Sunday, January 31, 2016

Combat Skiing

The Cottonwoods have always been popular, but this winter, things are completely out of control.  This was the scene at 10:15 AM at Solitude.  The lower lot was full.  Cars were parking up and down the road, and chaos ruled.

Another perspective, showing cars parked along the road presumably to the upper lot.

As Yogi Berra said, "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded."  Traffic and red snakes aren't new to the Wasatch.  What is new is that this is happening every weekend.  The status quo has to change.

Fortunately, although the backcountry is busier than it used to be, the views haven't changed and remain spectacular.

And the snow is still the greatest on earth.  FM-100 Easy Listening Turns today.  Right-side up and smooth as silk.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Mildly DIsappointing Snow Totals Today

After heavy upper-elevation snowfall last night, mid elevation rain, and more snow expected today, we spent the afternoon "cowering in the aspens", avoiding avalanche terrain, and wondering why it wasn't snowing harder.

From yesterday afternoon to 5 PM this afternoon, Alta ended up with a total of 1.57" of water and 13" of snow, which I have to say is disappointing after looking at the radar this morning (see previous post).  After 7 am, storm totals were only .47" water and 6 inches of snow.  I thought we'd see something closer to 9-12 based on the morning radar.

Backcountry ski conditions ranged for very good to "pinbally".  Conditions were very good up high where the bottom was smooth.  Down low, in areas where there was overnight rain on snow (or at least a melt freeze cycle), we did a lot of bouncing off of old tracks.  Higher snowfall rates would have helped, but freshies are freshies.

I Love It When a Storm Comes Together!

From late yesterday afternoon until 7 AM this morning, Alta-Collins has observed 1.09" of water equivalent and Snowbasin Middle Bowl 1.15".  Ben Lomond Peak is around 1.4".

Temperatures at Alta-Collins (9662 ft) peaked at 32ºF from 11PM to midnight, afterwhich they lowered gradually and then more abruptly with the passage of the cold front early this morning.

At the base of Alta (8560 ft), and at Snowbasin Middle Bowl (7402 ft) it reached 37º.  Thus, rain may have mixed in with snow as high as the lower slopes of Alta and Snowbird and mid mountain Snowbasin during the warmest part of the storm around midnight.  Temperatures have since fallen and the recent passage of the cold front has lowered snow levels to the valley floor.

At upper elevations, the 1.09" of water at Alta-Collins yielded a total of 6" of snow, yielding a water content of 18%.  Serious Sierra Cement.  However, the snow falling this morning and today should be drier.

The radar loop is one that makes me really happy because it means snow for all elevations today.

There's nothing like a combination of atmospheric river moisture and frontal dynamics to give a solid band of precipitation.  Better yet that it will be moving slowly through northern Utah.  Thus, I'll stick with my storm total precipitation (1.5-2.25") and snowfall (12-20") forecast for Alta through 5 PM, but will note that the cards are stacked for totals in the upper half of those ranges.

I love it when a storm comes together!

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Wasatch in the Cross Hairs

Sometimes I come in an my job is easy.  The satellite image below pretty much tells the tail tale (!) and if it doesn't cause your heart rate to pick up just a bit, you are reading the wrong blog.

IR satellite imagery from 0600–1400 UTC 29 Jan 2016
Yup, we are in the cross hairs of a potent atmospheric river that is pushing into northern Nevada this morning.  Model forecasts for tonight and tomorrow have been remarkably consistent over the past day or two and continue to bring the atmospheric river directly over northern Utah by 0600 UTC 30 Jan (2300 MST tonight).
GFS integrated water vapor transport forecast valid 0600 UTC 30 January 2016. Source: NWS.
The integrated water vapor transport associated with this atmospheric river is quite high for late January and lies at the outer edge or outside values observed in the climate forecast system reanalysis for this time of year.  
Source: NWS
Bottom line #1: This is an unusual event for this time of year.  And, a strong cold front will be moving through northern Utah tomorrow morning, giving us a potent double whammy.  

The NAM continues to put out some big water numbers for Alta Collins.  The 0600 UTC run (I'm writing this early in the morning) goes for 2.22" of water through 5 PM tomorrow.  As discussed yesterday, I'm a bit concerned the flow direction overnight will not be optimal for Alta and thus think this number may be high for the Cottonwoods.  In contrast, the northern Wasatch might do better.

