La Nina did not disappoint climate forecasters in the 2020-2011 winter season, but it never can satisfy all the skiers and riders every winter.
Northern Rocky Mountain skiers and snowboarders rejoiced as the moisture-laden Pacific jet stream veered into their favorite mountain resorts, producing record-breaking snowfall that began early and stayed late. Meanwhile, the southern Rockies struggled for most of the season as all the heavy storms stayed west and north of the Continental Divide.
In between, the Wasatch Mountains of Utah seemed to catch everything that came by to record one of its best snowfall seasons in recent times.
Confirmation of these predictions comes from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that tracks snow depths in key mountain locations around the country through the SNOTEL system. The service publishes daily snow depth reports and runoff forecasts to help farmers and ranchers in the West prepare for the irrigation seasons.
The conditions were fantastic in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, with snow depths consistently above 110 percent or more of average for all of the season. The Northern Panhandle Region got 113 percent more than normal, and all other Idaho river basins reported above-average years.
In northern Colorado, SNOTEL confirmed the legitimacy of early-season shouts of joy that could be heard from Steamboat, Vail, and Summit County. The SNOTEL site at Berthoud Pass, which feeds the headwaters of the Colorado River, recorded 130 percent more depth as of March 1 than average. The site at Dry Lake above Steamboat showed 142 percent of normal. The entire Upper Colorado River Basin received 119 percent more snow than an average year, while the White River-Yampa River Basin got 124 percent above a normal year.
Farther south, however, things were different. The Arkansas River Basin snow depths fell below average, to 92 percent, with Monarch Ski Area having a typical but undramatic season. More dire were the circumstances in the Rio Grande Basin, with 92 percent of average snow depths, and a normal year even at the usually powder-drenched Wolf Creek Ski Resort. The Sangre de Cristo Range only got 70 percent of what is expected. Substandard conditions at Taos Ski Valley, Ski Santa Fe and Sandia Peak reflected this pattern.
Worse was southern Arizona and New Mexico, where Ski Apache and Sunrise struggled until late in the season, because snowfall was in the 30th percentile for both the Gila and San Francisco river regions.
Out west, the rivers that feed into the Salt Lake and Utah Lake basins will profit from the year's snowfall. The SNOTEL site at Parley's Summit, which melts into the Ogden and Weber rivers, reported a snow depth that was a whopping 135 percent above normal. Every resort from Beaver Mountain to Sundance to Brian Head reported top-of-the-line conditions all year.