2008-09 Ski Season Analysis as of May 30, 2009

2008-09 was an above average ski season in North America, with only western Canada being well below average. U.S. skier visits were down 5.5%, which is about what would have been expected coming off the huge snow of 2007-08. One minor economic impact was a shift of 2-3% of skier visits away from the more expensive destinations to closer drive-up areas. More noticeable effects of the economy showed up as double digit declines in some lodging bookings, ski schools and equipment sales. Comprehensive snow statistics are shown in the 2008-09 Ski Season Summary

Season Progress Reports

  • November 8, 2008
  • November 21, 2008
  • December 1, 2008
  • December 15, 2008
  • December 22, 2008
  • December 31, 2008
  • January 14, 2009
  • January 28, 2009
  • February 12, 2009
  • February 27, 2009
  • March 15, 2009
  • March 31, 2009
  • April 13, 2009

    October was mostly average, with small amounts of snow in many regions but nothing that impacted the season. At the end of the month a major storm hit the West Coast, but snow levels averaged 9,000 feet, so only Mammoth was able to open some natural terrain from it. The storm moved on to Utah, where the Cottonwood Canyon resorts received nearly 4 feet of snow, allowing Snowbird to open Nov. 7. The storm continued into Colorado, but the snowfall there averaged about a foot. There was scattered snow during the second week of November but next 2 weeks were dry and warm. Therefore at most western areas Thankgiving skiing was marginal.

    The widespread drought continued for over a week into December but since then most regions had substantial snow, accompanied by abnormally cold temperatures. Some regions caught up (Oregon, the Sierra, Utah and western Colorado had major dumps over Christmas) and were above average in snowfall and terrain open for the holidays.

    From Christmas into early January the storm track moved north, improving many of the areas that had been limited due to lack of snow. For a minimum of 10 days in mid-January the entire West was clear under high pressure. In late January that drought ended with substantial snow in the Sierra, Utah and Colorado.

    Similar storm tracks continued through 2/3 of February, hitting mainly California and Utah. In late February the track finally moved north to bring some new snow to Western Canada, which had little over the previous month. With the exception of one early March storm concentrated in the Sierra, storms continued on a northern track for the first half of March.

    During the second half of March and early April storms continued in the Northwest but then moved southeast to dump on Utah and Colorado.

    California: Mammoth received 21 inches of snow near its base and opened a run Nov. 2. But much more fell on the upper mountain, which opened Nov. 7. The solid upper mountain base held up through a warm couple of weeks, and Mammoth was 40% open (the most acreage in North America) after 3 more lower mountain chairs opened on snowmaking by Thanksgiving. The big early November storm was nearly all rain at Tahoe, and with ensuing warm weather only Boreal and Mt. Rose opened for Thanksgiving on a very restricted basis, followed by Heavenly later in the holiday. A mid-December storm dropped 3-4 feet in the Sierra, and through Christmas another 1-3 feet. Tahoe areas were close to full operation by New Year's, with only a few expert sectors like Killebrew Canyon, Silverado and some of the Mt. Rose Chutes still closed. There was minimal snow for 3 weeks in January with record warm temperatures, so conditions deteriorated at low altitude or in sunny exposures. A substantial storm in late January dropped 2-5 feet in the Sierra. However the first half of the storm was rain below 8,000 feet, so base depths there remained at only 3-4 feet. February was stormy in the Sierra, with all areas getting at least 7 feet and 11 feet at Mammoth. The mid-December storm also brought 4 feet of snow to Southern California and Arizona areas, which were in full operation before Christmas, much earlier than normal. Christmas storms brought 3 feet of snow to Arizona but mostly rain to Southern California. February snowfall in Southern California and Arizona areas has been 5-6 feet. Late February was warmer in California, with some rain below 8,000 feet. The first week of March brought 4-7 feet of snow, but it has since been dry with spring conditions emerging in sunny exposures, with one 1-2 foot refresher storm March 21-22. In early April the Sierra got another 1-2 feet. Tahoe areas closed earlier than normal (last open was Squaw May 3) but Mammoth is open to mid-June. Mammoth numbers are much better than Tahoe's this season because of the November and January storms that were mostly rain at Tahoe. See Current California Ski Conditions for more details on Southern California and Mammoth.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr/May