Let's instead have a look at the higher-resolution NCAR ensemble.  For the 48-hour period from 0000 UTC 29 Jan - 0000 UTC 31 Jan (1700 MST Yesterday - 1700 MST Saturday), you can see that the mean of the members (upper left hand panel) keys in a bit more on the northern Wasatch and to some degree the area near Mt. Timpanogos, which are favored in the predominantly westerly or west-southwesterly flow accompanying the atmospheric river.  The numbers for Snowbasin and Ben Lomond aren't comparable to the central Wasatch, but I suspect even at 3-km, the model isn't quite picking up on the narrow Wasatch Range in that area.  

Looking at Alta-Collins, there is remarkably little spread in the ensemble, with 9 members putting out between 1.95 and 2.75 inches.  

I'm still worried that the NAM and this ensemble are too productive during the AR portion of this event for upper Little Cottonwood and thus rather than bump these numbers up, I'll continue to go for 1.5-2.25 inches of water equivalent at Alta Collins from late this afternoon to 5 PM tomorrow.   The NWS drops the water totals further to 1.1-1.5", making me a wet foot once again.   Since low expectations are the key to good skiing, so maybe you should stick with the NWS numbers, but hope I verify.  Snowbasin and Ben Lomond might do a little better, but there's a catch.  

The catch is that the atmospheric river portion of the event is going to be warm.  Snow levels derived from the NAM are near or above 8000 feet in upper Little Cottonwood  tonight, with a peak at 9000 feet.  

My experience with these NAM-derived snow levels, however, is they tend to be too high by about 1000 feet, so I suspect we'll see snow levels for much of the night near or above 7000 feet and perhaps reaching as high as 8000 feet.   Thus, the base of Snowbasin could see rain.  Snow levels will drop tomorrow morning. 

For elevations above the snow level, the warmth of the early phase of the storm means high density snow with water contents of 12-16% (possibly higher in the melting layer).  Yup, Sierra Cement.  However, the snow will be drier with the frontal passage tomorrow, making for a right-side-up snowfall that probably won't ski to bad tomorrow afternoon.  For storm total snowfall, I'll go for 12-20" at Alta-Collins by 5 PM tomorrow.  

Bottom Line #2: This is a sloppy storm with complications from warmth and local effects on precipitation.  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Looking Interesting for Friday Night

Update @ 12:20 PM: Post has been updated with corrections to NAM precipitation rates and Alta 24-h precipitation climatology.  

We could talk about the inversion and air pollution that are currently blocking our views and clogging our lungs over the Salt Lake Valley, but it's more fun to think about the storms and snow that are coming our way Friday and Saturday.

There are two major players in the Friday–Saturday storm.  The first major player is a potent atmospheric river, or corridor of high integrated water vapor concentrations (a.k.a. precipitable water, color contours below) and integrated water vapor flux that is presently over the eastern Pacific.

This atmospheric river is expected to push into the interior western United States on Friday.  The GFS precipitable water forecast for 0000 UTC 30 January (5 PM MST Friday) shows the corridor of high precipitable water oriented nearly perpendicular to the northern Sierra.  Although water vapor depletion associated with precipitation reduce the water vapor content somewhat, relatively high values of precipitable water extend downstream across northern Nevada and Utah.

GFS forecast of precipitable water (contours in mm) and cloud-top temperatures valid 0000 UTC 30 January 2016
The second major player is the cold front associated with a surface cyclone making landfall onto the British Columbia Coast tomorrow afternoon.  The AR is located in the strong flow just ahead of this cold front, resulting in the double whammy of high water vapor concentrations and strong flow.

GFS forecast of 700-mb temperature and wind valid 0000 UTC 30 January 2016
The product of wind speed and water vapor concentration, when integrated through depth, is known as integrated water vapor flux, and exceptionally high values are expected ahead of the cold front over northern Nevada and Utah on Friday Night.  In fact, for the 3-week period covering late January and early February, the values being forecast for tomorrow night lie outside climatological analyses going back to about 1979. 

So we're looking at some big changes over the next 2 days.  Yes, it's clear today, meaning beautiful in the mountains and polluted in the valley, but tomorrow we'll see some mountain snow showers (valley clouds and maybe a rain shower or two) at times as the moisture scraps and a weak warm front ahead of the atmospheric river move through.  Late tomorrow, the core of the atmospheric river moves in and will give us a mountain snow and valley rain tomorrow night.  Snow levels will be rising, perhaps to 7500 ft around midnight, before falling again.  The cold front then moves in during the day on Saturday, with snow levels falling further.  

