunday, December 6th, three weeks before the normal start date! This lucky private party, which includes the only North American delegate to be invited to judge the snowboarding events at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, shows that amongst Great Canadian’s guests, snow is definitely trumping the economy!. Due to numerous calls into Great Canadian Heli‐Skiing’s office by guests demanding to come heli‐skiing in order to enjoy the amazing conditions, the decision was made to meet consumer demand by operating much earlier than scheduled. The next group of lucky skiers and boarders will arrive Friday, December 11th for a three day trip. Further highlighting how snow is trumping the economy, November bookings to Great Canadian Heli‐Skiing were 30% higher than any other previous November and it was the second biggest month in the past six years.
In Alberta, Sunshine’s famous Delirium Dive opened at the weekend, the earliest opening in its ten year history. As one of Sunshine Village’s three freeride zones, the Dive offers some of the most extreme inbounds terrain in North America. This week it was named one of the ‘World’s Scariest Ski Slopes’ by MSN, to add to its many other accolades. "We’ve had fantastic snow this season enabling us to open the Dive earlier than ever before. Expert skiers and snowboarders will be very happy!", said Dan Markham, of Ski Banff-Lake Louise-Sunshine. Within the Dive’s 600 acres of terrain, natural features include 20 metre cornices, frozen waterfalls, stepped pillow drops, jagged rock spines, and 25 metre cliffs. These natural hazards are unmarked and exist throughout the area. Skiers and snowboarders need to use good judgment, know their skill level, and understand that mountain conditions may change quickly. Entry is only permitted for those with a shovel, transceiver and buddy. The Dive’s opening adds to the expert terrain already available at The Lake Louise Ski Area and Mt. Norquay. Whitehorn 1, A Gulley and Ptarmigan Shoots are just some of Lake Louise’s terrain already open for expert skiers and riders, with great powder conditions. Last weekend Mt. Norquay held a special early opening of the North American chair, offering access to the resorts infamous double-black diamond runs.
With some of the best snow in 30 years, the conditons at all three resorts are great on beginner and intermediate terrain too.
On the East Coast, which had suffered from warm weather and little snow, resorts have been able to open thanks to some fresh snow and temperatures cold enough for snowmaking. Mont-Sainte-Anne near Quebec City began operating for the 09-10 season at 8:30am last Saturday but with only one slope open to the public, the popular Quanik, adding another slope, La Paradeuse on Sunday and also a new cross-country skiing loop exclusively reserved to training, that will be set up on the west side of the summit. The 800 meter loop can be reached by the panoramic gondola and can accommodate up to 50 athletes simultaneously, in both skating and classic styles; a first of this kind in the East of the continent. The resort plans to open two other slopes in the next few days, La Printannière and La Mélanie Turgeon. Mont-Sainte-Anne is now open 7 days a week. Stoneham Mountain Resort opened on Sunday at 9 am, with its slope Les Pionniers and a small snow park set up at the base of the mountain for all freestyle fanatics. Mont Sutton to the south of the province is hoping to open this weekend. Further south resorts have been opening in New England, including Sugarbush, Sugarloaf and Smugglers Notch – each using a combination of fresh natural snow and machine made white stuff.
In Western North America a big storm is tracking across the country bringing large snowfalls to California (US) and now moving in to the Rocky Mountain bringing snow to resorts in Colorado and Utah. Squaw Valley reported a two-foot (60cm) accumulation on Monday, greatly improving conditions at the leading Californian resort. Heavenly Mountain Resort (picture attached) in South Lake Tahoe, California has reported 34 inches (86cm) of fresh snow in the past 24 hours, and the Colorado resorts of Vail and Beaver Creek are under a winter storm warning having already received more than 5 inches (13cm) in the past 48 hours.