Many of the world’s lower altitude ski areas have closed a week or two early as record-breaking warm temperatures in March in large parts of Europe and North America – approaching the high 80s Farenheit/20s Celcius has led to melt down on their slopes. At the same time the summer-like weather has meant many people have turned early to biking and golf.
Although there’s been virtually no fresh snow this week. However, conditions at higher-altitude and northerly latitude resorts in Europe are generally good to very good, thanks to the thick snowpack that built up through the exceptionally snowy months of December and January. There has also been quite a lot of fresh snow in the Pyrenees.
In North America it’s a different picture as Western Canadian resorts have had a good season all winter and remain, mostly, in great shape. Western US resorts to the south have had great snowfall this month and are also now in good shape in most cases with some announcing extended seasons. The big victim however is the East Coast where high temperatures mean that all but a handful of the top resorts have closed early.
There’s been no new snow fall at all during the last seven days in Austria. The last week was just sunny with nearly no cloud in the sky so skier and boarders can still enjoy some of best Spring conditions on the slopes. Ski resorts like Zillertal, Katschberg, St Anton and many more report best weather and good conditions. Despite its comparatively low resort altitude in SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser Brixental even the valley runs are still open and with a snow depth from 150cm (50cm) is still plenty deep enough base for skiing. The Best snow depth in the country can be found on the Dachstein Glacier with 540 cm. Ten other resorts still have a depth over three metres (ten feet) including Pitztal with 370cm, St Anton with 360cm the Molltaler Glacier with 320cm and Solden with 302cm.
The unusually warm weather that is affecting most of the northern hemisphere’s major ski regions has led to almost half of the ski areas in France closing -albeit in most cases the smaller, lower resorts that are suffering the most from the thaw. Although the warm weather has out far more people off winter sports and in to early gardening or biking, 118 resorts are still open and most of the big destinations are still benefitting from snowfall build up in December and January and plan to stay open to mid-April or even early May as planned. So while all but half a dozen of the biggest resorts have closed in France’s lower lying ski areas like Voges, Jura and the Massif Central, 80% of ski resorts in the internationally best-known northern Alps are still open and 86% of ski slopes are still practicable. What’s more the average snow base in the northern Alps is truly exceptional: 194cm (6.5 feet) at the top of the slopes and 64cm (over two feet) at the bottom. Conditions are also still good in the French Pyrenees and in the larger resorts of the Southern Alps. Here 16 resorts are still operating (while 23 others have already closed. The average snow depth here is 70cm (but up to 150cm (five feet) in Serre-Chevalier and 120cm (four feet) at La Grave and Montgenèvre).
There’s been no new snow in Italy in the past week with warm temperatures the dominant factor as elsewhere in central Europe. This means lovely sunny ski days but an impact on the snow cover. The deepest snow is on the Presena Glacuier above Passo Tonale with 3m (190 feet). Five other resorts have 2.7m (9 feet) or more including Arabba in the dolomites and, with an unusual top 5 snow depth position – Etna Nord in Sicily on the slopes of the famous volcano!
There have been sunny days in Switzerland too with the only snow fall reported in Laax with 20cm last Thursday. Slowly but surely snow depth are going down with the warm weather and Engelberg can no longer hold its record snow depth of over 6 metres (20 feet), it’s now down to 545cm (18 feet). There’s still 4m (13.3 feet) at Andermatt and 350cm (nearly 12 feet) lying above Crans Montana, Laax and Saas Fee. The conditions on the slopes are excellent and in year-round ski destination Zermatt there’s still some off piste freeriding to enjoy with a 130cm snow base.
The Pyrenees have seen the most snow in Europe over the past week. The two Andorra ski regions of GrandValira and VallNord have both reported 50cm each of new snow and depths are good in the Spanish Pyrenees too. Average snow depth in the French Pyrenees is 132cm of snow measured at the top of the runs and 16 resorts in the Pyrenees will remain open until Easter (or until 15 April if snow lasts). The deepest snow is at Cauterets, Luz Ardiden and Peyragudes with 225, 185 and 180 cm respectively.
There’s been almost no new snow in Norway or Sweden and snow cover is getting thin at many resorts. Hemsedal – normally open to early May - has 45cm, (18 inches) left on upper slopes. The nest snow depth is reported at Voss with more than three metres (10 feet) lying. With Scotland reporting a record high of nearly 24C close to The Lecht ski area on Tuesday there’s now little chance of a resumption of snowsports this season, although we live in hope as temperatures are at least now dropping back towards single figures. Cairngorm has introduced its summer guided hiking programme from the top of the funicular a month early, starting this weekend.
Western Canada continues to enjoy some of the best snow conditions of anywhere in the world, as it has all winter 2011-12. Resorts in BC have reported up to 90cm (three feet) of new snow in the past week and ther4e have been healthy accumulations in Alberta too. Despite this many resorts in the region will, as is traditional, enter their last week of operations next week. "It was sunshine, blue skies, and soft spring snow all weekend long at Revelstoke Mountain Resort this past weekend! 6cm of snowfall was received overnight and light precipitation along with excellent spring skiing temperatures are forecast …until our season-end on Sunday April 8th", said a statement from the resort with North America’s biggest lift served vertical. Not every resort will closed though – Sunshine, Lake Louise, Marmot Basin and Whistler are open to May or later.
Western USA has again had the most snow in the past seven days of anywhere in the world – the largest reported accumulation 1.25m (over 4 feet) at White Pass in Washington State. Several resorts including Heavenly and Northstar in California have joined the list or areas extending their 2011-12 seasons to the last weekend in April. However resorts are closing earlier than planned after an exceptionally warm March in Eastern North America has continued after the third warmest winter on record in the region. Whiteface Mountain by the Olympic venue of Lake Placid in New York State, which operates the biggest lift served vertical on the Eastern side of North America, closed at the weekend with dozens of others. "Trails are changing rapidly, (skiers should) be prepared for thin cover, bare spots, and some walking may be necessary", warned a spokesperson for the resort on closing day, adding, "Overall, thanks to our dedicated snow making and mountain staff, we had a great year despite the lack of snow from Mother Nature. Thank you everyone for skiing and riding the Greatest Vertical East of the Rockies - see ya next year!". Recently in some areas temperatures have been above 25C all week however some resorts that have a reputation for there snowsure conditions including Killington in Vermont and Sugarloaf in Maine say they expect to stay open in to April with at least some terrain open and cooler temperatures are forecast.