2009-10 Ski Season Analysis as of June 8, 2010

El Nino started at a moderate level in the fall but strengthened mid-winter to the 7th highest overall El Nino ski season since 1951. So little surprise that California was the strongest ski region of 2009-10. 3 regions had very low snowfall, so overall 2009-10 was below average. With much of the shortfall in early season it is surprising that skier visits rebounded from last year and were only slightly below those in the excellent 2007-08 season. Comprehensive snow statistics are shown in the 2009-10 Ski Season Summary.

Season Progress Reports

  • November 7, 2009
  • November 21, 2009
  • December 1, 2009
  • December 16, 2009
  • December 22, 2009
  • December 30, 2009
  • January 13, 2010
  • January 22, 2010
  • January 31, 2010
  • February 15, 2010
  • March 1, 2010
  • March 16, 2010
  • March 31, 2010
  • April 11, 2010

    October was colder and snowier than average, so a few areas opened earlier than normal. In November the big news was the record breaking snow at Whistler. In the Pacific Northwest and much of western Canada November snowfall was far above normal and many areas opened a lot of terrain early.

    In early December there was a moderate storm in California and the Southwest followed by a substantial dump in the Sierra and Utah. In mid-December the storm track returned to the Northwest and Canada. There were only scattered snow showers around Christmas, so holiday skiing was excellent in the the Northwest and Canada, but the worst in over a decade in Front Range Colorado and Jackson Hole.

    Over New Year's the Northwest/Canada storm track resumed but also brought some relief to the Northern Rockies. The next 2 weeks were dry over most of the West, and by mid-January the western season overall was possibly the worst since 1992. In the second half of January major storms pounded the Sierra, Utah and the Southwest with moderate amounts in nearby regions.

    In early February snow was scattered but strongest in Utah and the Tetons. During the rest of February and into March the major storm track was through the Sierra but it also pushed through Utah and Colorado.

    Mid-March was dry in much of the West but most regions were refreshed late in the month and the first week of April was one of the snowiest of the season. April continued unusually snowy throughout most of the western U.S. mountains, so many season totals came close to or above average despite the slow start to the season.

    California: The Sierra had a major mid-October storm but with average snow level of 10,000 feet. Mammoth opened Oct. 16-18, then closed in warm weather until a snowmaking reopening of about 5% of terrain on Nov. 7. Boreal, Mt. High and Bear Mt. also opened limited snowmaking runs in early November. But the Sierra had only 2 feet of snow in November, half of on the last weekend, so no one was more than 5% open for Thanksgiving. The Sierra got 2-3 feet of snow around Dec. 7 and another 3-5 feet a week later. With 1-2 feet in late December most areas were 75-90+% open for the holidays, with only the most expert terrain such as Heavenly's Mott Canyon and Squaw's Silverado needing more snow to open. Holiday and early January base depths were 5-6 feet on the Sierra Crest but a below average 3-4 feet farther east. Over New Year's there was 1+ foot snow in North Tahoe but just a few inches farther south. After a dry week+ there was 1+ feet of snow before the MLK weekend. In the second half of January the Sierra had 6-9 feet of snow, so conditions were excellent on bases of 5-12 feet. Southern California got 4-5 feet of snow and Arizona up to 9 feet in the second half of January. Early February Sierra snowfall averaged 2 feet but then 3-6 feet fell later in the month. Early March snowfall was 1-2 feet per week. After a dry spell late March storms dropped 2-4 feet with the most in north Tahoe. The 6-8 feet of snow on the Sierra Crest made April the 3rd snowiest in 40+ years. Mammoth will be open to July 4, assisted also by an unusually cool May. 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

    18

    130

    117

    62

    101

    102

    530

    118%

    Kirkwood

    37.5

    94

    145.5

    59.5

    81.5

    77

    495

    105%

    Mammoth

    55

    103

    127

    108

    63

    85

    541

    154%

    Southern Cal

    3

    24

    72

    36

    9

    18

    162

    127%

    Arizona Snowbowl

    14

    90

    107

    49

    47

    20

    327

    134%

    Pacific Northwest: This region has the best snow odds in early season, but the start to this season was truly spectacular. Whistler shattered its November snow record with 220 inches and was half open for Thanksgiving, including steep tarrain like some of the Spanky's Ladder runs. Mt. Baker and Whistler had 6 foot bases and other Northwest areas about 4 feet at Thanksgiving. Early December had little snow, so some surfaces were variable after low elevation rain Thanksgiving week. With 3-5 feet of mid-December snow holiday base depths were 5-8 feet. Conditions were excellent through New Year's with 2+ feet of snow. In early January it rained to at least 5,000 feet so low elevation conditions became variable. During the rest of January it dumped 7 feet at Whistler and 3-4 feet in Washington and Oregon to restore surfaces. There was 2-3 feet during early February but with some rain at lower elevation, and then 1-2 feet later. Conditions were variable for about 3 weeks at low elevation or where sun exposed but still mostly winter conditions at Mt. Bachelor and in the Whistler alpine. In the second week of March the region was refreshed with 2-3 feet of snow and another 4 feet late in the month. 3-5 feet in early April and a couple of feet more later. For an El Nino year, this was one of the best in the Northwest.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Alyeska

