Welcome, snowfiends, to the first of this season’s Thursday snow reports. We’re switching today to our twice-weekly service, because – suddenly – the ski season is bursting into life. Resorts are opening up all over the place – and the sense of anticipation is almost unbearable. It’s almost here, everyone: winter.
In fact, in some places, autumn already seems a distant memory. On Friday last week both Sunshine Village and Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Canada opened with a powder party, and it’s been cold ever since. Yesterday, Lake Louise even let skiers loose in Paradise Bowl on the backside of the mountain. Yes, there was more powder, and yes, when you can ski off-piste in Lake Louise in mid-November, that counts as a superb start to the season in the Canadian Rockies. The snow should stay in pretty good nick for a while now too – top temperature today should be -7C, and there’s more snow in the forecast for the weekend.
Next up was Heavenly in California, which opened yesterday after 45cm of new snow at the weekend, and several days of cold weather – which allowed for lots of snowmaking. The resort opened only a couple of trails, but more will be coming on stream at the weekend: and there’s more snow in the forecast, too. Here’s the resort’s opening day video.
Today sees the turn of Snowbird in Utah, and Obergurgl in Austria. Snowbird is opening ahead of schedule, thanks to a metre of fresh snow at the weekend. Meanwhile, at Obergurgl, they’ve gone BIG on the first day: the snow’s a little thin down at the bottom of the valley, but higher up on north-facing slopes it’s up to 70cm deep, and 15 lifts are open! Altogether you can ski 70km of pistes.
Not bad for a first day. Here’s how it was looking up at Hochgurgl this lunchtime.
After that, the openings come thick and fast – Alta in Utah, Vail in Colorado, Kirkwood and Squaw in California are among those opening this Friday, November 16, and Whistler is opening on November 17. Of all the ski regions we report on conditions are best in the Canadian Rockies right now – although we note there is snow forecast for the upper slopes of both Whistler and the Californian resorts at the weekend, which is going to thicken the cover nicely and – hopefully – allow for more terrain to open.
This weekend there will be further terrain opening up at Are in Sweden, with skiing possible under the VM6 as well as the VM8 chair. Here’s how it was looking on Tuesday…
If you’re noticing a bit of a North American bias to all of the above, fear not. It’s normal for the mass of resorts to get going over there in mid to late November, in time for the Thanksgiving holiday (this year, November 22). In a normal season in the Alps, only the glacier skiing areas and the most reliable high-altitude resorts open before December.
This week, there’s been excellent skiing on the highest slopes in the Alps, as you’ll see from the shot below, taken on the Hintertux glacier on Tuesday. But lower down, hopes of good early-season skiing have been put on hold, thanks to a powerful thaw, which set in before the weekend, and has sent the daytime freezing level above 3000m in most areas. What’s more the forecast is for sunshine and mild temperatures for most of the next six days – so expect the cover to burn off completely on south-facing slopes, if it hasn’t already. At least it’s been cold at night, so many resorts have been able to run their snow cannons.
When will the weather change? Well, it’s by no means certain, but mid-range forecasts are looking promising for w/c November 26, when it could get cold and snowy once more. But for the moment, despite those promising snowfalls in late October, the advice for anyone considering a last-minute, pre-Christmas trip to the Alps is to aim high.
And finally – back to North America – to Mammoth, which wins our award for “Best Use of a Bee Gees Soundtrack in an Opening Day Video”. Here’s the edit.
|France: The opening of the Double M piste down to Tignes on Saturday seemed like a significant step towards winter. But the current thaw has put hopes of a memorable early season on hold – for a week at least. Still, there’s good skiing still on the Grande Motte glacier. The glacier above Les Deux Alpes is now closed again, after its brief October opening – the resort reopens on December 1.
|Switzerland: There’s excellent cover on the Swiss glaciers, although it is thinning in the mild temperatures. On the Allalin glacier above Saas-Fee the cover is now 165cm deep – down from 180cm on Monday. In Zermatt, there’s skiing down to Trockener Steg and over into neighbouring Cervinia too. The glacier above Engelberg is currently closed for skiing, because of lift maintenance. It reopens on November 16.
|Austria: There’s been some great skiing on the Austrian glaciers over the last two weeks, but the thaw will frustrate efforts to prepare for the season lower down. On the Hintertux glacier there’s 105cm of settled snow and 58km of pistes to ski. You can also ski on the Molltal, Pitztal, Kitzsteinhorn, Kaunertal and Stubai glaciers – and above Solden.
|Italy: Glacier skiing is possible again above Val Senales. Meanwhile, in Cervinia you can now ski down to the mid-mountain hub of Plan Maison.
|Andorra: Andorra’s ski areas are closed.
|Western USA: See main report: this week has seen a rash of resort openings with more to come over the next few days. In Colorado, Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin, Loveland, Copper Mountain and Keystone are all now open, and in conditions are much improved following a light dusting of snow and a drop in temperatures.
|Western Canada: See main report. Sunshine Village and Lake Louise Banff National Park are both open and still have the best conditions of the resorts we report on. Whistler opens this weekend.