Mountain News: 

Below average snow the norm for most of West

PARK CITY, Utah — Storms of plenty during early January have receded to endless days of sun in March, as a big winter has turned average in some places, while in others an average winter has gone seriously bad.

"We had nine feet of snow during January," said Myles Rademan, director of public affairs for the municipality in Park City. "Now, look at these hillsides," he said last week, pointing to a slope next to a road, now barren of snow. "Normally, there should be snow there."

The more southerly resorts of the West did even better. Even as Los Angeles drowned in rainstorms, ski areas in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado frolicked in storm after pounding storm. That was then. "Not a flake during March," reported The Telluride Watch’s Seth Cagin, where the ski season is three weeks yet to go. However, nobody is talking drought, he reports.

Not so in Vail. There, the upper Eagle River Valley snow depths were only at 80 per cent of average going into March. The conditions are eerily reminiscent of conditions in 2002, which ended up being the worst drought in 300 years in many parts of the Colorado Rockies.

To the north, Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is having the driest winter in five years, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

In Idaho, Bogus Basin, located near Boise, has already closed, while Brundage, located near McCall, was expected to close this weekend. In Ketchum, Sun Valley remains up and running, thanks to snowmaking, but the snowpack in the Big Wood River Basin is only 58 per cent of average. The Idaho Mountain Express reports mountain bike trails have opened.

Whistler is having its worst winter since 1976-77. The winter started well, but part-way through January the resort was hit by three weeks of warm, soggy weather. The highest parts of the Whistler and Blackcomb ski mountains got snow, but sometimes heavy rains eliminated snow from the lower third of the mountain.

A cold snap allowed snowmaking to resume, but for several weeks now warm temperatures have prevailed.

Mount Washington, a small ski area on Vancouver Island, which usually gets piles of (wet) snow, has been closed since late January. A No Snow Festival is planned.

In the Sierra Nevada, snow depths have also receded during the past month, although March 1 surveys showed a snowpack still at 125 per cent of normal on a statewide basis.

Many of these reports are suggestive of how scientists describe winters influenced by global warming: shorter and warmer.

International visits lift Vail

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