LATE SEASON SNOW CONDITIONS
Below is a subjective ranking of the best western areas for late season (April and later) skiing. I consider only areas that are open through the end of April at a minimum, with greater credit given to those areas which keep most of their terrain open and which run through May or later months. These criteria exclude the destination resorts which close arbitrarily at Easter. Most of the listed areas are close enough to population centers to draw the day or weekend skiers who can make late season skiing economically viable. Where available I list the season maximum base depth and snowfall after March 1.
1. Mt. Bachelor, Ore. Base: 145 in., Late Snow: 104 in.
The snow measurements are at 6,350 feet near the base facilities. Mt. Bachelor's base depths are exceeded only at a handful of sites with at least 500 inches of snowfall. The 1,700 vertical Summit chair servicing over half the terrain operates through the end of June most seasons, and the full 3,100 vertical was open until Memorial Day in 1992 despite the second lowest snowfall (223 inches) in 24 years of measurement. The volcanic cone of the Summit can often be skied in ideal corn snow all morning moving gradually from east to west. Mt. Bachelor also provides ammonium nitrate salting of the groomed intermediate runs to absorb meltwater and prevent the snow from becoming too sticky.
2. Mammoth Mt., Calif. Base: 129 in. Late Snow: 96 in.
Mammoth's suitability for spring skiing is primarily due to exceptional snow preservation. The heavier snow of the Sierra and Cascades accumulates higher base depths than the drier snow in the Rockies. However, the altitude range of 8,000 to 11,000 feet is unique to the Pacific states and is comparable to Aspen, Vail or Snowbird. Nearly all the steep runs drop north from a long ridge at the top of the mountain. Most of the advanced runs will remain packed powder well into April, and only Snowbird would likely offer as much terrain with winter conditions as far into the spring. Most skiers would find Mammoth in full operation in April to be superior to Mt. Bachelor. Mammoth normally opens about half its terrain (That's still 1,500-2,000 acres) in May and closes on Memorial Day. In high snow years (10 out of the past 30) Mammoth will open 500-1,000 acres of skiing until the 4th of July. Despite the volatility of California's snowfall, Mammoth has failed to remain open through Memorial Day only 3 of the past 30 years. Mammoth, like Mt. Bachelor, salts its groomed runs when necessary.
These 2 areas offer a consistent and reliable big mountain spring skiing experience. Listed below are other areas worth considering. They are more dependent upon recent snowfall to maintain good surface conditions.
3. Arapahoe Basin, Colo. Base: 81 in. Late Snow: 149 in.
Arapahoe Basin is located on the Continental Divide and is subject to a unique weather pattern in which moisture from the Great Plains generates extra snow in the spring. March is the highest snowfall month, closely followed by April. The average snowfall is 54 inches in April and 33 in May. The maximum base depth is usually attained in mid-April, about 3 weeks later than at other areas. A-Basin's attraction for spring skiing is also enhanced by its 10,800 foot base elevation, the highest in North America, and north facing expert terrain. Since the groomed runs are not salted, intermediate skiing may be difficult if it hasn't snowed recently. However, experts will still love the Palivaccini moguls.
4. Snowbird, Utah Base: 109 in. Late Snow: 158 in.
Alta and Snowbird receive the most snow in North America in March and April. In the spring Snowbird can have the advantage over Alta with higher peak elevation and north facing runs in the Peruvian Cirque and Little Cloud areas. In April Snowbird rivals Mammoth as the most diverse area to remain in full operation for the entire month. However, in May Snowbird operates only the Little Cloud chair for skiing with the tram used for access. Unlike Mammoth and Mt. Bachelor, there is minimal grooming and no salting of intermediate runs in May. This lower maintenance operation is due to Utah's small population base rather than snow conditions. With a similar level of maintenance and lift operation, Snowbird would be comparable to Mammoth and Mt. Bachelor.
5. Whistler/Blackcomb, B. C. Base: 106 in. Late Snow: 104 in.
Blackcomb offers at least 2,500 vertical of terrain serviced by the Jersey Cream, Seventh Heaven and Glacier Express lifts until late May. The Blackcomb Glacier is skiable until its 2 mile long exit trail loses snow cover in late April. 700 vertical on Blackcomb's Horstman Glacier is skiable all summer. Whistler's above timberline area is skiable down to the Blue and Red chairs (3,000 vertical with more north exposure than Blackcomb) but the area closes at the end of April.
6. Mt. Hood, Ore. Base: 131 in. Late Snow: 96 in.
The snow statistics are from Mt. Hood Meadows, which is open through the first weekend of May on the east side of the mountain. Timberline, on the south face of Mt. Hood, receives even more snow and has the 1,500 vertical Palmer snowfield which is skiable all summer. Because of the southern exposure, ammonium nitrate salting of the snow is necessary to maintain a good skiable surface on any of Timberline's open runs in the spring. While Mt. Bachelor remains open, it offers more extensive terrain with far superior snow conditions than either of the Mt. Hood areas.
7. Alpine Meadows, Calif. Base: 115 in. Late Snow: 104 in.
Alpine Meadows has traditionally had the latest closing date (Memorial Day or later) of the Tahoe ski areas. It keeps as much of the area open as coverage permits. Alpine receives more snow than Mammoth and often reports higher base depths in midwinter. However, its top elevation is lower than Mammoth's Main Lodge elevation, causing a faster spring snowmelt. Surface conditions are stickier than Mammoth's because of altitude, lower proportion of northern exposure and no salting of groomed runs.
8. Alta, Utah Base: 120 in. Late Snow: 163 in.
Alta's late season surface conditions are often more difficult than Snowbird's because much of Alta's terrain drops east and west off the High Traverse. Of course, with average snowfall of 90 inches in March and 73 in April fresh powder conditions are possible at any time. Alta closes at the end of April and would obviously rate higher if it stayed open longer.
9. Kirkwood, Calif. Late Snow: 117 in.
Kirkwood's elevation range of 7,800 to 9,800 feet is between those of Mammoth and Alpine Meadows and its snowfall is higher than either. Although surface conditions are better than Alpine's, Kirkwood closes in early May due to its more remote location.
10. Summit County, Colo.
The larger Summit County areas have been extending their seasons to early May in recent years. Copper Mt. (Late Snow 102 in.) has the most advantageous layout for spring skiing, with north facing trails and some open bowls up at 12,000 feet. If it hasn't snowed recently, Breckenridge (Base 76 in.) will be adversely affected by its eastern exposure and Keystone by its flatter terrain. Fortunately, all of these areas average 40+ inches of April snowfall.
11. Loveland, Colo. Late Snow: 134 in.
Loveland is less than 10 miles from A-Basin and shares its Continental Divide weather pattern. However, its wide range of exposures results in more variable surface conditions. Loveland closes in early May.
For trips up to mid-April or Easter, the following areas merit strong consideration:
Aspen/Snowmass, Crested Butte, Telluride and Taos all have excellent snow preservation due to high altitude, north exposure and steep terrain. They all close in April due to remote location from population centers. While snow depths are usually not as high as at the areas listed above, March is the highest average snowfall month, so only in the poorest seasons will much coverage be lost before these areas close.