That’s the theory anyway – and with just over a fortnight until the first ski fields open it’s gaining credibility, thanks to a big weekend snowstorm.
The first ski field scheduled to open is Mount Hutt, near Christchurch on June 12, followed by Coronet Peak on June 13, Cardrona on June 19, and The Remarks and Broken River on June 20. However, several resorts have already fired up their snow cannons, as you’ll see from this Mt Hutt Youtube clip. (See all the NZ ski field opening dates here.)
The forecast is for a slight rise in temperature over the weekend, and rain at lower elevations. But on the mountains it should fall as snow.
Why is El Niño good for New Zealand skiing? Because it tends to encourage southerly and south-westerly winds – blowing from the Antarctic. El Niño winters tend to be drier as well as colder than average: but given the generally flukey nature of the climate, and in the wake of last year’s mild winter, the locals will be glad to trade a few big dumps for more reliable temperatures.
Currently, America’s Climate Prediction Center recognises weak to moderate strength El Niño conditions, but believes they are likely to build over the next few months. That’s good news for skiers in NZ: the more pronounced the phenomenon, the more likely it is to hold to its general characteristics.
There’s snow in the forecast in Chile and Australia
Another ski region pinning its hopes of a good season on El Niño is central Chile – which usually gets a wetter-than-average winter when it comes. There’s not been much snow so far. In Valle Nevado, for example, the temperature today is +8C, and the slopes are still grassy. But the forecast for the weekend is promising. There could be a dump. Valle Nevado is hoping to open for skiing on June 12.
By contrast, the Snowy Mountains of Australia tend to get dry winters during El Niño years. “Most of the poorer ski seasons are associated with El Nino events,” said David Jones of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology recently. However, there has been snow in the region recently, and several resorts, including Perisher, were running their snow cannons earlier this month. What’s more, there could be snow showers this weekend, and with night time temperatures comfortably below freezing the resorts may start running the snow cannons again.
Meanwhile, in the Alps…
There was heavy snow in the Austrian Alps last week – nearly half a metre fell on the Stubai glacier, south of Innsbruck, for example. This week, by contrast, the weather has been a bit more “normal”. Yes, okay, there’s been a dusting of snow in Austria today, but the freezing point in the French Alps was at 2900m in France and it will nudge up to 3000m tomorrow. Next week, there are signs of a much warmer, sunnier spell developing.
May is one of the quietest months in the Alpine ski calendar, with only a handful of glacier ski areas open. In Austria the lifts are still spinning on the Hintertux glacier (which is open all year) the Stubai glacier (which closes on July 3), and the Kaunertal glacier (closes June 7). Skiing is on offer above Zermatt in Switzerland, too.
But of course that doesn’t mean the mountains have fallen silent. Check out our features on cycling, mountain biking, adventure parks and, er, yodelling to find out more about the summer scene in the Alps.
|France: French ski resorts are now closed, but the glaciers above Val d’Isere (June 6 – July 12), Les Deux Alpes (June 20 – Aug 29), and Tignes (June 27 – August 9) will all be open for short summer seasons.|
|Switzerland: currently Zermatt reports 200cm of snow at 2900m. Here, eight lifts are currently open, serving eight pistes.|
|Austria: three glaciers are currently open in Austria for skiing. On the Hintertux glacier, the snow is up to 270cm deep on the pistes.|
|Italy: Cervinia is open for weekend skiing in May, and currently has up to 215cm of settled snow on its pistes.|
|Andorra: Andorra’s ski resorts have now closed for skiing.|
|Western USA: In Colorado Arapahoe Basin will be open, seven days a week, until June 7. Over the last three days, it’s had a dusting fresh snow and reports 144cm of settled mid-mountain cover.|
|Western Canada: Whistler has now shut the lifts on both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. They’ll reopen to skiers on Blackcomb mountain on June 20 for the short glacier season.|