Tuesday, February 10, 2015

No Steenburgh Winter (Again!)

Where are you Steenburgh winter?
A few years ago I coined the phrase "Steenburgh winter" to describe that period of the year during which there is both a deep snowpack and a low-angle sun (see Last Day of Steenburgh Winter from February 2011).  The idea was to highlight the part of the winter that provided the creme-de-la-creme snow conditions for backcountry skiing.  Steenburgh winter begins when the Alta-Collins stake hits a 100 inch snow depth as that's when nearly all of the backcountry becomes skiable.  There are many areas I won't tour until there's that much snow on the ground.  It ends on February 10th, which is when the sun is beginning to become increasingly caustic to snow, certainly on south aspects and, as we progress into spring, other aspects as well.  There is certainly great skiing to be had outside of Steenburgh winter, but the idea here is to describe that period during which there is both abundant snow cover and the ability to ski most aspects even well after storms.

Coalpit Headwall on a day with 115 inches on the Alta-Collins stake and look at those rocks!  
The last Steenburgh winter was during that amazing 2010–11 season when we reached 100" at Alta-Collins on December 20th, giving us over 50 days of deep snowpack and low angle sun (and even great powder all the way to Memorial Day).  We haven't seen a day of Steenburgh winter since.  Today is February 10th and Alta-Collins sits at 70 inches this morning.  Granted, it's a dense 70 inches, but we also haven't seen a deep-powder day (10 inches or more) since January 12th.  Near as I can tell, this year we've had two Novembers followed by April and May.  Maybe January will return in March.

Ah, the good old days.
Perhaps Steenburgh Winter has simply moved east?  Below are the latest snowfall numbers for southern New England.  Check out those Boston and Worcester totals and their climatological ranks.

Wachusett Mountain here I come...

Bloggers Note: This post has been updated to correct a Brian Williams memory lapse.  After checking, the snow depth at Alta-Collins on the day the Coalpit Headwall photo was taken was 115 inches, not 200 as originally indicated.  Snow always gets deeper with time in my memory...that's why we have data!


  1. I'd be curious to know in how many of the previous 30 years we've had a snow depth of at least 100" by February 10th. I'm guessing most years we don't reach 100" depth by February 10th.

    1. Have at it back to 1995: http://mesowest.utah.edu/cgi-bin/droman/past.cgi?stn=CLN&hour1=7&day1=10&month1=2&year1=2015&product=&time=LOCAL&unit=0

      Steenburgh winter is the "creme de la creme" so if it is a bit of an outlier, that's OK. I still ski in other seasons :-).

    2. We have Alta Collins snowfall for 35 years. You need somewhat over 200 inches snowfall by Dec. 31 to get that 100 inch base early. That has clearly occurred 14 of the 35 years: 82,83,84,85,89,93,95,97,02,04,05,06,08,11. There are probably some other seasons where the 100 inches was attained sometime in January, but hard to tell when without knowing the incidence of the January snow.

  2. Ahhh, Wachusett Mtn !!! Skied there once during a visit to my sister when there was only a 6" base. I'm sure they're ecstatic this year.