As things stand now, this is looking like a major event in the mountains.  The 12Z NAM is putting out 2.28" of water for Alta-Collins, most of which falls from 5 PM Friday to 5 PM Saturday.  That is a significant amount of water falling in 24 hours, and NAM precipitation rates reach more than .3" an hour per 3 hours.   Events that produce 2" of water in 24 hours at Alta-Collins happen about 3 1.5 times per season if you add up the bars below.  More than about 2.5" in 24 hours is a once in every two seasons in a season event.  

My usual approach when forecasting is to use the NAM precip as a lower bound for water totals at Alta, but flow directions during the event are such that Alta might get shadowed a bit by the Oquirrhs at times.  In addition, the models sometimes overdo the early stages of these moist, warm events.  Nevertheless, I'm concerned this will be a big event and at this stage I'd probably lean toward a total of 1.25 to 2.5" at Alta-Collins by 5 PM Saturday.  The northern Wasatch should get a pounding as well and I'd expect to see some big numbers from places like Ben Lomond Peak.  

Note I used the word "concerned" as this is going to be a messy storm for avalanches with mid-to-low elevation rain and large accumulations and wind at high elevations.  Be careful out there.  

I'm hoping to take a closer look tomorrow, especially with regards to precipitation totals.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mechanisms of Inversion Development

Smoggy air is worsening as inversion conditions have developed over the Salt Lake Valley and Wasatch Front.

Soundings collected Monday, Tuesday, and this (Wednesday) morning show the development of the inversion quite nicely.  Note in particular how temperatures have warmed aloft, especially in the layer from 800-600 mb (about 6500 to 13000 feet).  

Source: University of Wyoming
This is fairly typical for the development of an inversion in the Salt Lake Valley during winter as temperatures warm dramatically aloft, but remain relatively steady or cool just slightly near the surface.  

Note, however, the wind directions in the soundings above.  Above the surface, they are predominantly from the NW, N, or NE.  Where is all this warm air coming from if the flow is from the northern part of the compass?  

Well, the assumption that flow from those directions is transporting colder air from the north is often a poor one when a ridge is located upstream of Utah for two reasons.  First, when a ridge is upstream, such a flow often transports warmer air to Utah.  For example, the 700-mb (~10,000 ft) analysis for 0000 UTC 26 Jan (5 PM Tuesday) shows northwesterly flow over northern Utah and Idaho, but also warmer air upstream over the Pacific Northwest.  As a result, the northwesterly flow was transporting warmer air into Utah at upper levels.   

Second, the area downstream of a ridge is typically sinking.  This is one of the reasons why ridges are commonly (but not always) associated with drier weather.  As air sinks, it experiences compressional warming as it moves to higher pressure.  Such sinking is usually a major contributor to the increase in temperatures aloft during the development of our wintertime inversions.  

During the development of an inversion, PM2.5 concentrations typically increase by about 10 ug/m3 per day.  That's tracking fairly well in this event as we were near zero on Monday morning (01-25) and are now in the 15-20 ug/m3 range.  
Source: DAQ
We see similar concentrations at our sensor at the Neil Armstrong Academy in West Valley City, although the spikiness is a bit larger since we take 5-min readings rather than hourly averages.

Source: MesoWest
By tomorrow, we'll probably be flirting with 30.  The good news is that an approaching weather system on Friday, which would otherwise be day 4 of the inversion event, should stir things up before it gets really bad.  A stirring every 4 days is the key to avoiding major air quality episodes in the Salt Lake Valley.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Perspectives on Our Next Storm Cycle

After 7-10 days of active weather, the Wasatch are enjoying a brief lull this week with high pressure in control through Thursday.

Looking further out, however, it appears we will have a return to stormy weather possibly as early as Friday and likely by Friday night or early Saturday.

The origins of the storm can be traced to the western Pacific.  While you were skiing deep powder last weekend, a developing cyclone was extracting a slug of high precipitable water (and hence water vapor content) air from the tropical western Pacific.  Subsequently, a potent atmospheric river formed and has been maintained along the trailing cold front accompanying the cyclone and is expected to reach the west coast of the U.S. later this week.  

