2015-16 Ski Season Analysis as of May 17, 2016

2015-16 was a near average season for western North America snowfall but a qualitatively above average season. Much of the snow came early so all western regions enjoyed a good holiday season. The offsetting drier months for most regions were February and April. The Northeast suffered its worst season on record with meager snowfall, warm temperatures and frequent rain. The third strongest El Nino on record contributed to some warm temperatures, notably in February, but did not influence storm tracks to a more southerly path as during past strong El Nino seasons. Comprehensive snow statistics are shown in the 2015-16 Ski Season Summary. Also see El Nino 2015-16: A Non-Event for North American Skiing?

Prior Progress Reports
November 1, 2015
November 14, 2015
November 22, 2015
November 30, 2015
December 8, 2015
December 16, 2015
December 23, 2015
December 31, 2015
January 16, 2016
January 31, 2016
February 15, 2016
February 29, 2016
March 15, 2016
March 31, 2016
April 10, 2016

October was warmer and drier than normal in most ski regions, but there were widespread small storms through most of the West each week in November, contributing to the usual early openings on snowmaking. However, only areas in western Canada saw major storms and had much more terrain than normal open. Wolf Creek was also in full operation since mid-November with much more snow than other western US areas. The Pacific Northwest had a series of major storms in early December, spreading in lesser amounts into adjacent regions. The week before Christmas brought widespread storms to all western regions, with heaviest concentrations on the West Coast and in Utah. The West Coast and western Canada had an excellent holiday season, with all other western regions average or better. Christmas Week had scattered snow in most regions. As of New Year's western ski areas had received collectively about 125% of normal snowfall.

The first half of January had El Nino influenced storm tracks into California but most ski regions had some snow. The second half of January had excellent skiing over most of the West, with the vast majority of areas enjoying at least 3 feet of new snow. After the final January storm hit Colorado in early February, snowfall over most of the US West was less than half normal for the rest of the month, with more snow in northern regions and widespread spring conditions elsewhere at lower elevations and on sunny exposures. During the second week of March major storms hit the West Coast areas with much lesser amounts in inland regions. Second half of March snowfall was heaviest in Utah and northern and central Colorado and below average elsewhere. Late March temperatures were above average, so spring conditions developed within a few days after storms except on steep terrain with ideal altitudes/exposures. The first half of April was much warmer and drier than normal, resulting in spring conditions at nearly all areas. Snow returned to California, Utah and especially Colorado in the second half of April and early May, while regions farther north continued warm and dry.

All snowfall totals are since November 1 and at mid-mountain locations where possible. Snow totals are shown here for selected areas in each region and illustrate monthly snow incidence. Not all areas have reported yet, so a comprehensive season recap will be posted sometime in June 2016.

California:

The first storm started with snow levels over 9,000 feet but eventually lowered. Later storms were colder and snowed as low as Lake Tahoe but not yet enough to build a solid natural base. Mammoth and Mt. Rose opened Nov. 5 and several other areas opened mid-November. Mammoth had much more snow up high during the first storm and thus had by far the most open terrain in California in the early season. The Northwest storms moved into the Sierra the second week of December, dropping 2-4 feet and opening over half of terrain at most areas. The week before Christmas brought another 3-4 feet. A final December storm Christmas Eve dropped 2 feet more, bringing all areas close to full operation with base depths of 4-6 feet. Most Tahoe areas had more snow by Christmas than in all of last season. In January the Sierra continued to get snow every week as it did the prior 2 months. This averaged 2 feet per week at higher elevations, though it rained to 9,000 feet on January 29 before dropping 1+ foot of snow the next 3 days. The next month was dry except for about 2 feet during the 3rd week of February so spring conditions developed on most Tahoe terrain and perhaps half of Mammoth's. 5-7 feet of snow fell during the second week of March, pushing base depths to 6-12 feet and ensuring a long spring season. There were small refreshers of up to a foot during the last two weeks of March. Early April storms brought several inches of snow above 8,000 feet but mostly rain below that. Storms up to a foot fell in late April and early May. Mt. Rose and Alpine Meadows were open to early May, Squaw Valley will be open to May 30 and Mammoth until at least the first weekend of June. Long term, Squaw's base averages 61% of snowfall vs. the upper mountain. Lower ratios (as were sadly common in 2014 and 2015) indicate likely low elevation rain. Southern California suffered a poor season in 2015-16 despite the El Nino hype for only the second time among 7 strong El Nino seasons. 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

57

130

102

43

131

28

491

108%

Squaw 6,200

33

72

54

24

54

18

255

94%

Kirkwood

69

112

104

32.5

108

32.5

458

100%

Mammoth

59

70

123.5

13.5

71.5

20.5

358

102%

Southern Cal

10

13

26

10.5

12.5

0

72

58%

Pacific Northwest:

