2011-12 Ski Season Analysis as of June 9, 2012

The season got off to a very slow start and by mid-January was overall the worst since 1980-81. Early snow is the most important driver of skier visits, so 2011-12 had the sharpest drop in skier days since 1980-81. 2001-12 ended up better than the prior worst snowfall seasons of 1976-77, 1980-81, 1991-92 and 1986-87 due to heavy snowfall in several regions after mid-February and strong overall seasons in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada. But 2011-12 does rank as one of the worst 2 or 3 seasons ever in the Northeast and in Front Range Colorado. Since these are the regions with the most skier days, this was a key factor in the sharp decline in visitation. Comprehensive snow statistics are shown in the 2011-12 Ski Season Summary.

Prior Progress Reports

  • November 1, 2011
  • December 1, 2011
  • December 10, 2011
  • December 17, 2011
  • December 24, 2011
  • December 31, 2011
  • January 7, 2012
  • January 15, 2012
  • January 21, 2012
  • January 31, 2012
  • February 14, 2012
  • February 29, 2012
  • March 16, 2012
  • March 31, 2012
  • April 11, 2012

    Late October 2011 will be remembered for its snowfall in the eastern metro areas, which also opened a few eastern ski areas. Aside from Wolf Creek, no western areas had a meaningful snowpack at the end of October to get a jump on the upcoming season. I was out of the country the entire month of November and unable to follow progress in snowfall or ski area openings during that time. Total November snowfall reflected a classic La Nina pattern with an outstanding start in the Pacific Northwest and much of western Canada, drier in regions farther south.

    December was bone dry over nearly the entire West until Christmas. Some snow got through to the Southwest in December, bringing most areas there close to average but only Wolf Creek far above average. During Christmas week the Northwest and Northern Rockies of both U.S. and Canada got 3 feet of snow, but it remained dry farther south. With warm weather and Christmas crowds degrading the mostly manmade snowpack, California, Utah and I-70 Colorado were in the worst shape in January since at least 1980-81. Only the Pacific Northwest and western Canada had normal or better conditions and most of the snow through the first half of January was in those same regions.

    The weather pattern finally changed in mid-January. Major storms hit the Pacific Northwest but then moved into the Northern Rockies and eventually Utah. A second system brought the Sierra its first snow in 2 months, but in most places was only enough to get about half of terrain open. In late January the storm track moved to the north. The first half of February was drier than normal except for the Southwest. Colorado received snow in its usual moderate amounts in January/February, so more terrain opened each week and most areas finally approached full operation by President's weekend. The second half of February had at least average snowfall in all regions and much more than that in the northern regions. March produced diverging extremes of conditions. Snowfall was massive the entire month in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada. Meanwhile Colorado had a record dry March and Northeast skiing was nearly wiped out by record heat. Snowfall was moderate in early April in most regions, but the drought and meltdown continued in Colorado.

    California: There was an 18+ inch storm during the first week of October but it all melted up to at least 10,000 feet by the end of the month. Mammoth had about half normal snowfall in November and Tahoe was even drier. There was no snow in December, so this was the worst Christmas at Mammoth since 1999-2000 and the worst at Tahoe since 1976-77 with very limited skiing only on manmade snow. The first half of January remained dry and a 2+ week period around the holidays was also too warm to make snow. The Sierra finally got about 4 feet of snow 3 weeks into January, but at Tahoe that was followed by rain and warm weather so less than half of terrain was open with mediocre surface conditions at the end of January. Somewhat more terrain opened in mid-February with a foot of snow and improved surfaces, but by the last weekend in February Tahoe had been through a melt freeze and its snowfall had fallen behind the record low season of 1976-77. Mammoth escaped the rain and melt freeze and preserved winter surfaces on over half of its terrain with its higher altitude. At the end of February Tahoe was greatly improved with 3-4 feet of snow but Mammoth got only about a third as much. Then most Sierra terrain went to spring conditions during 2 warm weeks. Mid-March brought the season's largest storm of 4-7 feet, at last opening most expert terrain. There was 1-3 feet more in late March. There was about a foot in early April and a 2+ foot storm mid-April. Most Sierra areas were open to late April and Mammoth to Memorial Day. Southwest storms opened most of Arizona Snowbowl by mid-December and snowmaking terrain in Southern California opened in the same timeframe with cold temperatures. However SoCal and Arizona were warm and mostly dry from Christmas through January. Arizona had 2-3 feet of February snow. 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

