At press time Whistler Blackcomb is reporting 530 cm of total snowfall in the low alpine of Whistler Mountain, resulting in a 220 cm base at Pig Alley weather station and some of the best early season ski and snowboard conditions in years.
That's a record snowfall for any month in the past 30 years, since records were kept. The previous record of 416 cm was set in January 2006, but by Nov. 19 this year Whistler Blackcomb was already reporting 418 cm of snow, with more in the forecast.
While a warm front moved in this week there is still more snow in the forecast and it's possible that Whistler will break the 5.5 metre milestone by the end of the month.
While skiers have been euphoric, the sheer amount of snow has created challenges for crews working to open the alpine, from freeing towers of ice to marking boundaries in areas where patrollers are waste deep in light powder.
"We've had a lot of snow is a short period of time, around three metres over a seven-day period," said Anton Horvath, Whistler Mountain's weather forecaster. "Fortunately the storm snow is settling rapidly and gaining strength, and the only weaknesses are related to the storm snow. There are no deep-seated facets like we saw the last few years that cause avalanches through the season, which is positive."
But while the avalanche situation is not as dangerous as last year where there was a weak layer for most of the season, it still remains moderate to high in the alpine and at treeline - mostly as a result of sliding wind slabs and falling cornices, as well as the sheer volume of snow.
On top of avalanche risks, opening the alpine has been a challenge for other reasons as well.
"There is usually not this much snow in November so we would be able to do the work gradually as we would get snow, it's almost as easy as flipping a switch," said Horvath.
"This year we haven't been able to do the work gradually. It's been a while since we had a few days of clear weather to work in, and we have another storm coming in.
"There's also more prep work at lift stations. We're in a situation where there's so much snow at the Peak Chair offload that we can't push it off the edge like we normally do because we're afraid the cat will fall over the edge. So we have to backblade the snow and pull in backwards, which takes two days. And with all the snow falling the job never really gets done. That's just one example of the kind of challenge we're facing."
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