Mid-Season Recap and Late Season Prospects for 2000

In the previous two years we have outlined the criteria for the best late season ski areas, along with our top picks. As the most important factors are altitude and exposure, the same areas tend to produce the best late season conditions, year in and year out. Only extreme variations in snowfall are likely to modify those recommendations, as opposed to the early season, where conditions will vary greatly based upon that yearís November / December weather. Below is our mid-season (late February) analysis by region. For selected resorts, we compared the mid-season base to the average season maximum. Areas with good snow preservation tend to achieve their maximum base around late March.


Analysis By Region:


The Pacific Northwest had substantial snow in early December and early January, with mid-season totals close to average. Mt. Bachelorís mid-season base of 135 inches was close to its average maximum of 146 inches, so we expect normal (for our top-rated spring area) operation to late June or early July on 2,000 acres over 3,000 vertical feet. Whistlerís 97-inch base compared to a normal maximum of 106 inches. Highly recommended is the World Ski and Snowboard Festival at Whistler/Blackcomb, April 8-16 this season. With Intrawest now operating both mountains, Whistler rather than Blackcomb is open from late April to late May on its upper 3,000 vertical. This results in better spring skiing due to Whistlerís higher proportion of north-facing terrain. Summer camps will still be on Blackcombís Horstman Glacier, and also on Timberline at Mt. Hood.


California had its driest Christmas in 13 years, but mid-season conditions were excellent after 9-12 feet of snow in January plus at least 5-7 feet in February. Mammothís mid-season base of 156 inches already exceeded its average maximum of 133 inches. Mammoth will have excellent skiing on at least 1,000 acres over 2,100 vertical through Memorial Day. If March snowfall is high, there might be enough snow for Mammoth to last until July 4. At Tahoe, Kirkwoodís 13-19 foot base will last well past its early May closing. Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley and Heavenly will have upper mountain runs open later in May, although Mammoth usually has a better surface due to its higher altitude.


In Northern and Central Colorado, most areas have received about 90% of normal snowfall, similar to last season. Mid-season base depths vs. average maximums: A-Basin 59 vs. 81 inches, Vail 74 vs. 91 inches, Winter Park 70 vs. 84 inches. At mid-season, a few isolated sectors of expert terrain, such as Vasquez Cirque at Winter Park and some of Copperís alpine bowls, were still not open. Last season, a warm and dry March threatened a premature close to the season, but there were big dumps in April. Historically this region has high late season snowfall, and will need it again for conditions to be good this spring. Normal closing dates are early May for Copper, Loveland and Breckenridge and sometime in June for A-Basin.


Nearly all of the Southern and Western Colorado areas are ideally suited for late season skiing for both altitude (up to 12,000 ft.) and north exposures, and often close in mid-April with their deepest snow depths of the season. November and December 1999 were among the driest in history, but high February snowfall has salvaged the season. Snowmassí Hanging Valley/Cirque and Crested Butteís North Face opened in mid-February with base depths of about 5 feet. While normal base would be about 6 feet, we expect the Colorado areas to hold up with good conditions into April. The Southwest was still subpar in late February. Taos had a 50-inch base vs. average maximum of 96 inches, with but 19 of its 44 expert runs open on a rotating basis to preserve cover. Arizona Snowbowl had just opened a few runs for the first time this season.


Utahís early season was below average, but big January and February storms brought base depths close to normal: 106 inches at Snowbird vs. average maximum of 109. Snowbird is in full operation through April and has upper mountain runs open in May. Alta and Brighton are open through most of April and will have next best conditions to Snowbird.


The Northern Rockies have had 110%-120% of normal snowfall. Big Sky opened Lone Peak at Christmas this season, when it normally doesnít have enough coverage until January. Sunshine Village and Lake Louise were among the few areas to have decent November snow this year. Big Sky is open to mid-April, Louise to early May and Sunshine to late May. Other areas in the region are not good bets in spring due to low altitude and/or poor exposures, despite the abundant snow.


The Northeast had a dismal early season, but excellent conditions in late January and February. Unfortunately, good spring surface conditions are rare due to high humidity and infrequent overnight freezing of the snowpack in the late season. The best conditions are often found in Tuckerman's Ravine with its steep runs starting above 5,500 ft.