Vacationers to the Northern Rocky Mountains found drippy wet camping this fall. They may be frowning, but skiers wore grins when early snows hit. Cold air from the north collided with a front from the Pacific Ocean Sept. 16 to bring overnight snow to many of the region's ski resorts.
Ski resort Web cams across the region lit up with snow clinging to trees and blanketing slopes Friday morning. Workers at Castle Mountain, Alberta arrived to find 15 centimeters (6 inches) of snow in the base area. "It's white. It's incredible. Because all the leaves are still on the trees, the snow has much more visual impact," Andrew Rusynyk, assistant general manager, told OnTheSnow.com.
Castle Mountain, like most resorts in fall, is racing to finish slope projects before the onslaught of winter. Hazardous fuels reduction crews, thinning for protection of ski runs in the base area, headed off to slog through wet snow with chainsaws, but in chipper moods. "We have a lot of work going on, and they're all smiling, even the guys outside," added Rusynyk. "The snow may even stick around on the top of the mountain."
The Northern Rockies received the brunt of this storm. Other ski resorts with a fresh coat of snow were Marmot Basin, Lake Louise Ski Area, Nakiska, Sunshine Village, Fernie Alpine Resort, and Whitefish Mountain Resort. The snow was not the first of the season. A smattering of western resorts, including Mt. Bachelor, saw fresh snow before the end of August, and Mammoth Mountain picked up its first dusting Sept. 9.
Several snows may come and go before resorts pile up a base, but the early snow always prompts the question: What's in store for this winter?
Weather predictions are no guarantees, but OnTheSnow.com talked to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center to see what ski resorts across the country might see this winter. The center issued a statement Sept. 9 saying that La Niña conditions, which are generated in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, gained strength in August and are expected to last through this winter in the Northern Hemisphere. That bodes well for ski resorts in some regions.
"Basically, La Niña means some places will be getting the opposite of last year's El Niño," Michelle L'Heureux, meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center, told OnTheSnow.com. "La Niña causes the jet stream blowing to the West Coast to shift northward and affects conditions across the country with various impacts." Strengthening of La Niña conditions through fall increases the reliability of patterns holding true.
Strong La Niña conditions deliver colder-than-normal winters across North American states and provinces from the Pacific Northwest and extending to the Great Lakes by spring. "The Pacific Northwest, Northern Rockies, and Northern California have an increased chance of below average temperatures and above average precipitation, which is the perfect mix for snow," said L'Heureux. "I would definitely buy the ski pass."
The southern half of the West, which had some resorts benefiting from a boon of snow due to El Niño conditions last winter, may see a different pattern this year. "The further south you go in California, the chances of below average precipitation increases," said L'Heureux. Models from the Climate Prediction Center indicate Southwest ski resorts, including those in southern Utah and Colorado, may see above average temperatures this winter combined with below average precipitation.