    16

    2

    56

    60

    167

    46

    347

    75%

    Kirkwood

    25

    1

    30

    45

    113

    51

    265

    55%

    Mammoth

    30

    2

    55

    28

    73.5

    36

    224.5

    62%

    Southern Cal

    16

    16

    4

    23

    36

    18

    113

    87%

    Arizona Snowbowl

    32

    53

    14

    39

    60

    23

    221

    89%

    Pacific Northwest: The entire region had an excellent start in November. Mt. Bachelor had a solid base that could open most of the mountain, but did not get that last dump to open Summit and Northwest until Christmas week. Mt. Baker has been 100% open and Mt. Hood 80% since early December. There was no snow in the region in December before Christmas, but with 3 feet over the holidays base depths reached 4-5 feet with excellent conditions. In early January there were 3 feet at Whistler, 2 feet in Washington and less than a foot in Oregon. Snow in the second half of January was spectacular, with 9-10 feet in Washington and Oregon and 5 feet at Whistler, bringing base depths to 6-10+ feet. The first half of February had about 1 1/2 feet of snow but the second half had at least 5 feet throughout the region, topped by 8 feet at Stevens Pass. March was even more stormy, with 11-15 feet of snow over the entire region. There was 2-4 feet of snow in April, but also some low elevation rain.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Alyeska

    77

    155

    90

    220

    91

    6

    639

    124%

    Whistler Alpine

    123

    54

    96

    59

    159

    52

    543

    131%

    Crystal Mt.

    112

    45

    124

    85

    170

    32

    568

    141%

    Mt. Hood

    73.5

    34

    147.5

    82.5

    184

    29

    550.5

    122%

    Mt. Bachelor

    68

    20

    134

    79

    158

    52

    511

    134%

    Canadian Rockies and Interior B.C.: November snowfall was high through most of the region. Modest snowfalls in December before Christmas averaged less than a foot near the U.S. border and 1-2 feet farther north. But 2-3 feet of snow during Christmas week throughout the region bought base depths up to 3-5 feet with excellent conditions. First half of January January snowfall was 1-2 feet near the U.S. border but 2-3 feet farther north Big White is 99% open and Silver Star and Sun Peaks 100% on 4-6 foot bases. Last half of January snow was 9 feet at Fernie and 3-5 feet elsewhere. The first half of February was mostly dry, with less than a foot of snow but the second half was excellent, with snowfall ranging from 2 feet at Lake Louise to 5 feet at Fernie and Whitewater. March was outstanding throughout the region with 6-9 feet of new snow. Lake Louise and Sunshine surpassed their previous season snowfall records by the end of March. 1-2 feet in early April, with many areas closing due to remote location. Sunshine and Lake Louise had record high snowfall and remoined in close to full operation to their may closing dates. Revelstoke and Kicking Horse snow totals are likely inflated by including October, but both were 50+% open by early December.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Big White

