1997-98 Ski Season Progress Report as of March 18, 1998

Western snowfall through mid-December favored the Southwest and was below average or worse elsewhere. January's snow was just the reverse, high in most Western regions except the Southwest. In February El Nino finally lived up to its billing, dumping on California. Western snowfall in March has generally been below average so far. The Sierra is clearly the prime ski region in North America for the rest of this season. In March even more than February, snow preservation rather than coverage is the key issue. Snow preservation is very predictable by the altitude and exposure characteristics of each area, as outlined in my regional detail tables. This information, combined with current snow reports to determine recent snowfall, should give an educated assessment of current conditions. Areas facing direct sun may be presumed to have spring conditions in March unless there is fresh snow. In general, ski area reports are more candid regarding coverage and open terrain than surface conditions.

California:The Sierra got a foot on March 6 and has otherwise been clear for three weeks, after snowfall of nearly 20 feet on the Sierra Crest in February. Base depths are 14-20 feet on the Sierra Crest and 7 feet at the lowest elevations. Mammoth's year-to-date snow total of 425 inches is 148% of normal. Spring conditions are likely in the Sierra except at Mammoth and the upper half of Kirkwood. Southern California and Arizona (base depths up to 8 feet now) have had 1.5 feet of snow in March after 6-12 feet in February. See the California regional table for snow preservation tendencies. See Current California Ski Conditions for more details on Southern California and Mammoth.

Pacific Northwest: Base depths average 8 feet at most areas after 1-2 feet new snow during th first week of March. Spring conditions are likely except immediately after storms. Check Cascade Ski Report Current Conditions or Northwest Ski Report First-Hand Reports for up to date information. See the Pacific Northwest regional table for snow preservation tendencies.

Canadian Rockies and Interior B.C.: After a drier than normal February. Kootenay areas Red Mt., Fernie and Whitewater have 9 foot bases and got 2 feet new in early March. Base depths in the Okanagan areas are 6-8 feet after 1-2 feet this month. The Banff region, where Sunshine has a 6-7 foot base and Lake Louise has only 3-4 feet, got a foot recently but remains subpar. See the Interior Canada regional table for snow preservation tendencies.

U. S. Northern Rockies: Wyoming received major storms in January, and Jackson's year-to-date snow total of 310 inches (about half of it in January) is 98% of normal. Idaho and Montana received about 6 feet in January, enough to bring Big Sky and Sun Valley to full operation mid-month. Most of these areas have a much lower fraction of north facing terrain than Utah or Colorado. Therefore, current temperature and snowfall reports should be closely monitored to assess surface conditions, particularly at Jackson, where most of the terrain cannot be groomed. See the Northern Rockies regional table for snow preservation tendencies, which tend to be less than ideal in March with the sunny exposures. However, March temperatures have been colder than normal in this region.

Utah: has had up to 2 feet in early March plus a few inches recently. Cottonwood Canyon base depths are 9-11 feet. Alta's snowfall since Nov. 1 (thus excluding 65 inches in October) is 453 inches, 111% of normal. The Park City areas have been in full operation since mid-January and have mid-mountain bases of 7 feet. When clear, the weather has been very warm, so spring conditions can be expected at lower elevations. See the Utah regional table for snow preservation tendencies.

Northern and Central Colorado: has had average snowfall since New Year's after a below average start to the season. All areas are in full operation, but base depths are a below average 4-6 feet. Vail's year-to-date snowfall of 227.5 inches is 79% of normal, while Steamboat's 246 inches is 89% of normal. Winter Park's new Vasquez Ridge expert expansion finally opened in early February. See the Northern and Central Colorado regional table for snow preservation tendencies.

Southern and Western Colorado: has had season snowfall similar to Northern and Central Colorado with 1-2 feet new in early March and a few inches recently. Base depths average 4-6 feet, except for regional leader Wolf Creek, which has 9 feet. Crested Butte, where the upper surface lifts opened in mid-January, reported full operation of terrain in late February. Snowmass opened its new Cirque surface lift in early February and most of the expert runs it services. New Mexico, the only clear beneficiary of El Nino in November / December, got an extra storm this week. Taos now reports a typical for March base depth of 103 inches, all of which is needed for its expert terrain. Snow preservation is usually excellent in this region and March is likely to be the best ski month now that the terrain is adequately covered. See the Southern and Western Colorado regional table for details.

Northeast: November and December had above average snowfall and very favorable snowmaking weather, resulting in an excellent season through the holidays. This marked contrast to the warm and dry 1982-83 season demonstrates, in my opinion, that El Nino is not particularly relevant to East Coast weather. Conditions took an abrupt turn for the worse in early January, with extensive thaw followed by rain and ice storms. Some areas were cut back to 50% open, but most areas were restored to close to full operation with extensive snowmaking and 2 feet of new snow in late January. February and March have seen warmer than normal temperatures, but there have been 1+ foot storms most weeks in the northern areas. Skiing is quite good from Killington and Wildcat north. Areas south and lower in elevation have received excessive rain and conditions have deteriorated. As my report is an overview, I strongly recommend checking Scenes of Vermont Ski Page or New England Ski Guide's Weekend Forecast for up to date information in this region, where both weather and surface conditions can change so rapidly. Surface conditions are much more a function of recent weather in the East, as opposed to altitude and exposure in the West.

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