The view from Arosa, Switzerland, this morning...
China and Japan open, European lockdown widens...
The mountains are waiting for us... please stay safe and respect local advice on travel. We can't all go skiing just yet but we can still dream!
The Snow Headlines - 5th November October
- French November lockdown closes Tignes.
- 10 Swiss Ski Areas Opened At Weekend on Halloween.
- Ski areas still operating in Italy's November lockdown but soon for racers only.
- Austria also begins a month's lockdown - eight glacier areas and Kitzbuhel close.
- Ski areas including Andermatt, Glacier 3000 and Laax limit skier numbers.
- Germany's November lockdown delays Zugspitze opening.
- China and Japan's 20-21 seasons underway.
The past week in mainland Europe has regrettably seen the focus switch from snowfall to the pandemic as three of the big-four Alpine nations go into November lockdowns, closing around a dozen already-open ski areas.
Switzerland is, so far, the exception and the number of areas open here jumped from six to 10 at the weekend just as resorts in other countries began closing. Swiss areas report great conditions for early November but also increased COVID prevention measures.
Elsewhere, so far, Scandinavian areas continue to open for the season as normal and across the Atlantic, more resorts have been opening in Canada and the USA, including the first on the continent's East Coast, for 2020-21.
Further afield the season has also got underway in Japan and China with the first areas opening there thanks to snow-making.
In the Alpine Forecast
Generally mild and settled for the week ahead.
Snow incoming for Scandinavia this week...
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Austria announced a month-long lockdown on the same afternoon that England announced theirs. Austria shut down large parts of the country from Tuesday so the country's eight glacier ski areas which had already opened for the 20-21 season, along with Kitzbuhel, which was opening weekends, have now closed until the start of December.
Most were reporting great conditions and Hintertux had recently expanded the area it had open to over 40km so it's obviously sad news. However, the areas are now focused on re-opening next month which, for most Austrian ski areas, is when they'd be opening for the season anyway.
France also announced a November lockdown last week which led to the two open ski areas – Les 2 Alpes and Tignes - closing at the end of last week (although Les 2 Alpes had in fact been due to close at the weekend anyway).
As with Austria, most French areas don't open until early-mid December anyway and they all say they're planning to open as normal on the first or second weekend of December when the lockdown is due to be over. A few would have aimed for November operations and will now have to delay; Val Thorens which normally has a big season opener in the latter half of this month the most obvious case.
Italy was the first major Alpine nation to go into a month-long lockdown, just as it was with the first lockdown back in March. However, support for lockdown among the country's ski areas is not as universal as it was back in the spring.
Two of the three areas that planned to be open this week, Val Senales and Sulden, are still open despite the national directive to close, as the semi-autonomous region where they're located isn't insisting they close. The two centres themselves say they have safety protocols in place that should stop any virus spread and that they consider that on balance, the mental and physical health-giving benefits of a ski holiday outweigh the risks. However on Wednesday 4th they did announce that, from the 8th, they would close to the public and remain open only for race team training.
The other area that should be open is Cervinia – it re-opened late last week but is now also just open for athlete training, in line with the national directive, not to the general skiing public.
Switzerland overtook Austria at the weekend to post the most ski areas open in one country – hitting double-figures for the first time for a northern hemisphere country this season.
Quite a few have opened early due to the great October snowfalls and whilst there's been less fresh snowfall and warmer weather over the past week most are still reporting great snow. Seven of the 10 areas are currently open weekends only though and one, Laax, was only open to season pass holders on its opening weekend.
There was a marked change of tone at the weekend with much more onus on pandemic prevention measures than previously as Switzerland became, so far, the only major Alpine nation not to have announced a full lockdown – although some cantons have tightened rules on things like maximum group sizes and hospitality opening hours.
Against this the country has dropped its requirement for people arriving from several countries, including the UK, to self-isolate on arrival, to the excitement of tour operators.
Andermatt, one of the four to open for the first time this season at the weekend, limited numbers of skiers to 1000 on its Gemsstock mountain, half the usual amount. Glacier 3000 near Gstaad / Les Diablerets said it was limiting numbers in its cable car cabins. Verbier and Arosa were the other new openers.
The three areas open daily are Saas-Fee, Zermatt and Engelberg, with Saas-Fee now posting the largest area open of any currently open resort (Following the closure of Hintertux and Cervinia) with 36km of trails open. Davos and St Moritz (Diavolezza glacier) are also open.
Scandinavian ski areas have reported some fresh snowfall (up to 15cm/6 inches in some areas) but also some warmer temperatures than might be hoped for early November (Idre Fjall in Sweden temporarily closed it's cross country trails).
There's not much change in what's open so far – half-a-dozen areas, most open thanks to snow farming from last season but now with fresh autumn snowfall on top – a couple each in Finland, Norway and Sweden. However, things are due to gather pace through November with more areas due to open every weekend this month.
Not much change on a week ago for the Pyrenees either. After the frequent October snowstorms built a base on higher slopes it has been quieter and a little warmer over the weekend. However, Wednesday saw a return of the snow with fresh falls reported in Andorra and on the French and Spanish sides – up to 20cm more fell. Ski areas here are due to start opening in about four weeks, all being well.
Scottish slopes have seen their biggest snow covering of the autumn so far with Tuesday seeing snow almost down to the valley floor in Cairngorm. There's a long way to go yet until there's real snow depth and it's likely lower snow cover will thaw again before winter is properly here. Meanwhile, Cairngorm Mountain itself created a large pile of snow last Friday from its all-weather snow-making system during a pre-season test operation, so some sledging fun was to be had over the Halloween weekend.
The weather has been getting cooler in Eastern Europe's mountains and there has been some snowfall on higher slopes again. However there's no sign of any areas opening imminently, and most will aim to do so in early December, in 4-6 weeks.
Alberta continues to post excellent early season conditions with cold weather and regular snowfalls.
Lake Louise was the second ski area to open there, joining Banff's Mt Norquay, both posting their earliest ever openings. Nakiska delayed opening by a week to this Friday though, and Sunshine and Marmot Basin are also expected to open very soon.
Over on the east side of the country, there was some cold weather in Quebec allowing snow-making systems to fire up, as well as a bit of natural snowfall. Mont Ste Sauveur was the first to open there, with thin cover. Warmer weather forecast this week may cause some problems but it is due to get colder next weekend.
America's ski season is slowly gaining ground with four areas now open.
The latest, the Grand Divide ski area in Montana, opened for Halloween, joining already-open Wolf Creek in Colorado and two small ski areas in the US Midwest. There hasn't been a whole lot of fresh snow over the past seven days with most of the country dry and often sunny but the Northeast did see quite a large snowstorm on Monday and Tuesday this week, reporting up to a foot (30cm) of snowfall in New York state and Vermont, with snowfall extending over a wider area.
Although Wolf Creek is open, it is unusual for resorts like Arapahoe Basin and Loveland to have not managed to get people skiing before the end of October. This coming weekend, with more snow and cold weather forecast, should see more opening.
Keystone is scheduled to start winter 20-21 for the vast Vail empire, it's first North American opening since the pandemic early closure last March.