The November storms had variable snow levels and were strongest to the north. Thus only Whistler had extensive terrain open. There were 3 major storms in early December, totalling 6-8 feet of snow except for lower elevations that got rain during the second storm. The week before Christmas brought another 3-6 feet with another 1-2 feet during the holidays. There was 2+ feet of snow in the first half of January with low snow levels for good powder. In late January there were two warm storms with rain to 7,500 feet, but both were followed by 2 feet of snow so skiing remained excellent. February snowfall was about 6 feet at most areas but there was also intermittent rain at lower elevations with resulting variable conditions. First half of March snow ranged from 4+ feet in Oregon to 9 feet at Whistler. Second half of March snowfall was about 2 feet but April was was dry with some record high temperatures. Alyeska had abundant snow up high, but locals reported excessive rain at mid and lower elevations so some lower terrain was closed most of the season. Whistler, Crystal and Mt. Bachelor still have adequate snowpacks to run through May despite the warm spring. The Northwest has had several average seasons among 14 El Nino years, but this is only the second El Nino season significantly above average.

Area

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

Total

Pct. of Normal

Whistler Alpine

66

133

68

81

125

12

485

117%

Snoqualmie Pass

14

194

95

33

65

1

402

104%

Crystal Mt.

54

168

98

80

100

20

520

128%

Mt. Hood Meadows

28

167

104

59.5

101

19

478.5

107%

Canadian Rockies and Interior B.C.:

The November storms were strongest here. Some areas near the US border had some rain/snow mix like the Northwest, but other areas were far above average in both snow and open terrain. The December Northwest storms pushed into the region, with snowfall ranging from 2 feet at the Banff areas to 5 feet in the Kootenay areas. Snowfall during the second half of December ranged from under a foot at Banff to 3+ feet in the Kootenays. First half of January snowfall was nearly 2 feet west of the Selkirks but less than a foot farther east. Late January snowfall was 3-4 feet west of the Selkirks and 1-2 feet farther east. Base depths averaged 6-7 feet at the former areas and 4-5 feet at the latter areas. First half of February snowfall averaged about 2 feet. Second half of February saw 2-3 feet of snow west of the Selkirks and 1-2 feet elsewhere. 2-4 feet fell during the first half of March and 1-2 feet during the second half of March. April was extremely warm with minimal new snow, resulting in a low spring snowpack despite the above average winter snowfall. Sunshine is open to May 23 but most areas in this region close in early April due to remote location. Like the Northwest, this was only the second significantly above average El Nino snow season on record for western Canada overall. Mt. Fidelity is in a national park near Rogers' Pass and gets snowfall comparable to remote snowcat/heli lodges in the Selkirk and Monashee mountains.

Area

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

Total

Pct. of Normal

Big White

62

91

70

63

73

9

368

135%

Mt. Fidelity

113

74

67

89

66

15

424

87%

Whitewater

91

90

77

59

83

12

412

105%

Lake Louise

67

26

25

30

19

3

170

101%

U.S. Northern Rockies:

November snow was below average but Targhee as usual had some of the most terrain open in North America in early season. The first half of December Northwest storms dumped 4+ feet in Idaho but lesser amounts in Montana and Wyoming. The week before Christmas dumped 3-4 feet upon the entire region, bringing base depths up to 4-6 feet. Big Sky was 3/4 open at Christmas and 90+% open since mid-January. Christmas Week brought 1-2 feet of snow to the Tetons and near the Canadian border, with less than a foot at areas in between. First half of January snowfall ranged from 1-3+ feet. Second half of January snowfall was 5+ feet in the Tetons and 3-4 feet elsewhere. February snowfall was 2-3 feet scattered through the month. First half of March snowfall was in the 2 foot range except for Sun Valley, which got nearly 4 feet from the California storms. Second half of March snowfall was 3+ feet in the Tetons and averaged 2 feet in Idaho and Montana. April was warm and mostly dry like the other northern regions and all areas closed in April due to remote location.

Area

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

Total

Pct. of Normal

Whitefish

35

92

80

43

57

10

317

98%

Big Sky

49

56

52

26

58

33

274

97%

Jackson Hole (mid)

40

77

91

36

67

6

317

86%

Sun Valley

34.5

75

39.5

15

46

3

213

112%

Utah:

Most of the November storms split before reaching Utah, which thus had substantially below average snowfall plus a dry first week of December. The Northwest storms dropped 2-3 feet of snow during the second week of December, 3-5 feet fell the week before Christmas, and another foot over Christmas. 2-3+ feet fell during the first half of January. Second half January snowfall was 5+ feet in the Cottonwoods and 3 feet elsewhere. February snowfall was about 3 feet in the Cottonwoods and less than 2 feet elsewhere. March had consistently good skiing with 1-2 feet of snow every week. Early April was warm and dry with spring conditions but there were three storms of 1+ foot in late April/early May. In the far south Brian Head was fully open on a 50+ inch base from New Year's to mid-April. Snowbird will be open to May 30.