    34.3

    39.4

    34.3

    55.5

    46.6

    20.1

    230.2

    84%

    Mt. Fidelity

    132.7

    90.6

    133.1

    68.5

    127.6

    37.8

    590.3

    122%

    Fernie

    70.1

    40.9

    125.2

    74

    122

    17.7

    449.9

    122%

    Lake Louise

    48.8

    35.4

    45.3

    21.7

    79.5

    46.1

    276.8

    171%

    Sunshine

    66.9

    49.2

    78.7

    49.2

    117.3

    38.6

    399.9

    160%

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

    U. S. Northern Rockies: Snowfall in November was close to average at areas reporting. Jackson opened a bit early with more terrain than normal available but added little during dry spell before Christmas. Schweitzer got off to a good start with the Northwest influence, and along with consistent Grand Targhee was the only area in full operation by Christmas. Big Sky was 61% open for Christmas but the rest of the region's ski areas were less than half open, and Brundage and Bogus Basin not open at all. Conditions improved during Christmas week with up to 2 feet of snow at most areas, allowing Jackson's tram and Brundage to open Dec. 30. After less than a foot of snow in the first half of January base depths were 4 feet in the Tetons and at Schweitzer but no more than 3 feet elsewhere, far below average. The mid-January storm brought 3-4 feet to Whitefish, Idaho and the Tetons, finally putting those areas in good shape, with another 2-3 feet later in the month. Second half of January snowfall elsewhere in Montana was less than half a much as in Idaho and Wyoming. First half of February snowfall was about a foot in Montana and Wyoming but less in Idaho. The second half or February was outstanding, averaging 5 feet at many areas and topped by 7 feet at Targhee. First half of March snowfall was 3-4 feet, maintaining excellent conditions. Late March snowfall was about 4 feet near Canada but lesser amounts farther south with spring conditions emerging between storms. 1-2 feet in early April and closures due to remote location.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Schweitzer

    88

    20

    61

    73

    125

    13

    380

    136%

    Bridger Bowl

    27

    24

    23

    68

    63

    64

    269

    89%

    Jackson Hole

    54

    39

    82

    72

    43

    21

    311

    84%

    Sun Valley

    39

    21

    43.5

    13

    79.5

    0

    196

    101%

    Utah: Utah's November was close to average but there were less than 2 feet of snow in the Wasatch in December. Brian Head had 3+ feet in December from Southwest storms. The Cottonwood areas were 2/3 to 3/4 open for the holidays on 3 foot bases. Other Wasatch areas were less than half open on 2 foot bases, mostly on snowmaking. With warm weather during Christmas week New Year's conditions were the worst since 1980-81. Outside the Cottonwood Canyons much advanced terrain will not likely be open until mid-February. The first week of January there were several inches new snow which improved surfaces but were not enough to open more terrain. There was 5 feet of snow in the Cottonwood areas in the second half of January and 4 feet in the rest of the Wasatch, resulting in close to full operation on 6 foot bases in the Cottonwood areas and 4 foot bases elsewhere. Early February Wasatch snowfall was below average at less than 2 feet but Brian Head had nearly 4 feet. Late February snow was 5 feet in the Cottonwood areas and 2-3 feet elsewhere. The first half of March was mostly warm and most terrain went to spring conditions. The mid-March storm dumped 3-4 feet but spring conditions returned within a week. 1+ foot of snow in early April and some terrain closures, scheduled at Alta/Snowbird but likely due to losing cover around Park City. The rest of the spring was warmer than average so Snowbird closed May 13. Overall Utah snowfall was more than the worst ever 1976-77 season but similar to the 3 or 4 other lowest seasons of the past 40+ years.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Alta

    58.5

    20

    70.5

    79.5

    80

    64

    372.5

    70%

    Snowbird

    45.5

    14

    60

    52.5

    69

    34.5

    275.5

    59%

    Park City Summit House

    42

    21

    39

    43

    44

    22

    211

    68%

    Snowbasin

    43

    6

    62

    23

    42

    23

    199

    64%

    Brian Head

    16

    42

    23

    73

    40

    24

    218

    65%

    Northern and Central Colorado: This region had a very bad start. Loveland had 46 inches in October but only 36 inches in November and 20 in December. It is possible that some other area snow totals may include October snow that probably did not last. Historically most of these areas are at least half open by mid-December but were only quarter open this year. Going into New Year's many areas were still only 1/3 open. This holiday season was the worst since 1980-81, with crowds bringing up the rocks on the limited terrain in warm weather. 4-5 feet fell over the course of January and about 2 feet in the first half of February, so new terrain opened gradually and most areas finally approached full operation by President's weekend. The northern storm track in late February slammed Steamboat with almost 6 feet of snow, with other areas in the region getting 2-3 feet. March was the driest in the history of the state, so with low base depths from the slow early season quite a bit of terrain closed by the end of March, almost unheard of in this region. The drought continued in April, closing even more terrain. Normally snowfall is strong in spring and these areas are in full operation and close only due to lack of demand. The overall 2011-12 season was comparable to the previous worst ever 1977 and 1981 seasons with Winter Park setting a record low.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Steamboat