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Squaw 8,000

    31

    120

    40

    127

    122

    34

    474

    106%

    Kirkwood

    0

    130

    48.5

    140.5

    114.5

    21.5

    455

    96%

    Mammoth

    47

    123

    63

    142

    62

    42

    479

    138%

    Southern Cal

    2

    54

    4

    72

    6

    0

    138

    108%

    Arizona Snowbowl

    20

    92

    22

    58

    6

    5

    203

    82%

    Pacific Northwest: Whistler opened for Thanksgiving, but only 5% on snowmaking trails. Snowfalls through Christmas were modest as the storm track went south, so Whistler was only 26% open at Christmas. Despite several storms from Christmas into early January, most of the Whistler alpine was still not open, though mainly due to snow stability issues like Utah and Jackson had in December. Oregon areas had 10-15 feet of snow in December and were in full operation weather permitting. Washington areas had lesser amounts before Christmas, but 4 feet over the holidays. An early January warm storm closed Washington areas with rain and iced some trees at Mt. Bachelor. There was less than a foot of snow the rest of the month throughout the region, so ungroomed terrain was variable or difficult. But Whistler's snowpack stabilized and its Peak Chair finally opened January 24. There was only about a foot of snow north of Oregon during the first 3 weeks of February, so surface conditions were difficult and base depths were a still-low 4+ feet at Whistler. Relief came in late February with up to 3 feet of new snow throughout the region. Despite one storm with a high rain line, early March snowfall ranged from 3 feet at Whistler to 6 feet in Oregon. Mid-March and later conditions were the best of the season with 5-7 feet in the second half of March and up to 5 feet in April. The north-to-south trend in PNW 2008-09 snowfall is dramatic in the table below.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Alyeska

    131

    68

    50

    48

    135

    35

    467

    90%

    Whistler Alpine

    59

    67

    47

    56

    93

    28

    350

    86%

    Mt. Baker

    13

    175

    92

    55

    170

    42.5

    547.5

    86%

    Mt. Bachelor

    39.5

    194

    46

    69

    127

    51.3

    526.8

    143%

    Canadian Rockies and Interior B.C.: Lake Louise opened a run on snowmaking Nov. 8 and was 5% open through November, followed by Sunshine opening Nov. 15 with somewhat more terrain. These areas were in majority operation after 2 feet of snow in early December. The new Revelstoke area opened about 1/4 of terrain for Thanksgiving and has now had 250 inches. Revelstoke and Kicking Horse were also in majority operation mid-December. Western Canada did not have much snow for 2 weeks before Christmas, so many areas were still very restricted for the holidays. From Christmas week into early January most areas had 2-4 feet of snow, with up to 5 feet near the U.S. border, so most terrain then opened. The Washington State rain was mixed rain/snow at Red and Fernie, but overall coverage and stability improved in January. There was little snow in late January and amounts ranging from a few inches to just over a foot for 3 weeks in February. Some off-trail conditions were variable and base depths are below average. Conditions then improved with 1-3 feet of new snow in late February and another 2-5 feet in March. In early April there has been about a foot, except for 2+ feet at Whitewater and Revelstoke. This was the only region across the board below average for 2008-09. Delirium Dive opened March 28.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Big White

    23.2

    53.7

    39.0

    29.3

    59.1

    27.2

    231.5

    84%

    Fernie

    10.2

    58.7

    66.9

    29.9

    72.8

    17.3

    255.8

    69%

    Sunshine

    30.3

    41.7

    44.9

    30.7

    35.8

    34.3

    217.7

    87%

    U. S. Northern Rockies: 2+ feet of snow in early December brought Targhee and Bridger Bowl to full operation. From then until Christmas snowfall ranged from 3 feet near the Canadian border to 6 feet in the Tetons, with the northern areas catching up by New Year's. Most areas were close to full operation by New Year's, and some of the still closed terrain was due to control work, particularly after the 2 December avalanche incidents at Jackson. Most areas had 2-4 feet of snow in the first half of January. The Tetons were on the northern edge of the late January and February storms and got 4-7 feet new during that time. Farther north there was less than a foot in the second half of January and about a foot in the first 3 weeks of February, so some hardpack and crusty conditions were reported. In late February most of the region had 2-3 feet. March snowfall was steady and abundant, totalling 4-8+ feet, preserving winter conditions at most of these areas despite their sunny exposures. Another 2+ feet fell in early April before most of these areas closed due to remote location.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Whitefish

    12

    90

    63

    38

    56

    35

    294

    91%

    Bridger Bowl

    48

    69

    41

    38

    91

    56

    343

    117%

    Jackson Hole

    36

    102

    87

    49

    77

    62

    413

    112%

    Sun Valley

    19

    62.5

    26.5

    33

    45.5

    12.5

    199

    106%

    Utah: Snowbird opened Nov. 7 after a storm of nearly 4 feet. After more snow the next week, all 4 Cottonwood areas were open for the weekend of Nov. 15-16 (ranging from 39% at Alta to 11% at Solitude). Surface conditions were variable after 2 weeks of no new snow, but a few inches over Thanksgiving weekend resurfaced much of Alta and allowed Supreme to open. Park City delayed its opening to November 29 because it was often too warm to make snow. The Cottonwood areas have had 8-9 feet of December snow and were in good shape by Christmas. The Park City group was less than 10% open in mid-December but then had 6 feet of snow through Christmas. Calm weather through New Year's allowed nearly all terrain to be controlled and opened. 2-4 feet new in early January, then dry for about 10 days. Utah areas were in excellent shape after 3-5 feet in late January and another 6-8 feet the first 3 weeks of February. Late February brought a melt/freeze and variable surfaces, especially below 8,000 feet. 2-3 feet of early March snow resurfaced the snow, and after one more warm week it has dumped 3-8 feet of snow during the last 2 weeks of March. After another 4-10 feet in April, the Wasatch was clearly the standout region of the 2008-09 season. Southern Utah snow had asimilar pattern as Northern Arizona.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Alta

