1997-98 Ski Season Progress Report as of November 29, 1997

This November illustrates the difficulty of planning early season skiing. Western snowfall has been average or slightly below at most areas, so nearly everyone is in partial operation and almost no one is in full operation. Negative comparisons to last year only emphasize what an epic season it was (overall in North America the best in 15 years). There are mild tendencies so far in favor of those areas expected to benefit from El Nino.

California: The El Nino hype was out in force with mid-November storms which brought no more than a foot of natural snow to the Sierra. Last Wednesday's storm was more substantial, dropping 2-3 feet at Tahoe and 3-4 feet at Mammoth. I would expect up to 75% open at Mammoth and 50% with minimal advanced terrain at most Tahoe areas. Conditions could improve with another storm expected soon. See Current California Ski Conditions for more details on Southern California and Mammoth.

Pacific Northwest: Base depths of 20-30 inches mean marginal conditions at the areas open: Mt. Bachelor, Whistler/Blackcomb, Mt Baker, Stevens Pass, Crystal and White Pass. Of course this region, like California, is always one big dump away from excellent skiing (recall the first week of December last year). Check Cascade Ski Report Current Conditions or Northwest Ski Report First-Hand Reports for up to date information when more terrain opens.

Canadian Rockies and Interior B.C.: November has been much drier than normal. Early season commitments should be avoided. The Okanagan and Kootenay areas tend to get Pacific Northwest storms. The Banff area averages less snow with December being its historically best month, so it could be a meager season there if December comes in below average. The snowcat and heliski areas are generally in higher and snowier locations than the lift serviced areas, so I would recommend direct inquiries to determine current conditions.

U. S. Northern Rockies: Regional leader Grand Targhee is fully open on a 42-52 inch base, maintaining its remarkable record of consistency. No one else in the region has more than about two feet, so skiers looking for expert terrain at Jackson or Big Sky's Lone Peak will improve their odds by waiting until at least January.

Utah: Alta and Brighton at least 50% open on a 4 foot base, with up to a foot new on Thursday. Snowbird and Solitude are currently in more limited operation, but all four Cottonwood Canyon areas rate to be in good shape by Christmas with their consistent snow records. Outside the Cotton wood Canyons, full natural snow cover may not occur before January.

Northern and Central Colorado: The much publicized October storm in Denver brought only a foot of snow to the Front Range. Winter Park is the only area more than half open. Other areas have about a third of their total terrain available, which means 1,200 acres in the case of Vail. The back bowls are probably still better than a 50-50 shot for Christmas this year, but recall that last year China Bowl was already open at Thanksgiving. Steamboat, which is hit hardest by northern storms, is an even greater contrast: 25% open this year vs. 95% last year.

Southern and Western Colorado: This is the other region besides California expected to be helped by El Nino. The southern areas (Telluride, Purgatory, Taos) are 50-75% open with regional leader Wolf Creek in full operation with at least a foot new on 30-40 inch bases. Aspen/Snowmass and Crested Butte are more like 40% open. It is normal in this region for the really steep terrain not to be open until mid-January, but the southern areas look to be ahead of schedule so far.

Northeast: Snowfall has been above average and snowmaking weather very favorable, with no rain since the first week, so over half the trails at Killington, Okemo and Sunday River are open. Early openings of Mad River Glen and Castlerock are also strong favorable indicators. 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.

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