Observed satellite imagery and GFS analyses and forecasts of precipitable water (warm contours) and simulated clouds from 1200 UTC 24 Jan to 0600 UTC 29 Jan 2016.
The GFS integrated water vapor transport forecast for 0600 UTC Saturday (2300 MST Friday, bottom panel) show atmospheric river conditions pushing into northern Utah (identified by the red contour).  Good agreement of the GEFS ensemble mean (top panel) suggests most ensemble members are on track with this large scale solution.    

Source: NWS
Note how the southern High Sierra serves as an apparent barrier to the inland penetration of the atmospheric river in the analyses above.  This is a common occurrence due to heavy orographic precipitation and associated water vapor rainout (or snow out).  Utah would be far snowier if the Sierra weren't so damn big!

OK, now that I have your attention, let me just say that everything after the inland penetration fo the atmospheric river gets pretty damn complicated and is far enough out that I don't want to spend a lot of time talking about gory details.  The NAEFS ensemble plume for Alta-Collins illustrates that this is a situation where a significant accumulations are possible, but also that there is a wide range of solutions with water equivalents ranging from 1 to almost 6 inches for the period.  

Bottom line: Keep calm and carry on.  Let's see how this looks in a couple of days.  

Monday, January 25, 2016

"Steenburgh Winter" Is Almost Here!

It's egotistical and narcissistic, but a few years ago I coined the phrase "Steenburgh Winter" to describe that period in the central Wasatch from the first day Alta-Collins reaches a 100-inch base until February 10th.  Steenburgh Winter is meant to highlight the creme-de-la-creme of backcountry ski conditions, which occurs when there is both a deep snowpack and a low sun angle.

The 100-inch barrier is a good mark of when we have a robust mid-season snowpack.  There is of course good skiing at lesser amounts.  Yesterday, for example, offered up some fine backcountry skiing, but there are some areas in the Wasatch, especially in the rock-strewn Lone Peak Wilderness area, where deeper snow cover is a necessity.

February 10th was recommended to me by a good friend in the avalanche business as the day when one really starts to notice the impact of the sun on the Wasatch snowpack.  Prior to February 10th, one will occasionally find melt-freeze crusts produced by the sun on south aspects, but during cold stretches, those aspects can often offer up good skiing and other aspects rarely see sun crusts (on steep north facing slopes, there's really not direct sunlight prior to Feb 10).  As a result, there tends to be a wide range of aspects that offer up good powder skiing for long periods.  This was also true yesterday as the powder held up well even on south-facing aspects.  In mid-March, snow on those aspects would have been spongy and rollerbally by afternoon.

We haven't had Steenburgh Winter in a long time.  I fact, the last season we had 100" of snow on the ground at Alta-Collins by Feb 10th was 2010-11.  That season was exceptional as we hit 100" on December 20th, giving us nearly 2 full months of Steenburgh winter.

Today at Alta-Collins we are getting very close to the coveted 100" mark as the 24" that has fallen since late Saturday has put as at a 91" snow depth.

We're going to lose some ground to settlement this week as it looks dry through at least Thursday, after which we may see a return of stormy weather for the weekend.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Wasatch and Eastern Dumpages

It's been a pretty good storm so far in the Cottonwoods.  Alta had 11" through 8 am, close to the upper threshold of the 6-12" I forecast yesterday, with snow showers at times continuing today.  We also hit 80" total snow depth at the Alta-Collins stake, a nice psyche point, although we'll probably retreat below that again with settlement.

It's rare that those in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. can look down their noses at Wasatch snowfall, but in terms of amount, they can do it today.  As reported by, here are some selected peak snowfall totals by state through early Sunday morning:

  • 40": Glengary, WV
  • 39" Philomont, VA
  • 38" Redhouse, MD
  • 35.5" Somerset, PA
  • 30.5" JFK Airport, NY
  • 29.6" Whitehouse, NJ
The snow was high density and many areas also had strong winds.  The graphs below are for Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and show the snow-depth (measured every 6 hours) increasing from 1 inch at 00 UTC on the 23rd to 30 inches at 00 UTC on the 24th.  During this period, sustained winds were 30-34 mph with gusts as high as 46 mph.  Remarkable.  