    76

    116

    119

    98.5

    141

    145.5

    696

    132%

    Snowbasin

    22

    118

    63

    93

    66

    41

    403

    126%

    Brian Head

    22

    86

    22

    45

    32

    56

    263

    79%

    Northern and Central Colorado: Loveland and A-Basin opened their first snowmaking runs Oct. 15. Copper and Breckenridge also opened on snowmaking Nov. 8, and Vail and Winter Park opened Nov. 22. Historical snowfall leaders Steamboat, Vail and Winter Park are normally about 1/4 open by Thanksgiving, but everyone in the region was well under 10% open this year. The Thanksgiving weekend storm dropped an average of 2 feet, with 4 feet at Loveland. With 4-8 feet of December snow most of these areas enjoyed an above average holiday season. 2-5 feet new in early January, then the same 10-day dry spell as Utah. 1.5 - 3 feet in late January and 1-2 feet in early February kept surfaces refreshed at most areas. Steamboat had twice as much snow as the rest of the region over this period. There was 2-3 feet of snow in the region during the second half of February and 1-2 feet in early March but some hardpack and spring conditions emerged. There was 3-4 feet during the last 2 weeks of March, restoring powder and winter conditions. Winter continued into April with another 2-3+ feet. Like last year the Continental Divide areas had lower relative snowfall than areas farther west.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Steamboat

    37.2

    106.3

    129.5

    63.8

    80.5

    52

    469

    126%

    Vail

    45

    109

    99

    50

    72

    54

    429

    119%

    Breckenridge

    45

    67

    71

    46

    52

    39

    320

    111%

    Loveland

    51

    84

    52

    37

    44.5

    69.5

    338

    95%

    Southern and Western Colorado: Aspen, Telluride and Taos opened a handful of snowmaking runs for Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving weekend storm averaged about 1.5 feet, allowing Wolf Creek to open most terrain, though on a modest 20-inch base. Aspen had 4 feet in early December and was half open mid-month, but other areas were in more in limited operation. There was 3 feet of snow in most of the region mid-December, opening most runs, and another 1-3 feet through Christmas. Half of Crested Butte's North Face opened Jan. 2, and elsewhere just a few expert runs weren't open yet. 2-3 feet early in January before the mid-month dry period, then 1-3 feet in late January. An early February storm dumped 2+ feet over most of the Southwest and nearly 4 feet at Wolf Creek. In late February there was 1-2 feet in western Colorado but very little snow in New Mexico. In early March most areas had about 1 foot, with close to 2 feet at Taos and Wolf Creek. This was below average, so spring conditions emerged in most places. In late March there was 1.5 - 3 feet of snow, and another 2-3 feet in April, but most of these areas are closed due to remote location.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Gothic Snow Lab

    41

    120.5

    71.5

    61

    58

    60

    412

    120%

    Telluride

    43

    101

    45

    40

    41

    60

    330

    119%

    Taos

    23

    94

    36

    22

    38

    35

    248

    94%

    Northeast: Natural snow in late October totalled 11 inches at Stowe and Jay Peak. Sunday River opened Oct. 31 and Killington opened Nov. 2 on snowmaking. Weather then turned warm and rainy, so Killington closed after 5 days while Sunday River maintained marginal operation on weekends. With 2 cold weeks and 1-3 feet of new snow, many eastern areas had more runs open than normal for Thanksgiving. Surfaces were variable from mixed rain/snow in early December and several areas were hit by an ice storm. It dumped 3+ feet over northern New England for an epic weekend before Christmas. During the holiday period there was rain, so surfaces were difficult and most areas had decreased trail counts. After the holidays conditions greatly improved with first wet snow burying the ice and up to 18 inches new powder on top. The rest of January was been extremely cold with average snowfall, so with snowmaking assistance surfaces remained good with most terrain open. February started with thaw and then rain all the way up to Tremblant and Quebec City. But after President's weekend it dumped up to 6 feet in northern New England, for an epic week. However in late February it rained, and March has been mostly spring and variable conditions with snowfall far below average. Trail counts held up most of the month but declined more rapidly starting late in March. However a few areas remained partially open to late April and acouple to first wekend of May.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Jay

    43

    83.5

    93.5

    72

    0

    9.5

    301.5

    89%

    Killington

    58

    78

    66

    51

    18

    12

    283

    114%

    Sugarloaf

    24

    52

    51

    40

    16

    2.5

    185.5

    106%

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