1996-97 California Detail

Updated June 3, 1997

Mammoth received 385 inches of snow through January and only 12 inches since. They began reduced rate spring operation April 14, closing Chair 15 and Warming Hut II. From April 28 to June 1, only the core lifts in the Main Lodge area (1-3,6,23, G1&2) operated, accessing up to a third of Mammoth's terrain over 2,200 vertical. The prolonged dry spell melted the snow off lower and sun exposed areas. However, Broadway, Chair 3, and the top from Climax through Wipe Out retained a snowpack as deep as last year's, so Mammoth could have kept the upper mountain open until July 4. They probably closed to accelerate work on extensive lift improvements for next season. Chair 18 has been removed and will be relocated to make Chair 5 a triple. Chair 2 will be relocated to make Chair 3 a quad. Mammoth sensibly resisted the temptation to make 3 and 5 high speed, which would have resulted in excessive skier density. A new high speed lift will replace 2 and 18, starting near the Chair 2 parking and a new day lodge and ending high enough in Saddle Bowl to access St. Anton and Chair 23. Another new lift will replace Chair 6 and the T-Bar.

Southern California's dismal 1996-97 season can be compared to the past 21 years in History of Southern California Snow Conditions.

  • November: The season got a false start when it snowed a few inches the last week of October and Snow Summit and Bear Mt. each got a run open Nov. 1. They were unable to make further progress, and a very warm rain wiped out the snow a week before Thanksgiving.
  • December: Normal snowmaking progress was impossible because of rain the first and third weeks of December. No one was more than 30% open at New Year's.
  • January: Two more days of rain at New Year's further retarded the season. Finally, the only major Southern California snowfall arrived Jan. 12-15. The areas with snowmaking were finally in full operation. The natural snow terrain had no base, and the 3 feet of snow was barely adequate for a week or so. Another day of rain in late January closed any natural snow runs below 7,500 feet. Snow Summit made a huge amount of snow to get ready for the X Games at the beginning of February.
  • February: February had a couple of light snowfalls, but no more rain. The San Bernardino areas were able to maintain full operation all month with snowmaking assistance. Natural snow runs were history everywhere by mid-February.
  • March: March was dry and warm as elsewhere in California and the Southwest. Everyone closed by the end of March except Snow Summit, which was still about 60-70% open.
  • April: It snowed 6 inches April 3, and Snow Summit closed April 10.

    I consider the local areas worth visiting according to the following criteria (1996-97 summary):

  • Snow Summit: The Wall, Log Chute and the full length of the Westridge Terrain Park open. Full operation as of Jan. 16. The above mentioned runs were open until the April 10 closing.
  • Bear Mt: Silver Mt. and/or Bear Peak open. Full operation from Jan.17. Bear Peak closed mid-March, and Silver soon therafter. The whole area closed March 30.
  • Snow Valley: Slide Peak open. Full operation as of Jan. 16. They received the most natural snow (3-5 feet) from the Jan 12-15 storm, the only major So Cal snowfall this season. Skier reports indicate that the 1995 snowmaking expansion was successful in maintaining a surface comparable to the Big Bear areas for several weeks thereafter. However, they are still lower and more sun exposed, so the really warm March weather closed them down by March 23.
  • Mountain High: East as well as West open. The East opened Jan. 17, and operated for a little over a month. The West kept a few runs open until March 30. Skiers reported more difficult conditions than the San Bernardino Mt. areas from February onwards.
  • Mt. Baldy and Mt. Waterman: A natural snow base of at least 4 feet. Mt. Waterman was open only for a couple of weeks in January. Mt. Baldy threw in the towel March 9 after maintaining its Thunder Mt. groomed runs on snowmaking for over a month.

    The Bogus Advertising Award goes to Snow Summit's "Best Conditions in Six Years" radio ad, which aired through the end of January. This year was Snow Summit's worst ski season since 1985-86. They did not reach full operation until Jan. 16 this year, vs. Jan. 6 in 1986-87 and before Christmas in every other year since. Snow Summit's state-of-the-art snowmaking can overcome dry weather, but the excessive rain early this year set them back several times. There were 9 days of rain vs. an average of 3.5 per season over the past 18 years. I can recall no other year with more than 8 for the entire season. Some wet years, like 1977-78 and 1992-93, had so much snow as well that the only impact was a temporary one on surface conditions. Unfortunately, this season was more like 1985-86, where most storms were warm and the snowpack got washed out a few times by the more intense rains. The dry March caused an earlier than normal close to the ski season as well. For more details, check History of Southern California Snow Conditions. There is no question that Snow Summit does the best job of any local area in providing quality skiing during difficult seasons such as this one. However, it is still counterproductive to mislead the skiing public. Anyone who skied locally in March 1991 or most of the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons knows how laughable the radio ad was.

    There are quite a few Southland Ski Server skier-submitted reports from the local areas since Jan. 15.

    Return to 1996-97 Ski Season Progress Report for North America.