Thursday, March 26, 2015

Collins Gulch vs. Supreme: Which Is Snowier?

With no major storms in sight, we turn our attention today to the next most important question on skiers' minds.

Is it snowier in Collins Gulch or the Supreme area at Alta?  I've always argued for the former, but I know many that argue for the latter (this is for total seasonal snowfall—the winner sometimes varies within individual storms).

This fall, my students installed one of our low impact weather and snow measurement stations at 9603 feet in upper Albion Basin (special thanks to the cabin owners who are hosting the equipment) at a site we call "Top Cecret" since it is near the top of the Cecret chair (and thus in the Supreme area).  The idea was to get some experience operating this equipment in a deep snow environment. We were hoping for some challenges.  Tripods are best used in no snow or lower snow environments.  In deep snow environments, you run into two issues.  One is that the creep of the snowpack can mangle the tripod.  The other is that as the snow depth increases, at some point you need to take off the equipment, add an extender, and then remount the equipment.  That's a job that's time consuming but not too difficult in nice weather, but isn't a heck of a lot of fun in the cold.

This winter none of that has mattered as we've had the worst snow year since WWII.  As of last weekend, the tripod bases were well buried, but the observing equipment was still far enough above the snowpack to be operating effectively.

Our comparison site is the Alta-Collins snow-study station expertly maintained and operated by Alta Ski Area at 9662 feet in Collins Gulch.  This station has provided timely and reliable observations of snowfall and snowfall water equivalent for many years, greatly assisting weather forecasting and research efforts in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  

Both Top Cecret and Alta-Collins are equipped with ultrasonic snow-depth sensors that send out inaudible pulses of sound and infer the snow depth based on how long it takes for the sound to return to the sensor.

What are the current snow depths at the two sites:

Top Cecret: 82 inches
Alta-Collins: 77 inches

Looks like Supreme is the winner!

Not so fast.  These are two localized measurements of a highly variable snowpack.  We really can't make any strong conclusions one way or the other and perhaps there simply isn't a major contrast in snow between the two areas.  Let the debate rage on.  What think you?


  1. Micro climate, A combination of Devils castle (S-SW flow) and Yellow trail Greely ridge (nw flow) vs. Collins which is to close to Wildcat ridge and the armpit of Ballroom.Top Cecret for the win.

  2. The debate should stick to SWE not total depth, looks like collins gets more direct afternoon sun through the winter anyhow, which has influence on total depth.


    1. Yeah, that is an issue I was going to talk about, but the post got too long! Thanks for bringing it up.

  3. That brings up a question bounced around in our office from time to time, especially this year when we are so close to breaking all time low records. What number is best to use to describe the total snowfall for a season, or even a storm. Snow or water. We have currently recorded 23.8" of snow @ 2.42" H2O for the month of March at the UDOT Alta Guard Station. This is 9.2" lower than the lowest March on record and .01" above the lowest. We say the snow numbers are what everyone wants to know.

    1. Most skiers like snowfall amount. For many scientific applications, the water equivalent is more important. Keep taking them both! Thanks for the great data.