This is the final post of the Chase Forecast for the 19/20 season. Unfortunate circumstances, but certainly the right calls have been made to close all ski areas. While resorts are closed, there have been mixed messages on uphill travel with some spots still allowing it. The bottom line is that if you get hurt, you're going to tax the hospital system so use common sense! There was some large skier triggered avalanches this last week in Utah (Snowbasin and Backcountry near Alta). This Powder Alert is purely broadcasted for both living vicariously through the next big dump, or in some areas just getting outside to engage in some safe fun time in the snow. Social Distancing is essential! Please respect your local jurisdictional restrictions and never venture out if you are not feeling well. Let's move on to the forecast and a recap of the 2019-20 season. I am including many maps of snowfall YTD to see who scored the highest numbers in the West. Next season will likely bring changes of how we congregate at ski areas, lifts, etc. My optimism is that you will all be riding powder next year! Will it be deep? Yes! The chase forecast usually includes deep snow in the headlines. I provide praise to what seemed like the most difficult choice in history for Vail Resorts (1st to announce closures) quickly followed by Alterra for closing down all ski resorts, even as the deepest storm of the year was hitting the Sierra. While shock rolled through the industry, it was the right decision. That weekend saw over 100 inches of snow for some spots of the Sierra. That decision most likely reduced the spread of CV and will have you coming back for waist-deep powder next season.
Short Term Forecast
Vicarious/Quarantine Epic Alert: Significant snowfall is going to be impacting the Pacific Northwest especially late Sunday into Monday. The northern Cascades will reap moderate snow initially that spreads south Sunday night. Heaviest snow Sunday night and Monday will favor the Southern Cascades of Washington and northern areas of Oregon. Moderate snow will continue for the North and Central Cascades of Washington. Expect 14-20 inches for many areas by late Monday with unseasonably cold temperatures. Ironically, this might be one of the colder deeper storms of the season (Quarantine Epic Alert). Live it vicariously and think of the last faceshot you had this season! This storm will be very cold, so think back to one of your better days of the season.
That system will bring decent snowfall to central Idaho and eventually the Tetons Monday PM to Tuesday (12 plus). Lighter snow trickles north into Montana, and northern Utah.
Below: Total snowfall through Tuesday night for the West. (Do not chase).
RECAP OF THE 2019-20 SEASON! Keep reading.
My Best Chase of the season: It's hard to think back to the single best day. I scored 12-15 inches at Crystal in January followed by a late-night flight back to Salt Lake City. From there I scored my deepest day of the year at Snowbird with 28 inches of fresh with Little Cottonwood closing by 10 AM (Bonus). Other notable winners was a day storm in Wyoming with 12 inches at Targhee (No crowds), and a sneak up powder day at Jackson. The sneak up storm had 2-3 inches on the snow report with 18 inches by the end of the day. That chase started in Idaho Falls and was purely luck based on webcams and telemetry (The models did not have it). That chase started at 4:30 AM and ended in deep pow at Jackson Hole. In Colorado, we all remember the 3-4 feet that dumped along I-70 closing highways in February. I drove until 3 AM on Friday with I-70 closing and reopening. Day 1 of that storm cycle was the let down with wind impacted dense snow (Point it straight) and lots of terrain closures at Vail. Day 2 had the mass exodus from Denver (Lift lines) that I, fortunately, stayed at home. Day 3 was the $$ with additional snow and new terrain openings at Vail (No lift lines). I caught rope drops for Genghis and Red Square and bolted to Breckenridge for the opening of Whales Tail (One of my favorite lines at Breck). Most of Denver stayed home that day.
Biggest Bust of the season: Lake Tahoe, in position just as resorts closed (The right thing to do) watching 5-7 feet of powder fall over 2 days (The carrot on the stick).
Below: Little Cottonwood Canyon for the 2-3 feet day that could not be forgotten (Roads closed at 10 AM). January 12---29 inches in 24 hours. Photo: Powderchaser Steve
Below: Powderchaser Steve riding in Boulder recently (Disclaimer- Not exactly to the rules, but this could not be missed- Bluebird Flatirons, deep pow).
Below: Novelty Chase to Mount Baldy Ski area outside Los Angeles- 3 feet of snow in 48 hours. But look at what happened! 2-hour lift lines by our 2nd run (We had the first chair). Photo: Powderchaser Steve
Let me end the season with a look at some data I pulled from the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).