    109

    88

    40

    132

    178

    113

    660

    128%

    Whistler Alpine

    220

    58

    115

    52

    87

    42

    574

    142%

    Mt. Baker

    237

    42

    76

    58

    114

    107

    634

    100%

    Mt. Hood

    103.5

    65.5

    47.5

    45.5

    84

    67.5

    413.5

    93%

    Mt. Bachelor

    99

    81

    66

    55

    77

    67

    445

    119%

    Canadian Rockies and Interior B.C.: Western Canada also got off to a fast start. Sunshine's 88 inches was its second highest November. Sun Peaks was 95% open before Christmas and Big White 81%. Whitewater, Revelstoke and Fernie opened the last weekend of November on 4 foot bases. As in the Northwest, not much new snow the first week of December but 1+ foot at the Banff areas and 3-4 feet in most of interior B.C later in the month. Holiday base depths were 4-5 feet and there was 1-2+ feet of snow over New Year's. Some of the Northwest rain temporarily affected lower elevations near the US border but surfaces were then refreshed with 1-2 feet new snow. Farther north there were 2-3 feet through mid-January. Late January was mostly dry in this region, so there were some hardpack conditions in busy areas and sunny exposures. There were 1-2 feet in interior B.C. in early February, and another 1-2 feet later in the month as far east as Red/Whitewater and Revelstoke. The Banff areas were exceptionally dry with less than a foot of snow in February. Fernie/Castle were also dry for 3 weeks. So conditions became variable in low, sun-exposed or busy runs at many of these areas. Conditions improved some at these drier areas with 1-2 feet of snow the second week of March and another 1-2 feet in late March. April was no better than average, and this was a very dry year for the region overall after the big November start.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Big White

    26.8

    38.6

    45.7

    37

    34.6

    15

    197.7

    72%

    Mt. Fidelity

    136.2

    61.8

    71.3

    36.6

    67.3

    37.8

    411

    85%

    Sunshine

    87.8

    22.1

    32.3

    12.6

    35.8

    29.9

    220.5

    89%

    Mt. Fidelity is near Rogers' Pass in a climate zone similar to many of the snowcat and heliski operations.

    U. S. Northern Rockies: Early snow totals were variable, as the big November storms tracked more heavily into into Canada. Big Sky and Bridger were the only areas above average in open runs by mid-December. Schweitzer and Whitefish got 2+ feet mid-December to reach close to normal Christmas conditions. Jackson was less than half open and had its worst Christmas conditions since 1997-98. With 2-3 feet of New Year's snow at most areas only Jackson and Sun Valley remained in limited operation. There was only about one foot of snow in this region in the next 2+ weeks except for 29 inches at Sun Valley from the California storm. Jackson's Hobacks opened Jan. 20 and 3+ feet of snow in late January finally brought Jackson to full operation. Late January was mostly dry at the areas closer to Canada. Bridger and the Tetons had 4+ feet of snow in the first half February, the most in North America during that time, while the rest of the region had 1+ feet. During the rest of February there was 1+ foot in the Tetons but less than a foot elsewhere, so spring conditions arrived early. There was less than a foot at most areas in the first half of March, continuing a very low season in the region except for Sun Valley, which gets most of its snow from the south. Late March snow averaged a foot, with 2-3 feet in the Yellowstone/Teton region. But by this time Jackson's lower faces and some other sunny exposures had closed. Targhee had 4 feet in early April, but most of the other places closed early.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Grand Targhee

    49

    63

    110

    67

    51

    73

    413

    88%

    Jackson Hole

    16

    44

    82

    58

    28

    62

    290

    78%

    Utah: The Cottonwood Canyons had about 40 inches of October snow, but less than 2 feet in November. The first lift served skiing was on snowmaking at Solitude Nov. 7 and Brighton Nov. 14. Skiing was very restricted into early December. The first Southwest storm dumped 30 inches on Brian Head but only a few inches in the Wasatch. The mid-December storm was nearly 4 feet in the Cottonwood areas and 2-3 feet elsewhere. Cottonwood areas were 90+% open on 4-foot bases for the holidays with about a foot new snow. The Cottonwood and Ogden areas got 1+ foot over New Year's but more snow was still needed to open some advanced terrain at the Park City areas. Storms in the 2nd half of January dropped nearly 8 feet in the Cottonwood areas (raising base depths to 6 feet) and 4-6 feet elsewhere, bringing excellent conditions through the region. Utah averaged about 1.5 feet of snow per week in February and at least that much in the first half of March, with Brian Head getting the most and the Ogden areas the least. After a short dry spell there was about 2 feet late in March. Utah had a record snowy April, with the big end of month storm continuing into May.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Snowbasin

    11

    58

    54

    43

    20

    63

    249

    78%

    Alta

    21

    81

    111.5

    64

    89

    151.5

    518

    98%

    Brian Head

    28

    70

    62

    51

    108

    69

    388

    118%

    The snow trend in Utah favored the south over the north in 2009-10.

