Want to feel like a Heavenly local? Read this quick overview about Heavenly’s geography and weather patterns and you’ll be on your way.
Heavenly is located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains at the southeast tip of Lake Tahoe. The resort actually spans a political boundary and skiers can slide seamlessly from California to Nevada and back again. More importantly when considering snow, the Pacific Ocean is only 150 miles to the west, and since water and moisture is the fuel for snow, this bodes well for big snow storms. The base on the California side is 6,500 feet and the summit is just a touch above 10,000 feet. A wide range of snow conditions can exist across these elevations.
Understanding the location, elevation, and orientation of the mountain is important because big mountains create their own weather. Air is forced to rise over these masses of rock, and as the air rises it cools and moisture condenses into snow. This is called orographic lift and it’s the most important factor when forecasting powder.
If you’re searching for the next storm heading toward Heavenly, look no further than a recent satellite image of the eastern Pacific Ocean. Storms can often be seen swirling over the ocean heading east toward the U.S. The best scenario for deep and light snow at Heavenly is to have a storm move south from the northern Pacific Ocean. With an ocean origin, there will be plenty of moisture for snow. And with its roots in the north, cold air will ensure that the snow stays light and fluffy, at least at the higher elevations.
Winds from the west can dump more snow on the highest point of the Sierras (called the “Sierra Crest”), though southwest winds have a slightly more direct path toward Heavenly and can bring the biggest totals to the resort.
When favorable winds combine with good moisture and cold temperatures, massive snows can pile up. The most snow ever reported by Heavenly in a single month was 167.5 inches in February 2008. The biggest season recorded in the last 30 years was 2010/2011 with 487 inches measured.
These are big numbers, but where do they come from? Where does Heavenly measure snow?
Snow is recorded at two different locations, one in California and one in Nevada. On the California side, snow is measured at 8,250 feet near the top of the double black diamond run called “Face”. On the Nevada side, snow is measured at 8,900 feet in Mott Canyon.
Now that you know the local weather patterns at Heavenly and how snow is measured, the only thing left to do is enjoy your powder day!
Joel Gratz is a meteorologist & the founder of OpenSnow.com.