The western region mountains were greeted with plenty of snow and lower than expected freezing levels from late November through early January that created strong snow bases.
Terrific. Stoked. Memorable. Waist deep. Gnarly.
This is just some of the “ski speak” echoed by skiers and snowboarders who relished this past winter.
“I would classify the past winter season as excellent, especially if you compare it to the year before,” said John Gifford, the president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association. “We had lots of snow, and lots of visitors to the local ski areas.”
Gifford, along with about 900 ski area representatives from across the country, attended the National Ski Areas Association Convention this past week in Nashville, Tenn., where it was revealed that the Pacific Northwest region set a record.
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“The Pacific Northwest was up 142 percent over the previous year,” Gifford said. “That was the largest increase on record.”
The big unknown this past winter was a forecast of a strong El Nino pattern, which usually creates drier and mild weather conditions.
Instead, the western region mountains were greeted with plenty of snow and lower than expected freezing levels from late November through early January that created strong snow bases.
The warmer weather pattern didn’t arrive until the latter part of winter, bringing a deluge of rain, which pecked away at the snowpack. But, the healthy snow bases allowed areas to remain open. Even lower-elevation places like The Summit at Snoqualmie stayed in the game well into April.
“It was actually a very positive season, especially coming off the prior winter,” said Guy Lawrence, the marketing director for The Summit at Snoqualmie. “People were pretty happy, and the holiday ski-season time was just phenomenal.”
“The winter started off with a bang with plenty of early snowfall, and that set up a positive tone,” Lawrence said. “The only downside was El Nino did come into effect in March when we usually see more snow. Visitor traffic was modest, and not a record-setting year.”
Winter destinations such as the Mount Baker Ski Area saw a more memorable season, which landed them on the top-10 list of snowfall totals in North America.
“We had 622 inches of snowfall, and we might even get more this weekend,” said Gwyn Howatt, the Mount Baker Ski Area operations manager who also reported a very good winter season. “Right now we’re at 300 inches, which is a 100 percent increase over last year.”
In British Columbia, places like Whistler-Blackcomb Resort also benefited from the abundant snow.
“It has been a tremendously successful ski season,” said Chelsea Moen, the Whistler-Blackcomb Resort public relations supervisor.
The mega-resort – located about two hours north of Vancouver – had a cumulative snowfall as of May 19 of 486.6 inches. Its snowiest month was December with 133 inches, and March was a close second with 124 inches.
According to the website SnowBrains.com, seven Pacific Northwest resorts ranked in the top 10 for snowfall totals this past winter. Alyeska in Alaska took top honors with 824 inches.
That was followed by Mount Baker with 622 inches (through May 19) and Alpental with 610 inches (through April 5) ranked second and third respectively, and Crystal Mountain took the sixth-place spot with 522 inches.
In Oregon, Timberline Resort was fifth with 525 inches, and Mount Hood Meadows had 476 inches for the ninth spot and Mount Bachelor tied for 10th with 470 inches. Whistler Mountain Resort was eighth.
The upcoming 2016-17 winter season also holds promise based on early long-term weather forecasts from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.
“We’re already looking forward to what could be another great season based on some initial forecasts if La Nina develops,” Howatt said. “We had a phenomenal (world-record) snowfall during our 1998-99 (La Nina) season.”
During that 1998-99 winter season, Mount Baker had a whopping 1,140 inches, the most snowfall ever measured in the United States during a single season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.
The previous record was 1,122 inches set in the 1971-72 season that occurred at Paradise on Mount Rainier.
There are options that will carry on well into spring and summer. In British Columbia, Blackcomb Mountain Resort is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through May 30. Glacier skiing and snowboarding will be open on Blackcomb Glacier from June 11 to July 17.
Mount Bachelor is open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily through May 29. Timberline is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily through May 29, and the summer season usually begins June 1.