This season showed Neutral conditions for most of the west (Neither a strong signal for El Nino or La Nina). We originally felt that all regions of the West had an equal chance of having a decent winter. The season started out very slow for the Pacific Northwest with lots of rain in November and December that suddenly took off as midwinter rolled in. The PNW ended up near to slightly above average especially in the North Cascades. Whistler went from nearly no snow to decent conditions by January. Meanwhile in the Rockies Montana started the season with a bang with snow focussing further south into the Tetons during the midwinter period (JHMR and Targhee had deep snow by early December with much less below 7000 feet). Generally warmer conditions in December created some large variables on snowfall depending on where you chased. Meanwhile, Utah and Colorado stayed near normal throughout the season with generally a good year. There were many opportunities to chase powder especially in the southern regions for November. Arizona who may be the ultimate winner from the maps below scored cold blower for Thanksgiving where 20-35 inches fell at the Arizona Snowbowl. They already had a decent base before that storm. I blew it and missed this storm! The Sierra had some decent storms early in the season followed by a complete dry spell mid-season. California plates were evident in the Rockies for many of the holiday periods in January and February. That all changed for the Sierra as March rolled in with some areas reporting over 100 inches at the summits as resorts began closing for COVID. Interior BC scored deep powder early to midseason with many resorts riding full terrain by late December (Warming periods brought increased avalanche danger, especially for New Years).
SNOWPACK- SUMMARY AND AVERAGES THROUGH MARCH 28TH
Let's look at the year to date Snow Water Equivalent for many States in the West. This is the amount of water in the current snowpack (Melted water). It is interesting how with a neutral year (Equal chances of average snowfall for the West) most areas ended up near or slightly above normal (The season technically would not have ended so these numbers can change). I believe we initially said everyone has an equal chance of a near-normal winter. The Sierra came up short this season with perhaps the desert Southwest being our winners (Utah and Arizona).
Below: The Sierra sits below normal currently. Areas further West or along the Crest are most likely higher than the map depicts.
Below: Arizona scored deep Desert Pow this season. The Snowbowl outside of Flagstaff sits in the San Francisco Peaks Range where above average snow fell this season. Areas further south saw even higher amounts of moisture. The Verde River Basin south of Flagstaff at 131%!
Below: The Washington Cascades who started out with a bust ended this season with just above normal snowpack slightly favoring the Northern regions. Oregon had less. Both areas will score 12-20 inches next week improving these numbers.
Below: The Western mountains of Wyoming ended the season at 108% of normal. The season generally saw multiple events started out warm (November/December) and trended colder bringing better snow to lower elevations late December or early January. You can see Jackson Snake River Plain near the 108.
Below: Near normal snowfall for most of northern Utah with much higher amounts of water for the southern regions. Slightly below normal for the northern Wasatch (Snowbasin, Powder).
Below: Slightly below average to normal for the Sangre De Cristos in New Mexico
Below: Montana ranges from 112% near Whitefish to 100% of normal in the Madison Ranges (Big Sky, Bridger). The upper Yellowstone Basin (Red Lodge Mountain) is at 115% (Saw many sneak up powder days this season). NE winds were common this season that pushed more moisture East into the areas in light blue from Glacier National Park to East Yellowstone.
Below: Colorado sits above average along and north of I-70 (Aspen included) and near normal in the central and southern mountains.
Below: Summary of the West with a good even spread of near-average water content to slightly above for many mountain ranges. Lower amounts noted for Oregon and areas south into the Sierra.
I will use this section to sign off for the season! Let's begin, by staying healthy! I am a proponent for some outdoor activities. Use common sense and don't' end up being the headlines for a backcountry rescue! Keep your Knar factor lower than normal. Avoid the backcountry without proper knowledge. Avoid the backcountry in areas that have stay at home orders. You might want to avoid the backcountry all together. Some resorts have uphill travel posted on their websites (That is an individual decision). That might mean staying inside or limiting your fun to hikes or even walks. I have never seen so many folks walking dogs in my neighborhood in Park City (Dogs are loving this).
Next season hopefully will offer many deep days. I am not sure how to lift operations will be impacted with COVID but suspect changes will take place next season. Do all the right things now, and we will be a better long term! COVID hit us in March. Imagine if Ski areas closed in January! Think optimistically. It could have been worse. Support your local Fire/EMS/Nurses/Doctors who are all short of supplies. Donate Blood!
See you next season. Please feel free to comment on those still paying attention to the forecasts.
You can follow me through the summer on my personal Instagram page @powderchasersteve
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