by Patrick Thorne with First Tracks!! Online Media staff reports
Kiltarlity, Scotland, UK – Many ski areas around the world are reporting great early season conditions with more big name resorts already open or opening in the next few days. Among them, Breckenridge in Colorado and Cortina, Italy, have opened and Whistler in British Columbia, Canada will open on Friday six days early. A total of 60cm of new snow has been reported in the Pyrenees and in Niseko, Japan, they’re hiking up to enjoy the pre-season powder. In Scotland, Cairngorm mountain above Aviemore attracted more than 200 people to its opening day on Saturday.nWith Thanksgiving only a week away in the U.S., more of the big name resorts are opening across the West, and the snow news is mostly good, with resorts in Colorado, California and Utah all reporting good conditions. New openings for winter 2010-11 last weekend included Breckenridge (Colo.), Mammoth (Calif.) and Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude, all in Utah. This weekend they’ll be joined by Alta (Utah), Sipapu (N.M.), Grand Targhee (Wyo.), and Winter Park and Vail in Colorado, where officials have reported nearly 90cm of new snow in the past week.
“This opening scenario is probably better than we even dare to hope for and it doesn’t happen very often,” said Chris Jarnot, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. “We’ve been blessed with some of the best early-season snow we’ve ever had.
All of the snowfall this week has prompted Jarnot and his crew to more than double the terrain to be opened on Friday. After announcing just Monday that opening day would feature 550 acres, Vail Mountain officials revised that estimate on Wednesday to 1,150 acres serviced by nine running lifts.
All the new snow has meant conditions have been great at areas that are already open, like Copper Mountain in Colorado, which declared yesterday a “powder day.”
Surrounding Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Heavenly and Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe all come online for the season this weekend.
To the north in western Canada, more of the country’s top ski resorts are opening with Whistler starting it first post-Olympic season on Friday, six days earlier than planned, and Sun Peaks in the interior of British Columbia following on Saturday, reporting 40cm of new snow in the past week and 20cm in the past 24 hours. They join resorts including recently open: Mt. Norquay at Banff, Lake Louise and Nakiska, which is currently claiming the biggest skiable vertical open in Alberta.
The big story in the West, however, is the massive series of storms set to begin impacting the region this weekend and extend into the middle of next week. Already the first wave of these storms has blanketed the Pacific Northwest, leaving 22 inches of new snow in its wake at Mt. Hood Meadows in Oregon, where resort spokesperson Dave Tragethon this morning hinted at a possible season opening this weekend. These storms are expected to deepen snow bases significantly at ski resorts stretching from the Sierra through the Intermountain West and into the Rockies, setting things up nicely for the Thanksgiving weekend.
Openings have been more challenging in eastern North America, where on both sides of the border temperatures have not been conducive to snowmaking efforts over the past week. Cooler temperatures are expected to move in next week, forcing resorts to scramble to make sufficient snow to open for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Temperatures dipped below freezing overnight, allowing Sugarloaf in Maine to resume snowmaking operations this morning. Snowguns were online on the resort’s Tote Road run, from the top of the SuperQuad to the bottom of “Chicken Pitch,” and on the upper section of Sluice.
“Everything went great this morning and it’s exciting to be making snow again,” said Rich Wilkinson, Sugarloaf’s Vice President of Operations. “The warm weather was frustrating, but it gave us a lot of time to button up the system and make sure everything was ready to go. And when we got the temps this morning, everything went smoothly.”
In Europe, more and more ski areas are opening in Austria, which has received plenty of new snow in the past few days. The Kaunertal glacier reported 26 cm of new snow on Wednesday, bringing the overall snow depth on the glacier to 175cm with eight ski lifts running. Sölden called a powder day on Wednesday with 25 cm of new snow of excellent quality.
After some unseasonably warm temperatures in France it’s been getting cooler and it’s currently snowing in the French Alps with snowfalls of up to 45cm reported at Montgenevre in the past 24 hours. They’ve likewise received up to 40cm of fresh snow in the French Pyrenees (La Mongie, Barèges and Peyragudes) and up to 25cm in the Southern Alps (Orcières 1850).
Tignes is still the only ski area open in France and received 15cm of fresh snow earlier this week, increasing its base depth to 60cm with six pistes open totaling 14 km. This weekend will mark the opening of Val Thorens ski area which will host the first leg of Ski Force Winter Tour 2010, a gathering of the biggest ski manufacturers for free gear demos.
Italy’s Presena Glacier reports the deepest snow depth in the world this week with 3.4 meters (more than 11 feet) of snow on the ground. Conditions are great at present at most of the open Italian resorts, including recently opened Cortina d’Ampezzo as well as Cervinia, which have reported 50cm and 60cm of fresh snow in the past week, respectively. The deepest snowfalls reported in the country in the past week, however, occurred at Alagna and Val Senales with 80cm each.
It has been a snowy past week in Switzerland, which currently boasts four of the 10 deepest snow bases amongst ski areas currently open across the world.
“It snowed constantly on Monday and Tuesday, so slope conditions are outstanding now and currently the sun is shining,” said Dieter Bogner of St. Moritz lift company.
The new snow in the Pyrenees means that ski resorts are expected to start opening within the week in Andorra, France and Spain, where Formigal reported more snowfall on Tuesday night adding to base depths now measured at 20cm at 1,800m and 60cm at 2,200m.
“We have started the snow cannons so we are further increasing the snow level at the slopes and with this great news we are ready to start the season on 27th November,” Formigal officials said in a prepared statement.
To the north in Scandinavia, up to 30cm of new snow has fallen in Norway during the past week. Voss is reporting the greatest snow depth in the country at 60cm after receiving another 25cm this week.