Schizophrenic Fruit

Silverton Mountain

Last winter, the moisture plume known as the Pineapple Express rode the jet stream from Hawaii and dumped its contents all over the West-sometimes in the form of huge dumps, sometimes as resort-crippling rain. (Click on the slideshow below to see a map of the Pineapple Express.)

When the jet stream splits, as it typically does in El Niño years, it carries above-average temps-and barrels of rain-into the Pacific Northwest. The damage: In Washington, Mount Baker (which saw 1,140 inches fall in 1998-99) received only 465 inches, and Alpental opened only eight days the entire season. Farther north, Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, was only 60 percent open at the end of January.

Sadly, the Pineapple's moisture didn't make it very far inland. Big Sky, Montana, recorded four consecutive months with less than 30 inches of new snow. Just over the Canadian border at Fernie, skiers had to download over a bare lower mountain in January-and the snowpack was just 74 percent of normal.

The lower fork of the jet stream brought the same tropical moisture to California as it did to the PNW, but high up in the Sierra, cold temps turned the wet stuff into record-breaking snowfall. In January, Heavenly received 15 feet in two back-to-back storms-the resort's biggest pileup since 1916. Mammoth got 607 inches over the season, just 10 inches shy of its best winter ever, and stayed open until July 4 for the first time since 1998.

Inland, Arizona Snowbowl tied its record of 460 inches (compare that to a 260-inch average), including a 52-inch dump (January 8-12) and a 24-hour 33-incher. In its longest season ever, Utah's Snowbird stayed open for 201 days (from November 5-July 4) and ended up with 663 inches. For the first 16 days of January, Silverton Mountain, Colorado, was pounded with nearly 14 feet of happy pineapple dust, forcing the mountain to close for two weeks.

September 2005