    38.5

    24.5

    39

    93

    21

    4

    220

    58%

    Vail

    38

    20

    58

    54

    25

    16

    211

    58%

    Breckenridge

    36

    19

    57

    60

    26

    18

    216

    73%

    Loveland

    34

    22

    52

    58

    9

    36

    211

    60%

    Winter Park

    27

    15.5

    47.5

    53.3

    18.3

    21

    182.6

    51%


    Southern and Western Colorado: The Gothic Snow Lab between Crested Butte and Aspen (snowier climate than either) had 22 inches in October, 39 in November and only 14 in December. In the Southwest December snowfall snowfall was average or better, so Taos was 76% open at Christmas (100% by early February) on a 4 foot base vs. 41% open on average. Wolf Creek's 87 inches of December snow was nearly twice as much as any other U.S. area. Eyewitness reports from Snowmass over Christmas were very rocky. Nearly the entire region was dry for 3 weeks after Christmas but there was 3+ feet of snow in the second half of January. The Southwest areas received 3-4 feet of snow in February to get most terrain open on 4-5 foot bases. Farther north it was only 2 feet. Second half of February snowfall was 2+ feet at most areas but 4 feet at Wolf Creek. Crested Butte opened about half of the North Face at President's weekend. March was mostly warm and dry, resulting in spring conditions and some terrain closures but not nearly as many as at the Front Range areas. Most areas closed in early April due to remote location.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Aspen

    32

    16

    43

    47

    13

    15

    166

    65%

    Gothic Snow Lab

    39

    14

    67

    64

    15

    23

    222

    60%

    Wolf Creek

    113

    88

    32

    110

    25

    28

    396

    100%

    Taos

    49

    54

    23

    58

    29

    20

    233

    89%

    The Gothic Snow lab is between Aspen and Crested Butte and gets much more snow than either.

    Northeast: The late October storm dropped 15 inches at Killington, which opened Oct. 30. Sunday River, Mt. Snow and Plattekill also opened on a limited basis. The natural snow was much less than in October 2005, so operations were more limited and any natural base soon disappeared. November and early December were very poor with low snowfall and very limited operations. This Christmas in the Northeast rivaled 2006-07 as the worst since 2001-02. Christmas week and early January had mixed precipitation, but with more snow than rain. Most places had only half as much terrain open as usual at New Year's. Trail counts rose considerably in mid-January with 1-3 feet of new snow, but most areas still remained short of full operation at the end of January. There was minimal progress in early February with less than a foot of new snow, but late February brought the best conditions of the season with 2-4 feet of snow. Early March had 1-2 feet of snow, but record mid-March heat into the 80's almost wiped out eastern skiing, with the majority of areas closing by March 24. Vermont received 2 feet of snow the second week of April, so Jay and Killington expanded their open terrain some, but were still less than half open.

    Area

    Nov

    Dec

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    Total

    Pct. of Normal

    Jay

    5

    39.5

    73

    67

    22

    17.5

    224

    67%

    Killington

    26

    25

    33

    23

    24

    21

    152

    61%

    Cannon Mt.

    10

    20

    44

    24

    27

    6

    131

    82%

    Sugarloaf

    11

    8.5

    41

    17

    25

    2.5

    105

    59%

    Le Massif

    0.8

    31.9

    60.2

    44.9

    44.5

    3.5

    185.8

    77%

    This was probably the overall worst eastern ski season since 1979-80. The northern Vermont snowbelt managed fairly well from mid-January to early March. Elsewhere quality skiing was extremely limited.

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