Who got the most snow in North America in 2020-21?
Guest feature by Tony Crocker, 17 November 2021
2020-21 was a substantially below average snowfall season (84%) in North America's ski areas, aside from in the Pacific Northwest and some of western Canada.
The western US had widespread dry spells in the early parts of December, January, March and April, with heavy snowfall mostly concentrated from late January through to the end of February.
Weekend lift lines in many areas were very long during this period due to Covid-19 capacity restrictions. However, there were almost no ski area closures in the US and, just a few in Canada (except in Ontario).
2020-21 was a moderate La Niña season, with more favorable snowfall in northern regions. However, these regions still ended up only about average due to a very dry spring...
With less than a metre of snow in November, and barely a metre in December, only about half of California’s terrain was open at Christmas overall. Due to Covid-19, restrictions were in place in California in December limiting its lodging to local residents only. These restrictions were eased for Tahoe in the second week of January, and for Mammoth two weeks later. Advanced terrain was limited and coverage thin through the mid-January Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, but an atmospheric river of 2 metres during the last week of January finally opened nearly everything.
February was a fairly dry month with variable conditions, but March snowfall was more consistent, and conditions were good. Spring conditions emerged across the board after a warm first week of April, and less than 30cm fell over the rest of the month. Mammoth was open until 31 May 2021, Alpine Meadows closed on 9 May 2021 and Squaw on 16 May 2021.
Overall, California’s season saw 69% of its average snowfall. Heavenly’s upper site got 4.7m (49%) and Kirkwood 6.8m (58%). Squaw Valley's upper site (8.2m, 77%) led the region, while Mammoth got 6.2m (69%).
Utah's November/December snowfall was about 3/4 of its average, and adequate to open most terrain in the Cottonwood Canyons on bases of 1m+ for the holidays. Elsewhere, terrain was limited until after the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend (16-18 January). Conditions improved in late January with up to 1.5m, and February was spectacular with 2.5m to 4 m of new snow.
Overall, the season was 85% of normal, after a slightly below normal March and April. Alta led the state with 12.4m (94%), while Park City got 7.3m (99%) and Snowbasin 7.0m (86%). Snowbird got 11.9m (95%) and closed on 16 May 2021.
Colorado (and New Mexico)
Colorado's Front Range/I-70 resorts had snowfall averaging 2/3 of normal from November to January, so only its snowiest areas (Steamboat, Vail, Winter Park) were able to open as much as 3/4 of their terrain for the Christmas holidays. Some were less than half open at Christmas and did not reach full operation until a metre of snow fell in early February.
With another 1m dump in the second week of March, and the only dry weeks before mid-May being the first weeks of March and April, the second half of the season was close to average, concluding the season overall at 85% of normal. Winter Park had 9.5m (95%), while Breckenridge had 6.7m (75%), and Vail 6.1m (69%). A-Basin had 6.1m (77%) and was open to 6 June 2021.
The Southwest had a localised storm that brought Wolf Creek to full operation in mid-November, but otherwise saw well below average snowfall, not reaching full operation until the storm from California dropped a metre of snow in late January.
The Northeast had its second worst Christmas in over 20 years, with below average snow and excessive rain. Skiing improved only gradually until the third week of January, which saw falls of up to 80cm.
February had consistently good skiing with cold temperatures and 1-1.5m of snow, however, rain returned during the first week of March. Ongoing adverse weather reduced all areas to below half open by the second week of April.
Overall, the season was the third worst of the past 20 years, at 75% of normal. Jay Peak had 6.1m (75%), Whiteface 4.0m (92%), Killington 5.3m (88%) and Sugarloaf 2.5m (58%).
US Northern Rockies
The U.S. Northern Rockies had 85% of normal snowfall, with only the Tetons being close to average. The Tetons had normal snowfall through early January, then got pounded with over 5m of snow from late January through February.
The rest of the region saw below average falls through the middle of January. However, major storms of 1.5m hit Sun Valley in late January and much of Montana in early February.
February was the best month overall, and the only one above average for areas near the Canadian border, while March and April were very dry over the entire region.
Interior Western Canada
Interior Western Canada had consistent early season snow and, overall, the best holiday conditions in North America on an average base of 1.5m. However, due to Covid-19 restrictions the Canadian border was closed to non-nationals for the entire ski season.
Conditions remained excellent in January, with average snowfall and most areas escaping the Northwest rain that fell further south. February snowfall averaged 1.5m but Arctic high pressure closed a few areas during the second week when temperatures hit -30°C. March and April were below average, so the season overall ended at 95% of normal.
The Pacific Northwest had a very good holiday season after averaging 2m of snow in both November and December. January snowfall was 3m in Whistler and 2m further south, though conditions were variable for about a week after mid-month rain.
In February it snowed 1.5m at Whistler but dumped 3-4 m further south in Washington and Oregon. March, however, was average at Whistler but below average further south. April was then much drier than normal across the board, bringing the overall season to 102% of average.
Mount Baker led North America in snowfall with 17.7m (106%). Whistler had 11.2m (105%) but closed on 29 March 2021 due to a Covid-19 outbreak. Crystal Mountain had 10.4m (99%), while Mount Bachelor had 9.9m (101%) and was open until 30 May 2021.
Tony Crocker is an award-winning snow-sports journalist
and founder of www.bestsnow.net - the definitive guide to weather
and snowfall patterns in North American Ski resorts.
Read more about him here
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