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Ski Resort Life

November, Going On January

So much for a drier early season. Colorado, Utah, and Tahoe are consistently receiving powder. Viva La Nina.

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November is often considered a warmup to winter. Sure, there might be some snow around to stoke our powder-loving souls, but usually this month is just a bonus.

Back in October, I discussed what to expect during a La Nina winter. All the historical data suggested that January and February would be the big months, while the early season could actually come in a little drier than normal.

I’m happy to say that the historical data (and my writing) was wrong about a drier early season. During the last month, many resort areas in central and northern Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and the Pacific Northwest are already reporting total seasonal snowfall of over 100”. The best part about the last three weeks was the relative consistency of the storms. While one or two huge snowstorms can grab media headlines, it’s consistent snow that builds bases and ensures that snow conditions remain soft and playful.

At Vail’s opening day on Friday, November 19th, the snow was in mid-winter condition. Not only did it ski great, but there were few – if any – rocks or trees lurking under the snow, which is the common issue with early-season turns. Numbers can attempt to tell a story, but a picture of the deep snow engulfing my four-foot pole is hard to beat. This picture was taken in the woods well away from any wind loading. The four foot (or more) base is real.

The weather pattern over the last few weeks was typical La Nina, with a strong Jet Stream across the northern part of the U.S. and southern Canada. This helps to keep the storms flowing over the western states (from about Colorado, Utah, and Lake Tahoe on north) and can lead to the consistent powder that makes us so happy.

Last season (2009-2010) was an El Nino year, which featured a jet stream that was strongest over the southern part of the U.S. While this brought deep snow to Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico, areas north of this storm track were often left high and dry for weeks.

But this is a new year and so far La Nina has shown that she means business. Even on the heels of the latest storm which will yield 5-6 FEET in Tahoe, 2-3 FEET in Utah, and 1-3 FEET in Colorado, we’ll only need to wait a few days before the next storm swings into the west coast later in the weekend.

The big question now is whether this fantastic La Nina pattern will persist for the rest of the year. While I can virtually guarantee that there will be some dry spells between now and April, it does seem like the areas favored for snowfall during La Nina winters will continue to get the goods. But when there’s powder to be had now and more than eight FEET of snow has fallen over the last few weeks, the future is a lot less relevant than the present – so go out and take advantage of the powder. Viva La Nina!

Meteorologist Joel Gratz is the creator of and is based in Boulder, CO.