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out west does early season snow translate into a banner season?

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
I am trying to plan a trip out west (CO, Utah, Whistler, or Lake Tahoe) for late January.

My usual method is to wait and see who has been getting dumped on and then book flights and hotel last minute. Most of the time this works for great conditions but can also mean higher priced flights and hotels.

So, I was thinking about possibly booking earlier this year.

I am weary though! Growing up in Lake Placid, NY conditions usually fluctuate wildly from one day to the next. Dumps on Monday, thaws on Wednesday, cold again on Thursday. So, I have been trained to make last second decisions before deciding where to head to ski.

Out west, when a place is getting lots of snow in October, November and early December does it stay cold and translate into a great total ski season (January, February, and March) for that area? Or, do most places get the snow, thaw, snow pattern we get out east?

Thanks for the information.

asland
post #2 of 20
I hope Tony Crocker drops in on this one because I doubt that anybody on this site knows more about snowfall patterns.

Failing that, here's my observation:

I don't think you can tell a darned thing from September/October snowfall. I've been paying attention to the weather in Jackson Hole for 38 years and I can't discern any pattern at all. I've seen super-wet falls that have led to very sparse winters and I've seen the complete opposite.

Two winters ago, we had practically zero snowfall right up to the day before the December 5 opening day at the JH Mountain Resort. The ski area was a mass of brown and green with a few white stripes on it from the snowmaking. Then it started snowing that day and barely let up for about 45 days. We ended that season with almost-record snowfall and we had barely had a flake by the end of November.

I've always heard that weather patterns tend to repeat themselves once they become established, so you would THINK that a wet fall would lead to a wet winter, but I've seen too many times that it didn't work that way to put any stock in the theory.

If I were you, I'd continue in your strategy of waiting to book trips until you see how things are shaking out.
post #3 of 20
What Bob said. Assuming that the dumps hit in places where they won't melt away, it's a start on the snowpack, but not necessarily an indicator of what will happen later in the season.
post #4 of 20
Normally yes but not always. Last year my daughter and her boyfriend were skiing waist deep snow in the North Bowl at Bridger Bowl in late October. It looked like great season then the Pineapple Express started roaring in melting all the early snow. Montana had the warmest November in history resulting in all the ski areas receiving rain when they usually get snow.

The good news is this year there is a stronger la nina effect than expected. La ninas usually result in a lower jetstream keeping the strong warm fronts from the Pacific out of the Northwest. Hopefully the early snow will survive in Montana.
post #5 of 20
Absolutely - no co-relation between snow now or in Nov to how it may be in Dec, Jan or Mar. based on my experience - it is completely random.
post #6 of 20
Having said that - I don't believe in waiting to book trips primarily for the reasons you have mentioned. Tons of snow one week - could be followed by high pressure, cold temps and icy-east coast like slopes.

For Jan, Feb and early March - I just go by long term trends and 9/10 times any place out west is good during these first 9 weeks of the year.
post #7 of 20
High snowfall amounts in September and October are generally indicators of high total snowfall amounts for the season for Mt. Baker. Of course part of that is due to getting a 100" or 200" jump on the season.

That said, never plan to come to Baker for the snowfall. That's just jinxing.
post #8 of 20
I'll agree with what everyone else said - snow in October/November has no correlation to conditions in February/March.

Having said that, I'd say there are some generalizations that appear to be true. If it's cold and snowy in October, generally December is pretty good too. Similarly, if it's cold and snowy in February that'll hold through March.

I have no data to back that up, it's just how I generally feel about it.
post #9 of 20
I've had 5 seasons in Whistler, which is not many compared to some on here ... but I've seen vast amounts of snow in November followed by a fantastic season, bugger all snow until right before opening followed by a the 2nd best season for snow ever in Whistler's history (last year), little snow before Xmas followed by a good season, average early snow followed by a crap mid season followed by the best April for fresh deep snow, and a good start with 23C in February followed by deep fresh stuff in March/April. In other words it's all over the place : I've skied in temperatures ranging from -43C in January (with wind chill) to +28C on top of the Blackcomb glacier in April.
The only thing I know is I reckon I need another 40 or so seasons before I have enough of a sample to make any judgement : All in the name of scientific research of course :
post #10 of 20
Last year in WA we had a banner opening of the season followed by a poor to middlin' rest of the season. The snow totals were OK because the base was so deep so fast that later events didn't impact that too much.
post #11 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by asland View Post

My usual method is to wait and see who has been getting dumped on and then book flights and hotel last minute. Most of the time this works for great conditions but can also mean higher priced flights and hotels.

