Montana Daily Snow

Historically Speaking: Montana’s the Place to Be in December


Ahh...a pre-Christmas morning at Whitefish below  

Howdy partners, can you believe it’s almost time to trade those bikes and boats for planks and boards? Accumulating snow is currently in the forecast and it darn isn’t even Fall yet! That said, with fresh snow coating the peaks at 8000’ in mid-September my mind drifts to memories of the best of the “ber” months…December. Digging back through the dusty data of seasons past, I thought I’d kindly remind folks that Montana is arguably the best place to be in the Rockies during this coldest and snowiest “ber” month.

Leafing through the Treasure State’s resorts and mom and pop’s areas stats I’ve found some very interesting observations. Basically, early season in this part of the Rockies is conducive to a consistent Northwest (NW) flow pattern. Moisture and cold air tend to sweep down from the Gulf of Alaska and or/B.C. and slows down once it encounters the western slope of the Northern Rockies. This, historically speaking, has been our transitional season snowmaker, entering Montana first across the Northwest region (Whitefish, Blacktail) and tracking through into the Southwest mountains (Bridger, Lost Trail, Big Sky) before exiting into Wyoming.

Pretty spiffy information from the good folks at the snow-ghost capital of the world (Whitefish Mountain Resort) indicate that since December 2011 they have opened 100% of the Big Mountain by Christmas on every year but one. Lost Trail/Powder Mountain also had some impressive numbers with 7 out of the last 10 years with 100% terrain open by the 25th. East of the Divide, the massive that is Lone Mountain (Big Sky Resort) carries an excellent 10-year average of having 80% of its 5800 acres of terrain open by St. Nick’s big day.  Any one of these three places is a best bet for an early season day trip or week long ski-a-palooza.

Another area that isn’t too shabby in the early season is Bridger Bowl which has averaged roughly 80% open by Christmas over the last 10 years. Bridger is fairly liberal with opening terrain so if you want to hit the steeps early on bring your rock skis. Lookout Pass, straddling Montana and Idaho also deserves special mention as they are generally one of the first places to open in November. Early storms can bring copious amounts of wet snow there but can also be plagued by rain with their somewhat low 4500-5600’ elevation. Montana Snowbowl is kind of a wild card with a 10-year average of having roughly 70% of the mountain open by Christmas day. It’s a huge state and it all just depends on that fickle force of uncertainty we call weather.   

Lot’s of fodder for thought! Combine the above with the current NOAA pre-season prediction of an ENSO neutral condition for a 50/50 or “average” early winter for the Northern Rockies and it only inspires confidence in my favorite upcoming “ber” month. Stay positive and keep Ullr happy and in your daily thoughts!  We’ll be in touch again around Halloween when NOAA releases their “Last Best Guess” forecast. 

Image below taken on December 19th, 2018 at Whitefish...

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