Fernie and Whistler Snow Conditions

The History of Southern California Snow Conditions chart is the best expression I've devised for displaying the range and incidence of snow conditions. In order to construct such a chart it is necessary to have week by week reports of conditions. Craig's Report contains an archive of close to 2 reports per week from Craig Morris and some of his friends at Fernie Alpine Resort. I've utilized these reports since 1996-1997 to create a chart for the past 11 seasons.

The focus of these charts is to show coverage of terrain and frequency/consistency of packed powder snow that has not been through a melt/freeze. The weekly grades are not a measure of fresh powder, which cannot be predicted in advance for a specific week. In 2008 I derived a method to estimate percent of powder days from monthly snowfall. I now apply that percentage to all weeks rated A or B and show that percentage and an adjusted total grade at far right. For details, see What Is the Probability of a Powder Day?
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As a remote destination resort Fernie has arbitrary early-to-mid-December openings and mid-April closings regardless of the amount of snow.

Definitions:
A:
90+% of terrain open, with primarily powder/packed powder. 3 points for an A weekend in the charts below.
B:
50-80% open with mostly packed powder, or 90+% open with less than 50% packed powder. 2 points for a B weekend in the charts below.
C:
50+% open with hardpack/spring conditions. 1 point for a C weekend in the charts below.
D:
Less than 50% open (either Whistler or Blackcomb in spring).
R:
Rain. No points for a D or R weekend in the charts below.
HISTORY  OF  FERNIE  SNOW  CONDITIONS  
Pwdr Adj
Season/Month October November December January February March April May June Total A B C Pwdr Total
2010-11 0 C 1 B B B A 9 B A R B A 10 A B A A 11 A C B B 8 B B C 5 0 0 44 7 17 20 17% 53
2007-08 0 0 D C A A 7 A A A A 12 A A A B 11 B B A A A 13 A 3 0 0 46 13 16 17 24% 63
2006-07 0 0 A A A A 12 A A A A 12 B A A A 11 A B B C B 10 B C 3 0 0 48 12 17 19 13% 57
2005-06 0 0 B B C 5 B A A A A 14 A A A A 12 B A B B 9 B B A 7 0 0 47 10 18 19 17% 58
2004-05 0 0 C C B 4 B B A D D 7 B A A B 10 C C B C 5 A B 5 0 0 31 4 11 16 12% 35
2003-04 0 C 1 C A A A 10 A A B A 11 B B A B B 11 A B B B 9 B C 3 0 0 45 8 17 20 12% 52
2002-03 0 0 C C 2 C B B C 6 C C B A 7 A A B B B 12 A B B 7 0 0 34 4 12 18 14% 39
2001-02 0 0 A A A A 12 B A A A 11 A A A A 12 A A A B B 13 B R 2 0 0 50 14 18 18 22% 68
2000-01 0 0 C C 2 C C C C 4 B C B A 8 B C B B A 10 B A B 7 0 0 31 3 10 18 7% 33
1999-00 0 0 B A A 8 A A A A A 15 B B A B 9 B B A B 9 B B C 5 0 0 46 9 18 19 17% 57
1998-99 0 0 A A B A 11 B A B A A 13 A A A B 11 A B B A 10 B B B 6 0 0 51 11 20 20 21% 67
1997-98 0 0 B B 4 A A A A 12 B B B A 9 A A B B A 13 B B B 6 0 0 44 8 18 18 16% 53
1996-97 0 A 3 A A A A   12 B A B A 10 B B B A 9 A A A B A 14 B B 4 0 0 52 12 20 20 20% 67
Averages: 0.0 0.4   7.5 10.5 10.1 10.4 4.8 0.0 43.8 8.8 16.3 18.6 16% 53.4
PROFILE  OF  WHISTLER  SNOW  CONDITIONS  
Pwdr Adj
Season/Month October November December January February March April May June Total A B C Pwdr Total
Whistler 75th percentile D C B 3 B A A A A 14 A A A A 12 A A A A 12 A A A B A 14 A B A B 10 B C C C 5 C 1 71 18 24 29 21% 93
Whistler Median 0 D D C 1 B B A A A 13 A A B A 11 A A B A 11 A A B A B 13 B A B B 9 C C C C 4 C 1 63 13 22 28 18% 78
Whistler 25th percentile 0 D 0 D C B A A 9 B A A B 10 A B A B 10 A B A B B 12 B B B B 8 C C C C 4 0 53 8 20 25 16% 63
Whistler 2004-05 0 D D 0 D D C C 2 C B C R C 5 B B C C 6 C C B A 7 A A A B B 13 C C C C 4 0 37 4 10 23 8% 40

Results:
Fernie has many unusual characteristics. Most areas use snowmaking to get beginner and intermediate runs open early, but it can be weeks or even months for steep natural terrain to become skiable. Fernie has a modest snowmaking system on its easy lower terrain, but the upper mountain gets lots of natural snow and in 4 of the 12 years charted was fully open from day 1.

Fernie's snow is 80% correlated with Mt. Rainier in Washington State, and at Fernie's 3,500-6,300 foot elevation range the primary risk as in Washington is not drought but excessive rain. The extreme example was the January 2005 Tropical Punch, which rained to the top of Fernie for several days and completely washed out the lower mountain's base. From reading Craig's reports, it's clear that a more common pattern is for Fernie to receive rain at the base and snow higher up the hill. Above 5,000 feet nearly all the winter precipitation is snow.

Fernie also experienced a 50-year drought in 2000-01, and in 2002-03 most of the snow came late. The 2000-01 and 2004-05 seasons are regarded by British Columbia locals as extreme events, so it is possible that Fernie's snow conditions are more consistent than the chart would indicate.

Whistler:
It is likely that Fernie's snow profile is very similar to Crystal Mt. in Washington, which gets similar snowfall and is within view of Mt. Rainier. Fernie and Crystal also share reputations for outstanding powder skiing terrain when it dumps.

Whistler/Blackcomb is the most prominent ski area in the Pacific Northwest climate zone, but has more consistent snow conditions than Fernie or Crystal. Well over half of Whistler's terrain is above 5,000 feet and close to 90% is above 4,000. The January 2005 Tropical Punch resulted in two months of mediocre conditions at Whistler, but the higher elevations retained an adequate base, better than at Fernie or particularly Crystal, which had to close during that time.

In the early season it is well established that nearly all of Whistler's terrain above 4,000 feet can open by Christmas with 100 inches of natural snow. And only 4 seasons of the past 28 have had less than that. Based upon early season snowfall incidence I can chart the 25th, 50th and 75th percentiles of Whistler snow conditions. The intermittent "checkerboard pattern" in January and February shows the effect of occasional rain reaching the 5,000+ foot level. In the better years the majority of terrain will stay packed powder continuously (even with rain in the base village) until warm and sunny weather by late March softens non-north facing areas.

There was sufficient online publicity during 2004-05 that I've constructed Whistler's weekly summary for that season. It did dump during late March and April, so the season scored 37 (before powder adjustment), which is impressively high for a consensus worst-ever season. Early season data is missing from the widespread western drought year of 1976-77, but reported snowfall later shows that Whistler would have had good conditions from mid-February onwards. Whistler would have scored a minimum 35 in 1976-77 even assuming zero before February.

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