Skiing to a record: Utah's weird winter weather makes great skiing conditions

Published: Thursday, Feb. 10 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

This has been a very unusual winter, not that anyone here in Utah is complaining. In fact, few people would mind if the pattern repeated itself over and over and over again.

The days of heavy snowfall in the mountains and heavy rain in the valley, and long, long intervals of sunny, warm weather in between, have been the perfect formula for great skiing.

As a result, there's little doubt Utah will finish the 2004-05 ski season with record numbers.

That was the prediction after record turnouts during the Christmas holidays, and it remains the prediction heading into the second half of the ski season.

Utah is, in fact, one of the few places in the country with good snow. California has also received good snowfall. In other parts of the country snow has been scarce.

Alpine Meadows in California has a 99- to 163-inch base and Mammoth has a 144- to 168-inch base.

Elsewhere, Sun Valley in Idaho has a 44- to 65-inch base, Boyne Mountain in Michigan has only 81 percent of its mountain open, Sugarloaf in Maine has a machine-groomed base of 9 to 15 inches, Attitash in New Hampshire has a 22- to 55-inch base; Whiteface in New York, site of the 1980 Olympics, has 24- to 40-inch base; and Stowe in Vermont is only 90 percent open with a 32- to 44-inch base.

In Colorado, Aspen Highland has a 54- to 66-inch base and Vail has a base range of 42 to 54 inches.

In Washington, resorts have had to close because of the lack of snow. On some slopes there's not so much as a single white patch.

Whistler/Blackcomb in Canada has only 60 percent of its ski runs open.

Meanwhile, here in Utah a sampling of resorts shows Alta is holding a 138-inch base, Deer Valley a 112-inch base, The Canyons a 101-inch base and Solitude a 138-inch base.

"Two things are unusual about the storm track this year," said Larry Dunn, meteorologist in charge with the National Weather Service. "Most all of our storms have come from the southwest. These are warmer patterns and the snow holds more moisture.

"Another unusual thing is the weather pattern has either turned on or turned off. From October through January we've had very intense storm patterns followed by long periods of nothing. It could be that with this latest storm we're transitioning back into a more active pattern of more frequent, but smaller storms."

The latest pattern also swung into Utah from the northwest, bringing colder temperatures and less moisture in the snow.

Dunn said snow at Alta and Snowbird on Monday held 5 percent moisture, which is more like the light, fluffy snow Utah has become famous for. There were storms in January where the water content of the snow was up to 30 percent. The average density for Alta/Snowbird snow is around 7 percent.

No one know for sure what brought on the unusual weather, he continued.

"We are currently in the midst of a light El Nino weather system, and while the precipitation pattern looks like an El Nino, the storm track production shows we're not. Why we're in this pattern, no one really understands," he added.

Ultimately, what it means is that Utah has received an abundance of snow while other parts of the country have gone dry. And, it means skiers around the world know it.

"Things are good," said Kip Pitou, president of Ski Utah. "Resort business is up everywhere here in Utah. I think the fact that people know we have snow, and other parts of the country don't, bodes well for us.