Was this Utah’s worst winter ever?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 5:50 am

Season Wrap-up:

Sure, Alta will be open again this weekend, Snowbird will be open until mid-May, and the Wasatch backcountry will continue to offer turns to those willing to work for it.   But it’s time we face the fact that our season is winding down (Did it ever really begin?).   The big question, the one we’ve been wondering now for well over a month, is will this go down in history as our worst season ever?  I figured it is time we had a good look at the stats and make an official call on that matter….

The best records, dating back 70 years, have been kept at the Alta Guard station.  These records can be accessed through the Utah Avalanche Center’s website.  Therefore, it seems like the logical place to start.  According to those records, the least snowy winter (November-April) was 314.5 inches in 1976-77.  As of April 1 of this year, we had officially measured just 218″ at the Alta Guard Station — meaning we needed 96″ in the month of April to avoid setting the new record low.  If my calculations are correct, the Alta Guard station has seen 40-50″ of snow so far this month.  That means we are still 40-50+” short of the previous record.  While some snow is currently in the forecast thru the end of April, it seems unlikely that we’ll get anywhere close to that much.  The new record low snowfall seems an inevitability.

(It should be noted that Alta Ski Area lists their season total as 310″ currently.  This measurement is taken from the Alta-Collins station which is 800 feet higher in elevation that Alta Guard and receives ~50″ more snow per year than the Guard Station.  For consistent record purposes, I’m using the Alta Guard station where the previous low record was set.)

But this is one location — How are other areas of the Wasatch doing?  Well, Alta’s closest Snotel is Snowbird and this is where it currently stands:


Snotel Graphs courtesy of Colorado Basin River Forecast Center – http://www.cbrfc.noaa.gov/

Snowbird normally sees its peak SWE in late April, but due to the warm weather in March.  We had two distinct peaks.  One at the end of March, and a second one after last week’s big storm.  Both were about the same SWE and were only about 52% of the normal peak snowpack.



The Brighton snotel is more exposed and because of this really took a beating in the March and April warmth.  It’s peak snowpack occured a full month ahead of normal in early March.  They didn’t fare much better than their LCC neighbors.   A peak SWE that was only 57% of the normal peak.

Park City (Thaynes Canyon):


Thaynes Canyon snotel portrays another similar story for Park City.  A snowpack that peaked way too early and at only about 54% percent of median.  Due to the nature of the some of these storms, I’d guess that the base of Park City was even worse, statistically, than the high elevation location of this snotel.

Ben Lomond Peak:


Ben Lomond Peak serves as a best point of reference for Snowbasin, Powder Mountain, and the mountains surrounding Ogden Valley.  Their season was, believe it or not, even worse the Cottonwoods or PC.  This snotel peaked several weeks earlier than normal and at only 47% of normal.  Ouch!

Tony Grove Lake:


Farther north, Tony Grove Lake to the east of Logan actually did okay-ish.  While still peaking more than 3 weeks ahead of schedule, the snowpack reached  77% of normal peak.  It’s sad that our gold standard in the Wasatch was still that far below normal.

That was a lot of numbers and graphs to prove one point.  It was, in general, just as bad or even worse in other areas of the Wasatch as was at Alta where we have our extensive records.  Southern Utah was helped by two big storms in late February, but still did almost equally poorly.  All this leads me to one conclusion…

Statistically, this will go down as the WORST SKI SEASON IN UTAH HISTORY!

Of course, from an actual skiing standpoint.  I think the 1976-77 season was probably worse.  I wasn’t actually around for it, so perhaps some of you long-time Utah skiers can shed some light on this topic.  I say that it was probably worse for two reasons.  First, the majority of snow that season didn’t come until late March and April.  This year, we were actually running between 100 and 130% of median on January 1 when the valve shut off — so at least we already had an established base to ski on.  Secondly, in 76-77, they didn’t have the extensive snowmaking capabilities we enjoy today.  Unlike today, when natural snow didn’t come back then, there was no way around it.  You were S.O.L.