Area

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

Total

Pct. of Normal

Alta

54.5

107

106

36.5

80

54.5

438.5

86%

Solitude (upper)

50

116

93

26

69

41

395

79%

Snowbasin

25

90

63

22

48

29

277

91%

Brian Head

42.5

96

45.5

23

56

38

301

96%

Northern and Central Colorado:

October was much warmer than usual so snowmaking was delayed until the last week and Loveland and A-Basin each opened a snowmaking run October 29. The consistent modest November snowfalls accumulated base depths of 2+ feet with mostly average terrain openings (Keystone the positive exception) for early season. December snowfall was consistent each week, totalling about 4-5 feet at most areas but 8 feet at Steamboat. First half of January snow was 1-2 feet and second half January snow 2.5-4+ feet, with another 2 feet at the beginning of February. There was about a foot of snow over the rest of February and 2 feet during the first half of March. 4-5 feet fell in the second half of March, pushing base depths up to 6-7 feet and promising a strong spring season. Early April snowfall was modest, so some spring conditions developed. However winter returned with several storms totalling 3-4 feet in late April and early May. A-Basin was 3/4 open over Christmas, has been 95+% open since mid-January and will be open to at least the first weekend of June.

Area

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

Total

Pct. of Normal

Steamboat

58.5

101

81.5

40.5

78

49

408.5

110%

Beaver Creek

63

55

55

31

94

43

341

104%

Copper Mt.

53

37

47

29

62

30

260

93%

Loveland

71

53

47

29

81

69

352

101%

Winter Park

70

59

58

19

101

53

360

103%

Southern and Western Colorado:

The central Colorado mountains had a below average November, while the southern mountains and New Mexico were above average. Wolf Creek's base reached 50 inches by the end of November. The second week of December storms were also stronger in the southern (2-3 feet with 4+ at Wolf Creek) than central (1-2 feet) mountains. 2-3 feet of snow fell during the week before Christmas and an average 2 feet (4 feet at Wolf Creek) during Christmas Week. First half of January snow was 1-2 feet, but likely more in New Mexico. Second half January snow was 3 feet in the central mountains and 1-2 feet farther south. 2+ feet fell at the beginning of February but less than a foot for the rest of the month. In early March the central mountains got 1.5 feet of snow but the southern areas less than a foot. Second half of March snowfall was 2-3 feet in most western Colorado areas. It was warm with just a few inches snow in early April. Taos had its second best holiday season in over 20 years and opened the Kachina chair Jan. 13, but had only 9 inches from February 4 to March 29 and closed as scheduled April 3. Aspen Highlands was the only open area in the region when it snowed 2+ feet later in April. The Gothic Snow Lab is located between Crested Butte and Aspen and normally has a snowier climate than either resort.

Area

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

Total

Pct. of Normal

Aspen Highlands

34

51

41

38

52

38

254

101%

Gothic Snow Lab

39

85

47

28

41

48

288

80%

Wolf Creek

112

139

55

31

52

54

443

114%

Taos

74

60

33

31

7.5

48

253.5

98%

Northeast:

Mid-October cold allowed Killington and Sunday River to open first in North America on October 19. After a week of skiing the snow melted and snowmaking did not resume for nearly 3 weeks. With minimal natural snow and sustained unseasonably warm temperatures, terrain open at Christmas was the worst on record. Terrain open increased moderately in Quebec with a foot of snow during Christmas Week but only slightly in New England. Colder weather finally arrived in the first half of January, with Vermont snow ranging from 1-3 feet south to north. Second half of January snow averaged only about a foot, so the natural snow base reached only 2 feet. As is common, the big late January storm through the eastern metro areas was not a big snow producer in upper New England and Quebec. 1-2 feet fell during the second week of February but it rained during the first and third weeks. Late February snowfall ranged from 1 foot in the south to 3 feet in the far north. March snowfall was 1-2 feet scattered through the month, not enough to prevent trails closing prematurely as the weather warmed. Early April brought over a foot of snow to northern New England, temporarily holding off the end of the season. In terms of both snowfall and open terrain, 2015-16 is the worst overall eastern season on record, though more terrain has been open in spring than after the March meltdown of 2012 and Killington may be open another weekend or two in May. Also, eastern Canada north of the St. Lawrence River had fairly normal snowfall since February with less rain, so those areas fared better than those farther south.

Area

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

Total

Pct. of Normal

Jay (mid)

1.5

24.5

47

50

23

17.5

163.5

50%

Killington

3

8

22

22

11

16

82

34%

Cannon Mt.

0

13

25

36

19

9

102

63%

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