    Northern and Central Colorado: Loveland opened its first snowmaking run Oct. 6. At Thanksgiving Loveland was 11% open and Breckenridge 14%, with everyone else under 10% open. By mid-December even the snowfall leaders were only 1/3 to 1/2 open compared to about 90% in a normal year. Snowfall from November 1 up to Christmas was about half of normal. Holiday skiing was the most limited since 1998-99 on base depths averaging less than 3 feet. Snowfall leader Steamboat was only 56% open as late as Dec. 24 but had 4 feet of snow over the next 2 weeks. Vail and Winter Park were less than half open until they got 20 inches around New Year's. This region continued to lag through most of January, averaging only one foot of new snow over the first 3 weeks. Vail/Beaver Creek finally got a 2+ foot dump in late January. Most of the region had 2-3 feet in early February to finally bring adequate coverage to advanced terrain with base depths averaging 4 feet. During the second half of February this was one of the best regions with 2-3+ feet of snow. There was about 1 foot each week in March, so this was the only region with close to normal snowfall for the month. Early April storm totals ranged from 1.5 feet in Summit County to 5+ feet at Vail and Winter Park. The Continental Divide areas had the toughest time ths season, as evidenced by A-Basin being only 49% open to late February and reaching full operation in early March. A-Basin hung on to an early June close thanks to normal April/May snowfall.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Steamboat

    25.5

    81.75

    44.25

    59.75

    36

    49.25

    296.5

    78%

    Vail

    16

    48

    52

    72

    45

    51

    284

    78%

    Breckenridge

    18

    31

    42

    70

    53

    18

    232

    81%

    Loveland

    13

    30.5

    41.75

    36.5

    55

    59.5

    236.3

    66%

    Southern and Western Colorado: Wolf Creek opened Oct. 31 and has been in full operation after 30 inches mid-November. The Gothic Snow Lab between Aspen and Crested Butte had 42.5 inches of October snow, 30 in November, 73 in December and 67 in January. Most areas had 4-5 feet in December and 8+ feet at Wolf Creek. With base depths of 3+ feet this was an average Christmas at most areas with some but not all advanced runs open. There were just a few inches in the first half of January. Storms in the second half of January have dumped 6-7 feet at Durango and Wolf Creek and 3-4 feet elsewhere. Crested Butte's North Face finally opened the last week of January. Taos reached full operation after 2.5 feet in early February. Most other areas had about a foot in early February but 2-3 mid-month and a few inches later on. Early March snowfall ranged from about 1 foot north to 3+ feet south. Late March snowfall was spotty, with Aspen, Telluride and Taos getting 2+ feet while other areas had no more than a foot. Most areas closed April 4 due to remote location even though much of the region had 3+ feet of snow in April.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Gothic Snow Lab

    27

    74

    65.5

    86

    29

    68.5

    350

    95%

    Red Mt. Pass

    19

    57

    48

    68.5

    76.5

    44.25

    313.3

    105%

    Wolf Creek

    81

    108

    84

    80

    58

    17

    428

    111%

    Taos

    47

    46

    34

    69

    80

    28

    304

    115%

    The Gothic Snow lab is between Aspen and Crested Butte and gets much more snow than either. Red Mt. Pass is between Telluride and Silverton in both geography and snowfall.

    Northeast: Cold October weather allowed Sunday River to open on snowmaking Oct. 14. Killington opened Oct. 31. The East had an exceptionally warm November, too warm to make snow most of the time even in Quebec. Sunday River and Mont St. Sauveur were the only areas open at Thanksgiving, about 3% each. The first major storm of the season of 1-2 feet hit at the end of November with another 2-3 feet in the first half of December. The big mid-December East Coast storm missed the ski areas, but trail counts rose with cold weather. It rained 2 days over Christmas weekend over the entire Northeast except for the Quebec City areas which got 3 feet of snow. By the first week of January most areas reached close to full operation due to sustained cold and at least a foot of snow, led by Killington, Cannon and Sugarloaf with 30+ inches. In mid-January there was only 1+ foot new snow but temperatures mostly remained cold. There was a major rain during the last week of January, cutting back some trail counts. Since the rain there were several small storms (totalling 1-3 feet) over the next 3 weeks but no large ones as in the mid-Atlantic, leaving packed powder in some of the woods and low traffic areas but are variable conditions on busier trails. Conditions were the best of the season after major dumps of 3-5 feet over most Northeast areas in late February. March had only about one foot of snow and one widespread rain event, but major areas remained close to full operation with spring conditions most of the month with trail counts declining only when a severe heart wave started during the last week of March. The sustained heat melted the snow swiftly, with many areas closing before April 11 scheduled dates. However a few areas remained partially open to late April and a couple to first weekend of May.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Jay

    15

    52

    48.5

    87

    5

    30

    237.5

    71%

    Killington

    16

    50.5

    49.5

    68

    15

    4

    203

    81%

    Cannon Mt.

    18

    31

    59

    34

    23

    24

    189

    121%

    Sugarloaf

    12

    36

    55

    65

    17

    24

    209

    119%

    The 2009-10 eastern season was relatively better in New Hampshire and Maine than in Vermont.

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