While there has not been much snowfall this year, there are a few slopes in Estonian ski centers covered in snow and the ski and snowboard season has opened with restrictions applied.
As a rule, snowmaking cannons can be used as soon as negative temperatures hit, but the new snow cannons at Otepää's Tehvandi ski center made it possible to open the season on November 24. The cross-country trails have since then been extended to two kilometers by Sunday.
"The winter has never stayed in the sky. There has been a little of it each year, but fake snow gives us the guarantee of being able to ski constantly and if natural snow comes, we will have longer trails and the Tartu Marathon trail to ski in," said Tehvandi ski center board member and former Olympic bronze medal Jaak Mae.
He added that traffic on the trails has been tighter during the day when youth trainings take place. Some one hundred skiiers have been on the cross-country trails at high times.
"We have not closed off the trails, the 2+2 rule might be simpler when it comes to skiing as the skis themselves are two meters in length for adults. That forces you to distance and if trails get longer, I think people are careful and reasonable and will not congregate in groups," Mae said.
In other ski centers in Southern Estonia, some slopes were white by the weekend but did not have any skiers yet. Snow cannons were in full blow on Friday at Haanja, Väike-Munamägi and Kuutsemägi, to prepare for the weekend.
Erlend Aav, spokesperson of the Kuutsemäe and Väike-Munamägi centers, said Kuutsemäe needs to have half a meter of snow coverage at the very least, if not a meter.
"We cannot predict the weather but I would dare say as of today's (Sunday - ed.) assessment, it will last until the new year and more. But snow is snow, I do not think the regular person cares or understands which snow is actually in use," Aav said.
Starting this week, most Estonian ski hills are open. But if one wants to ride on Estonia's only ski lift, a visit to Munamägi is the only option. As extreme winter sports require lifts and queuing up, some measures to avoid COVID-19 spread are in use.
"You can only go up along with a family member or alone, depending on the type of lift - is it a four-person lift here on Väike-Munamägi, or an anchor lift at Kuutsemägi. The one-person lifts, there are no problems. In addition, masks are required in all interior spaces. The only place where masks are not required is while you are going down the hill," Aav said.
Many European ski centers will not open their doors for this season as the coronavirus rages on, Estonian centers are also preparing for a larger influx of skiers as most other sports options are closed as of the government's decision.
"All slopes on Kuutsemägi are far from open. The initial mass, now that people cannot travel to the Alps for winter, we must establish distancing policies, overcrowding is not our goal," Aav noted.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste