I’ve been watching ski resorts opening around the world every Winter, professionally, for the past 30 years. For the past decade I’ve been lucky enough to hold various jobs where I’ve actually been called upon to report each week (and now each day) on where the snow is falling – year round.
In the old days it was for a monthly magazine, then it was weekly for a newspaper and now I’m doing a global round up, all year round for websites. I’m posting on social media too, highlighting a particularly significant snowfall, posting images – trying to use my expertise to filter the vast amount of information instantly available down to the truly interesting bits. It’s all got much more instant – as soon as a big snowfall is reported I’m tweeting it here or posting it there.
But the seasons are still the same and the snow is still snow, thankfully.
Following snowfall around the planet year round starts you thinking. You can always ski somewhere, so you begin to ask the question, “When does one ski season end, when does the next start?”
In the Alps we have two ski areas that try to open 365 days a year, thanks to their glaciers. Zermatt in Switzerland – which has Europe’s highest lifts at 3,899m and a special plus-temperatures Israeli-made snowmaking system to bridge the now 2,500 foot gap between the end of the receding glacier and the base of the lifts; and Hintertux in Austria.
But while they’re always there, there is a kind of natural gap in the world’s cycle from mid-May to mid-June and then again for a few weeks in late-September. In those few weeks in mid-Spring and late Summer, the number of resorts open around the planet drops below 20, at some points even to single figures, as most glacier areas are closed in the north and the southern hemisphere’s season has either not yet started or has mostly finished.
So, I guess from the perspective of the northern hemisphere, I feel the start of the season is usually around September 1st, even the last few days of August if it snows then, as it sometimes can, and I wait excitedly for the first fresh snow reports.
This Autumn I did not have to wait long. There has been some major snow in the Alps in October and so far this month. In the first week of November, Pitztal (with Austria’s highest lifts and another of those Israeli all-weather snowmaking machines) reported 70cm (28 inches) of snow, with 30cm (a foot) of that falling in one 24 hour period. It’s had nearly 10 feet of snowfall since opening in mid-September, more than many of the world’s ski resorts can expect all Winter.
It has been good news for all the glaciers in the Alps, more than 20 of which are now open for 2013-2014, and the latest snowfall has been down in the valleys, so it’s also good news for resorts not due to open for another 4-6 weeks but who want to build their bases.
In addition to looking for high altitude, we can also look at high latitude. Ruka, located in the Arctic Circle up in Finnish Lapland, claims the longest ski season in the world for a resort without a glacier. It opened as expected in mid-October and expects to stay open until mid-June 2014. It’s Finnish neighbour Levi, due to host World Cup events in a few weeks’ time, is also in good shape.
We had record snowfall at many European resorts last year, even down in the Pyrenees where the snow added up to more than 40 feet and seasons were extended in to May. A few famous resorts including Alpe d’Huez in France, Cortina in Italy and Verbier in Switzerland even re-opened in the late Spring or Summer because so much snow was left.
Of course we’re all hoping for a repeat of that – our third good season in a row. It’s still early – and one thing I learned from watching snow for 30 years is to never get complacent – but so far it’s looking good.
Are you hoping to ski or ride somewhere in Europe this year? Let us know in the comments below!