In the first half of March snowfall was dispersed moderately throughout the West, in contrast to the intense February concentration in the Pacific Northwest. The past week has been mostly warm and dry, bringing spring conditions to many western areas. The Northeast is having a big snow month in March to revive a previously dismal season. Late season skiers should consider visiting Whistler/Blackcomb or Mt. Bachelor, which are having their best seasons in 25 years with base depths of 14-18 feet.
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.
Only a few areas publish year-to-date snow on their websites. Other areas I receive occasionally by e-mail and are as of March 19.
California: The Sierra received up to 2 feet the 2nd week of March following the big dumps in the second half of January and February. There are some spring conditions at low elevation now, but base depths are 7-16 feet at most areas and 20+ feet at Kirkwood.
Season snow: Alpine Meadows, estimated 363 inches, 121% of normal; Heavenly, 242 inches, 113% of normal; Mammoth, 300 inches, 102% of normal. Arizona Snowbowl has had a severe drought year, 76 inches, 34% of normal, and was in limited operation from late January to late 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: This region was dumped on almost continuously in February, but has had average or below snowfall in March. Base depths are 11-18 feet except at Mt. Baker, which has 25+ feet. Snowfall is still well ahead of the 1996-97 pace and could challenge the records from 1971-72 and 1973-74. Whistler's early March 177 inch base in the alpine, was the highest since 1974.
Season snow: Mt. Baker, 983 inches (challenging Mt. Rainier's 1,039 inch world record from November 1971 through April 1972), 194% of normal; Crystal, 501 inches, 166% of normal; Mt. Bachelor, 391 inches, 131% of normal.
See the Pacific Northwest regional table for snow preservation tendencies. Check Northwest Ski Reports for current surface conditions and the numerous powder days this season.
Canadian Rockies and Interior B.C.: There was continuing snow throughout February. Okanagan conditions are outstanding with record bases of 7-11 feet, about 175% of normal. The Kootenay (7-14 foot bases) and Banff (5-10 foot bases) areas are also enjoying an excellent season, although spring conditions are emerging at low elevations or sunny exposures now.
Season snow: Lake Louise, 224.5 inches, 199% of normal
See the Interior Canada regional table for snow preservation tendencies.
U. S. Northern Rockies: Idaho panhandle areas like Schweitzer are in good shape with bases of 10-14 feet. Sun Valley reports full operation on 4.5-7 feet. Grand Targhee and Jackson are in full operation with 7-12 foot bases. Big Sky opened Lone Peak the second week of January. Season snowfall has been consistently above average since Christmas. 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. The first week of March was unseasonably cold, but it has warmed up since then.
Season snow: Schweitzer, 352 inches, 157% of normal; Sun Valley, 185 inches, 114% of normal; Jackson, 379 inches, 117% of normal.
Utah: The Cottonwood Canyon areas have base depths of 8-9 feet after 5-7 feet of new snow in the last half of January, 4-7 feet in February and 2+ feet the 2nd week of March. Alta has had 335 inches, 81% of normal since Nov. 1. The Park City areas have base depths of about 6-7 feet. Snowbasin opened January 22 and now has a 7 foot base. See the Utah regional table for snow preservation tendencies.
Northern and Central Colorado: This region had its worst holiday season since 1980-81 but received above normal snow in January. Most of Vail's back bowls opened in mid-January and almost all expert terrain in the region was open by mid-February. Base depths of 4-5 feet at most areas are still below average for this time of year. However, with good preservation the base should hold awhile, although some rocks will come out early this year if spring is warm.
Season snow: Steamboat, 287 inches, 99% of normal; Winter Park, 253.5 inches, 86% of normal; Vail, 197.5 inches, 67% of normal; Breckenridge, 214.5 inches, 95% of normal.
See the Northern and Central Colorado regional table for snow preservation tendencies.
Southern and Western Colorado: The southwest areas got relief from a dry February with 2-3 feet so far in March. Taos' surface has thus improved, but the base depth of 56-74 inches remains well below normal. Crested Butte opened most of the North Face February 1, and most of Snowmass' expert terrain opened in February.
Season snow: Snowmass, 159 inches, 83% of normal; Crested Butte, 176 inches, 93% of normal; Telluride, 210 inches, 103% of normal; Wolf Creek, big dumps in October, then 185 inches, 62% of normal since Nov. 1.
Snow preservation is usually excellent in this region once the terrain is adequately covered. See the Southern and Western Colorado regional table for details.
Northeast: March has brought up to 5 feet of snowfall and the best conditions of the season to New England. Base depths remain slightly below normal due to the poor early season.
Season snow: Killington, 202 inches, 96% of normal; Stowe, 172 inches, 93% of normal.
November temperatures were above freezing as often as below, and Thanksgiving weekend brought the first significant (6-12 inches) natural snow to the northern areas. Skiing was almost reduced to square one by the warm spell of early December but snowmaking was nearly continuous for the rest of the month. The first half of January brought the first big storms to New England, with some Vermont areas getting 4 feet or more. Most New England areas reached full operation, including natural snow areas like Mad River Glen. A week of thaw closed many runs, but most areas were 80-90% open again by late January. February snow was below average, but most areas maintained their coverage on variable surfaces with snowmaking. 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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