Want to feel like a Snowbird local? Read this quick overview about Snowbird’s geography and weather patterns and you’ll be on your way.
Snowbird is located in Utah’s Wasatch mountains just southeast from the Great Salt Lake. These mountains present a formidable front to storms coming from the west as the terrain rises from 4,500 feet above sea level to over 10,000 feet in less than 10 miles. The Wasatch mountains are generally aligned from north to south, bounding the greater Salt Lake City area to the east. Snowbird is located in Little Cottonwood Canyon, with Big Cottonwood Canyon just to the north.
Understanding the location and orientation of mountain ranges 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 looking at a weather map searching for the next storm heading toward Snowbird, keep your eyes out for storms that bring winds from the west and northwest. These wind directions are favorable for two reasons. First, a west or northwest wind is forced to ascend a vertical mile in a short time and this rising air helps to create snow. Second, a northwest wind can create lake effect snow from the Great Salt Lake, especially early in the season. Lake effect snow bands are hit-and-miss, but they can often line up over Little Cottonwood Canyon and bring high snowfall rates.