After an extremely warm and dry November, many regions of the West received normal or better snowfall during the first 3 weeks of December. The dry weather returned for the rest of December. Only in Canada has season snowfall been above average so far. The Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies had enough snow in December for nearly all terrain to open. California and the Southwest remain in severe drought on about 25% of normal snowfall, with the only meaningful skiing coming from snowmaking. Utah and Northern Colorado are in a borderline snow zone, with adequate conditions to open most runs at Steamboat, Vail and in Utah's Cottonwood Canyons, but other areas are only about half open. The high pressure is finally breaking up this weekend, but as in early December the northern resorts are expected to benefit the most.
Only a few areas post season-to-date snowfall on their websites. At the end of the regional sections, I list selected Ski Central month-to-date snow totals for other resorts, making educated guesses as to which resorts have supplied complete data for the month. Snow totals are as of Dec. 28.
California: The Sierra received several small storms in the first half of December, but no big dumps. Similar to last year's La Nina, the most snow has fallen north of Tahoe, but even there YTD snowfall is well less than half of normal and no one is more than about 30% open. Heavenly may have the best Sierra conditions due to extensive snowmaking. Kirkwood's year-to-date snow is now 40 inches and Mammoth's 30 (27% of normal), with both areas about 10% open. Avoid the Sierra until after the next dump, hopefully sometime in January. In the past 30 years, several seasons have started as dry as this, and the good news is that most of them recovered by February and only 1977 was bad for the entire season. The chances of another 1977 for the Sierra in 2000 are probably 10-15% at this point. See Current California Ski Conditions for more details on Southern California and Mammoth.
Ski Central December Snow: Squaw 31, Sugar Bowl 29, Northstar 23.
Pacific Northwest: These areas received the most snow in December, but nothing in over a week, so there are some spring surface conditions. Whistler Blackcomb has 6,000+ acres open on a 72-inch base. Mt. Baker's 94-131 inch base leads North America as usual. Mt. Bachelor reports a 49-59-inch base, with all terrain open. In the far north, Alyeska had a good November, attaining a 6-7 foot base by early December.
Ski Central December Snow: Alyeska 53, Whistler 66.5, Baker 144, Stevens 102, Crystal 66, Hood Meadows 79.
Canadian Rockies and Interior B.C.: Lake Louise and Sunshine were the only western areas to get substantial snow before mid-November. Total snowfall at Louise is now 98 inches, 114% of normal. Louise (39-47 inch base, 80% open) and Sunshine (53-inch base) have all lifts open. Big White (68-inch base) and Fernie (69-inch base) are 100% open, as are Sun Peaks and Silver Star on 4-5 feet. Red (41-60 inch base) is 78% open.
Ski Central December Snow: Silver Star 29.5, Red 31.5, Fernie 60 since Dec. 9.
U. S. Northern Rockies: Regional leader Grand Targhee now has a 33-68 inch base after major snow in mid-December, so it can add another year to its perfect Christmas reliability record. Jackson Hole (YTD snow 114 inches) got the same dump, and is 100% open on a 51-inch base. Big Sky got most of this snow and opened Lone Peak at Christmas. Big Mountain is 100% open on 42-66 inches and Schweitzer is 95% open on 60-76 inches. Sun Valley has received 35 inches snow and is 15% open with snowmaking assistance.
Ski Central December Snow: Schweitzer 77, Big Mountain 64, Big Sky 75, Targhee 61.5.
Utah: The Cottonwood Canyons have seen a couple of good dumps in December, regaining some of the ground lost in November. Alta's year-to-date snow is now 137 inches (79% of normal) and they are 100% open. Brighton, Solitude and Snowbird are 70-90% open. Snow coverage is 2-3 weeks behind a normal schedule. I would not expect full operation in the Park City region (currently only about 40% open) until mid-to-late January. Park City lost its World Cup race to Copper Mt. because it was too warm to make snow most of November.
Ski Central December Snow: Snowbird 96, Brighton 57, Brian Head 45.5, Park City 29.5, The Canyons 36.
Northern and Central Colorado: This region has received substantial snow in mid-December, but is still behind schedule after the dry November. (YTD totals: 89.5 inches Vail (72% of normal), 97 inches Steamboat (76% of normal) and 88.5 inches Winter Park (71% of normal), 3 of the high natural snow areas). Steamboat (98% open) and Vail (72% including some of the Back Bowls) are in the best shape. Other areas are still only 30-55% open, but the high altitudes do permit nearly continuous snowmaking in Summit County.
Ski Central December Snow: Breckenridge 45.5, Copper 43, Keystone 39, Loveland 38.
Southern and Western Colorado: This is the most severely drought impacted region, with less than 1 foot natural snow in November. While there was more new snow in December, the region is still at least a month behind a normal schedule. For the holidays, Snowmass and Taos are about 10% open, and no one has more than 30% of terrain open. In normal years advanced terrain is often not skiable until January. This year I would not expect full operation until mid-February at best. In 1977, 1981 and 1990 much of the expert terrain was never adequately covered, and the chances of 2000 joining that group are now 30-40%. As snow tends to accumulate gradually in this region, skiers should avoid advance commitments anytime this season, pending a turnaround in snow conditions.
Ski Central December Snow: Aspen 28, Crested Butte 19, Telluride 34.
Northeast: New England got up to 1.5 feet of snow in mid-November, with scattered snow showers a few times in December. Snowmaking has been intermittent with alternating warm and cold spells, but steady progress was made over the last half of December. Many of the usual snowmaking leaders have 30+ runs open, and Killington and Okemo are now nearly 50% open. As my report is an overview, I strongly recommend checking Vermont No-Bull Ski Report or New England Ski Guide's Weekend Forecast for up to date information in this region, where both weather and surface conditions can change so rapidly.
Ski Central December Snow: Jay 27, Smuggler's Notch 24, Stratton 24, Lake Placid 16, Snowshoe, WV 31.