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Was this Utah’s worst winter ever? (and another late season storm coming)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 5:50 am


Friday PM Update:

Showers increasing as of 6PM Friday evening.  We should see periods of snow above 7,000 feet tonight into tomorrow morning.   5-10″ of dense snow likely tonight for the Upper Cottonwoods.  Snow showers tomorrow, becoming heavier late in the evening into early Sunday.

I think weekend total accumulations by Sunday should be in the 10-20″ range… Last week the forecast was 12-18″ and we endend up with 34-42″…. so maybe this one will over-deliver as well, although I doubt it will be to that extent.   Saturday and Sunday could both feature good powder at Snowbird/Alta and in the backcountry.  Have fun!


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 –

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?