Personally, my season this year was actually better in some ways than last year.  While I only skied 38 days between resorts and backcountry (usually get about 60), over half of those days were legitimate powder days and about 8-10 of them were incredible, over-the-head blower powder days.  Last year, we had more frequent storms, but they were smaller and usually had denser snow, so The Greatest Snow on Earth was harder to come by.  Of course, this is just my personal experience and yours may be different.

So what do you think, was this the worst Utah ski season you’ve ever had?



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33 thoughts on “Was this Utah’s worst winter ever?

  1. Brent Bernard

    Good morning. I love that your using our snow graphics and thought maybe you could mention your source since you removed our name. Also worth noting is that the Avalanche center shares space in our National Weather Service building here at the airport in Salt Lake City. Thanks for the interesting climate round up on winter snow totals in the cottonwood canyons and have a great summer.

      1. vince pringle

        No such thing as the worst winter ever???1″of snow is better than any summer I can remember….summer sucks

  2. PC Indy

    I spent 26 days in Utah this winter and was able to ski all 26 so I’m thankful for that! I was only able to break out the powder skis for one of those days so I made the best of it on the groomers. When temps were below zero in the Midwest, it was typically sunny and warm with bluebird skies in PC, so at least the hands and feet stayed warm. This may indeed be the worst Utah ski season ever, but our worst beats many others best, and for that I’m grateful and looking forward to a ton of powder next year! Keep up the great work WSF and enjoy your off season.

  3. Brian Harris (@hongziyang)

    The numbers sucked, but I agree it skied better than the numbers would say. I’d gladly take this season where it snowed early (I had some great days in Nov and Dec) as opposed to 2012 where we had almost 0″ all of December. At least there was stuff open. And it was a good season to get my son started skiing (no conflict of interest on powder days).

    Here’s hoping next year starts a three year wet cycle (which we’ve seen in the not horribly distant past)!

    1. Brian

      My guess is it’s due to the same reason that flagstaff is brown but halfway up collins gulch theres a 72″ snowpack- exposure to sun

  4. eric lewis

    I make an annual pilgrimage to LCC every year, for a week up to a month. This was the worse Feb. I ever encountered! Hell, I needed my east-coast skis, and yes, that was ice and rocks I was skiing on, both at Alta and the Bird. The only time I got good snow this year was in the high altitude areas around Revelstoke in BC, but I sure had to pay for it!

  5. Dr Nebz

    I have been riding the Wasatch nearly 80 days a year for the past 10 years. I got 32 this season. Never seen a winter quite like this one. We are in virgin territory as far as our snow pack is considered. No one can compare this year to any other because we have never been here before. I just hope we do not burn to a cinder this summer. Be careful with fire out there folks! Pray to what ever god you believe in so we can have a better winter next year. Cheers!

  6. Tom

    The snow this season just made you work for it more. I’ve been out 40 times or so, all in the backcountry and seen every possible set of conditions from blower to bullet proof to creamy to corn and I’ve enjoyed and loved it every moment of it. Thank you so much to WSF for guiding us through a tough winter.

  7. Josh

    While it wasn’t a great season, if this is as bad as Utah gets, I consider myself lucky. I still a had a lot of fun.

  8. Peter Roskovich

    Rosko (maryland)

    I fortunate in ride in over 6 feet of snow between Utah, Vermont and PA! The Christmas storm at the Canyons blessed me with over 30″ of snow that week. Back on Feb. 20 another 7″ and even on March 24 after spring conditions at the Canyons , the bird delivered that Monday morining with white out conditions. So timing is everything and for what ever reason, I timed the storms right this season! All good and thank you for writing the blog.

  9. YossarianGolgi (@AdamPGold1)

    The numbers were terrible, but the skiing last week (mid-April) was very good at Snowbird and Alta. Sure, there was ice at the beginning of the week, but it was still better than the ice back home in the Northeast, and the storm from the week before helped a little. And the snow softened quite a bit by 11am or so. Mineral Basin was good even in the morning. The storm made a good trip for us a great trip for us. Our last 3 days were fantastic skiing, with almost 2 full days of untracked powder (free refills on Wednesday). That being said, Park City looked terrible. We stayed there and didn’t once entertain any thought about skiing there. It was practically bare and I can only assume the snow quality was awful.

