Friday, February 3, 2012

Perspectives on a "Bad" Ski Season in Utah

Most people know that I am a powder snob and enjoy poking fun at Colorado.  There may be good reasons to ski there, but deep powder is not one of them (except in sections of the San Juans).

Of course, everyone in Utah loves to thumb their noses at Colorado.  I have a friend who was exiled to Boulder for a while.  While there, when people asked him where he headed to ski, he told them east.  They would look at him incredulously and then he would respond, "to the airport, to catch a plane to Salt Lake."

Why? Perhaps we should put the "bad" Utah ski season thus far into perspective.  According to, Alta has received 167" of snow through January.  Pathetic by Utah standards, but how does that compare to Colorado?  One of the snowier locations with long-term weather records in the heart of Colorado ski country is Berthoud Pass, which averages about 390" a year.  That is more than the advertised average snowfall at all Colorado resorts except for Silverton, Loveland, and Wolf Creek (at least according to  Indeed, Wolf Creek is pretty snowy with an average of 435", but the bulk of ski days in Colorado are elsewhere.

Therefore, we'll concentrate on Berthoud Pass.  In an average year, Berthoud Pass receives 187" of snow through January, just 20" more than Alta has received.  In other words, this year Alta is just a bit behind an average year at one of the snowier locations in Colorado (with due apologies to Wolf Creek Pass).

So, a bad year at Alta (and the upper Cottonwood Canyons in general) is as good as an average year in Colorado, at least when it comes to snowfall.  How about deep powder days?  Let's use 10" as a lower threshold for a deep powder day.  Alta averages 17.4 days with 10" or more, Berthoud Pass 3.8.  Of course this year, Alta has seen few deep powder days, but that gives you an idea of what an average year is in Colorado.

Of course, if Colorado wishes to retaliate, they only need to pull up the climate statistics for near the base of Park City.


  1. Although I've loved growing up and skiing in Colorado (go Sunlight Resort!), you're definitely right when it comes to Alta/Snowbird receiving MUCH more snow on average. I'm wondering if you heard about the incredible snow year Buffalo Pass in the Park Range of Colorado (TOWER SNOTEL) had last winter? 80 inches SWE (mid May) and 202 inches deep (late April)!

  2. Whenever we have a bad season like this one, I love to point out that upper LCC's bad year is about average for most of Colorado, so I appreciate this post. However, all discussions like this one seem to point out the importance of microclimates. The central Wasatch west of the crest gets a lot of snow, with Alta being a bit of a quirk within a quirk. But, as you point out, the PC side is much more like Colorado, as are the Uintas. The Ogden section of the Wasatch seems to be somewhere in between, not sure how the Logan area mountains stack up. Then you have these little slices of Colorado that have averages similar to most of the Wasatch. I guess, overall, I was wondering if Utah's "favored" status is really due more to the fact that our ski resorts and popular backcountry areas happen to be in the sweet spot, whereas so many of Colorado's are not.

  3. Ben - Yes, Buffalo Pass and that Tower SNOTEL are well known for their remarkable snows. It appears to have location and altitude (10,500 ft) on its side. I need to visit some day!

    And, the comments above with regards to microclimates are good ones. The Cottonwoods are a great microclimate, but it is worth noting that the Wasatch Mountains around Ogden are also quite snowy, especially the area around Ben Lomond Peak, which, for it's elevation, is the wettest place in northern Utah. Maybe I'll do a post on this in the future.

  4. I would love to hear your perspective on the Ben Lomond sweet spot. I have noticed spring storm totals in the range of 4-5 inches of water here. Considering this is a years worth of precipitation 50 miles to the west, microclimates in Utah are very interesting.

    1. It's on the to do list. Should be able to do something eventually...