So, I was thinking about possibly booking earlier this year.
Wait and see method is the best way to go for CO. Our snowfall can vary greatly...Nothing worse than planning a vacation to Vail or other CO resort, spending the money and the time to get there only to find out it hasn't snowed in weeks.
post #12 of 20
Early snow is not a good indicator of a good snow season. When WA had one of its worst seasons in history, they had a good early season base that turned to dirt after Christmas and basically stayed that way until end of March. Last year was a banner opening in early November but then January turned into a dry spell but end of Feb/March were outstanding. Whistler started out strong and had record snow fall in December and decent conditions all winter. Each region can be different out West too. Canadian Coast Mtns and lower levels and that of the Cascades in WA and OR are far enough apart that depending on the jet stream, you can have a major dump at Bachelor and rain on Hood, and sunshine on Crystal. Many times when I drive from Seattle to Vancouver, I see a shift in weather conditions that take place around Bellingham. I think the better indicator is how the jet stream is acting during the fall months, which brings in the pacific storms. The x factor is in the temps with those storms coming off the pacific. The best bet is to wait to book a trip. Can be pricey but if you book a trip this month for say Feb. '08 at Whistler, and the snow is all down in Tahoe. All that money you saved ends up being a bad investment.
post #13 of 20
I totally DISAGREE with those that don't believe in the Sept/Oct correlation. The primary weather pattern for the entire Western US is related to the PNW lows that form in the Gulf of Alaska and march South East across the region. There are some variations to this pattern (early Fall Monsoonal flow from the Gulf of Mexico into NM/CO) but the setting up of this pattern is CRUCIAL to the rest of the season. The earlier this pattern sets up, the more likely that is persists uninterrupted the rest of the season. We will always get a rex-block or two, temporarily interrupting the flow, but it always returns to the 'groove'. If that 'groove' does not set up well, you get a poor season. Kinda like water digging itself a channel. If the channel is shallow (not well set up), the water meanders too much. Bottom line, good PNW patterns now DO matter. This year, we have had now four straight weekends of cold/snowy weather. That IS a good sign, I don't care what anyone else tells you. BTW, temperature is more of a wildcard. As the folks in the PNW know, a warm pool of air mixed with that low in the Gulf of Alaska can spell disaster for the snow pack up there. That is another story, but you can't deny that there wasn't any moisture with that pattern.

TeleP
post #14 of 20
^ Works for me.
post #15 of 20
[quote=asland;775547
Out west, when a place is getting lots of snow in October, November and early December does it stay cold and translate into a great total ski season (January, February, and March) for that area?
asland[/quote]

YES !!!
post #16 of 20
IMHO, if you get snow too early, it's a bad sign. I want it to wait for November. Any earlier and it's using itself up on warm ground. I also believe in the alternating theory of snow: good year -- bad year -- great year -- medium year -- good year --bad year -- medium year -- horror, etc. Find out if last year was ahead or behind normal and figure the reverse for this year.

But I defer to Mr. Crocker on this. I've only got experience with PA and Whitefish.
post #17 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by sibhusky View Post
... Any earlier and it's using itself up on warm ground. .
Now that's a good point, but on another subject. Early snow can be brutal for the Back Country, as it invariably will sit and 'rot' before the real snow starts to fall in early November, creating a terrible bonding surface for all the additional snow that collects on top of it. This creates a ball bearing like weak layer and causes slides all the way down to that initial early season layer. Wrecks havoc on the snowpack all season long.
post #18 of 20
Thread Starter 
thanks for all the great advice everyone.

I see there may be some connections between early season snow and a good (or bad) snow pack in some of the higher mountain areas that will (hopefully) stay cold now through march...

...but not much of a impact on those areas that will go through melt downs between now and when I travel.

thanks again for all the advice.

asland
post #19 of 20
I've spent some time analyzing correlations from one month to the next within the same season. In general there isn't much. There's a bit of a tendency for weather to persist, particularly in the early season and on the West Coast. When I updated my website this year I recalculated season standard deviations. I used to scale up them based upon monthly deviations. I now use season deviations directly and index areas with less data to nearby areas with complete data, as I've been doing all along for averages. The season deviations are thus slightly higher under the new method. The old method of scaling up monthly deviations assumed that month-to-month is completely independent.

The month-to-month correlations are listed below. Averaging 24 areas where I have lots of data:
November to December: +19%
December to January: +9%
January to February: +20%
February to March: -1%
March to April: +11%
These numbers really mean little, as is evidenced by some of the individual areas. For example does anyone believe that Alta's -37% historical correlation of February to March snowfall has any predictive value? In fact 35 of the 120 month-to-month correlations are negative. But since the majority are positive, seasonal standard deviations tend to be somewhat higher than one would project based upon the monthly deviations.

I obviously have no data to compare October to November, but I would expect little if any relationship. Big November snowfall is useful in most western areas in establishing a base. If you book for February then, you may not get powder but at least you know you probably won't be looking at rocks. October snowfall is less useful because it often won't stick around, particularly when it's modest in quantity and low in water content, as in Colorado and Montana. Only when it's huge, like Utah and the Sierra in 2004, can you have the confidence that the season base has been established. This report http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boa...pic.php?t=5834 does indicate that Utah's Cottonwood Canyons may be headed in that direction again.
post #20 of 20
I ran the two-month-apart correlations for the same 24 areas:
November-January +1%
December-February +2%
January-March +9%
February-April +5%
37 of the 100 correlations are negative. This is as good as it gets in proving that there is absolutely no persistence in snowfall for as long as two months.

Anyone who skis in California has a powerful impression that weather persists in the short term. We've all seen these insane series of storms that dump one after another for a week or more. And conversely the persistent high pressure where we see not a flake for 2-3 weeks.

But the evidence is that once you get as far as a month in advance, weather persistence is weak. And at two months it does not exist IMHO.
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