  10. Dennis Hanlon

    I Moved to Park City in 1984 and while I have seen many poor snow years I have never seen a winter this warm. I think an interesting note is that through the 1980’s and 1990’s when storms would come in, snow level was never even a topic of discussion. Perhaps one rain a winter…at most. Now, snow level is always talked about and rain in town is common. The last few years have seen high elevation rain at least once a winter. This to me is more of a concern than amount of snow.
    Yes, it was a very low snow year, but 300″+ is a year most resorts would call excellent. We are fortunate to have the Wasatch as our playground.

  11. Mike

    I love gravity fed powder skiing and your indices have really helped me pinpoint the best time and place to hit it. I also enjoy XC skiing, and would love to see indices and post mortem on that as well.

  12. blackke

    first winter in Utah and I have zero complaints about the fun i had in Big Cottonwood canyon this winter . from the midwest originally and have never ski’d in such great conditions in my life. knowing this winter was one of “the worst ever” only makes me smile at the potential of future winters!!!

  13. TSW

    We had the coldest winter I can remember on the east coast. Skied brutal mid-winter conditions from December thru March (last day of the season at Elk Mountain, PA was March 28th, sunny with a high of 23f, HARD and plenty of snow!). Presidents weekend was unskiable due to extreme cold and wind.

    Hit the Bird and Alta for a long weekend 2 weeks ago and had great spring conditions (just missed the big dump!).

    Proves to me that LCC’s worst season is still pretty darn good.

    Long live Alta!

  14. Julie

    We had 2 fun trips to Alta this season. Skied 18 days total in Utah. My youngest daughter skied over 50 days this season total. The conditions in Michigan were brutal this year–negative 20 and windchills worse than that at Nubs Nob. Ski race practice canceled due to dangerous windchills at Mt. Brighton near Detroit. We did get lucky with the Chrsitmas and April snow at Alta and enjoyed every minute of the warm Utah sun to thaw us out as well. Enjoyed following your forcasts, Evan. See you next year! Cheers, Julie

  15. Dan Williams

    I was in Breckinridge Colorado for the 1976/77 season and in Utah skiing Snowbird this season. This season was much better mainly because it hardly snowed until March in 1977. You’re also correct in citing improvements in snow prep now vs. then. The Snowbird crew did a spectacular job working the snow this season!

  16. Helen

    We skied the best part of 7 weeks in Deer Valley and Park City, with occasional forays to Alta, and had the best time. Kudos to the wonderful groomers at all resorts for keeping what little snow they had so well! Thanks for the WSF reports. We love reading them. Have a great summer.

  17. Sandy

    I live in NJ, and snowboarded with my husband and hit Snowboard, Brighton, and PMRC at the right time in early March. I thought the snow was amazing! I got very lucky and I was quite pleased. Hope to do it again next season.

    Thanks for all you do.

  18. Az

    I’d have to say the temperatures beat up the skiing conditions more than the lack of snowfall. Lack of snowmaking and melted snow just crippled PC’s efforts to stay ahead at times through the winter. I had fun, and with such low snowfall totals it would have been just fine if the numerous warm days didn’t happen.

  19. David

    Thinking about coming out to alta/ bird this weekend from Chicago. What do u think r the odds on having decent pow?

  20. David

    For sure beats Chicago. But kinda of a ton of freq flier miles to get out there last minute.

  21. Anthony

    Don’t bother . We may get some snow sat or sun . But it’s been really warm out . And there’s not a lot still open.

  22. David

    How good will the skiing at Alta be on Saturday?

    I’m on a morning flight but can easily change it to a late evening flight. Can’t be there for Sunday unfortunately.

  23. dave

    if I don’t fly out from Chicago, I can guarantee 2 feet minimum. i’ll let u guys know of my plans.

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