Source: MesoWest
Source: MesoWest
There is little doubt in my mind that the remarkable forecasts of the eastern event saved many lives.  When my career started in the mid-1980s, many nor'easter events were still poorly forecast.  While we still have work to do, the forecasts in this event were quite good and timely and made a major difference.

If you are traveling by air this week, best to call ahead, even if you are not heading east.  This storm has already disrupted travel, and it's going to take some time for the airlines to catch up.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Mountain Wave Clouds

I awoke this morning to a beautiful mountain wave cloud that was draped over the Traverse Range at the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley.

Mountain waves form during flow across topographic obstacles.  The Traverse Range has a maximum elevation a bit over 6500 feet, and a deep gap where it is bisected by the Jordan River, but is plenty high enough to generate such waves despite being small compared to the surrounding Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains.  One often sees mountain wave clouds over the Traverse Range (and typically Lone Peak as well) in advance of approaching storms, so whenever I see one, I take a peak at the latest computer models.

Indeed we have a trough approaching northern Utah this morning and expected to move across the area tonight, bringing precipitation to all elevations.

Mountain snow and valley rain will begin late today, with precipitation changing to snow at all elevations overnight.  For the mountains, this is looking like a pretty good storm tonight.  I'm thinking 6-12" in the upper Cottonwoods by 8 am tomorrow morning, with another 2-4" after that time tomorrow.  This is a bit more optimistic than the National Weather Service, which is unusual given my conservative forecast streak (they are calling for a 6-12" storm total).  Given that I'm still half asleep, perhaps you should keep your expectations low so you are pleasantly surprised tomorrow.  Low expectation are, afterall, the key to great powder days.

Normally I would call this a nice Goldilocks storm, but given the snowpack problems we've been dealing with, it's bound to cause further stress and problems.  Be careful out there.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Threesome Thursday

Although it's going to be a beautiful bluebird day, I'm working and there's three topics to discuss this Thursday.

1. 2015 Was Utah's Third Warmest

As noted in the previous post, 2015 was easily the warmest year on record globally, and by a wide margin.  For Utah, 2015 comes in as the 3rd warmest on record, behind 1934 and 2012.  It also extends our run of years at or above the 20th century average temperature to 22.  The last year cooler than the 20th century average temperature was 1993, with 2011 right on the average.

Source: NCEI
With regards to temperature, two highlights stand out in my mind from 2015.  The first is the remarkable warmth of the first 3 months of the year, which collectively rank as the warmest Jan-Mar period on record.  The only years with anything even close to what we experienced in Jan-Mar of 2015 are 1934 and 1986.  If it seemed crazy warm last winter, it was.

On the other hand, July was simply splendid, and came in below the 20th centuray average, the first July to do so since 1997.

If you aren't a snow lover, that's a great combination.  A mild winter followed by a mild summer.  For snow lovers, last winter left much to be desired, but I suspect we all appreciated the wonderful summer, which was one of the nicest I can remember in my 20 years in the Salt Lake Valley.

2. Blog Post Reflections

My post last Friday (The Hits Just Keep Coming) was one of the more optimistic that I've issued over the past couple of years, called for a series of quick-hitting storms, and concluded:
We'll have to see if the storms farther out in the forecast evolve as advertised, but by and large this looks like a great weather pattern for backcountry skiing.   There are some avy concerns out there, the wind might do some damage at times, and we might go a bit upside down with the storm late Saturday and Saturday night, but by and large, we should be happy.
The storms materialized, as well as some good skiing, but the wind proved far more problematic than I anticipated during the period, both for avy concerns and snow quality, with the former further complicated by a very heterogeneous snowpack with multiple persistent weak layers.

3. Eastern Storm

The eastern U.S. will be in the crosshairs of a major winter storm through Sunday with significant accumulations in some areas.  I don't pay much attention to the weather east of the divide, but did put together a loop of the storm from the latest (0600 UTC) GFS, just for entertainment purposes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Unprecedented Global Temperatures

The National Centers for Environmental Information released their analysis of global temperatures for December 2015 and the year as a whole and they are unprecedented in the instrumented record and "off the charts" in the sense that they almost certainly required a revising of the y-axis scale.

Let's start with the last 3 months of 2015 (Oct - Dec).  During this period, El Nino was well developed and global mean temperatures were 1.84ºF (1.02ºC) above the 20th-century average and a whopping 0.47ºF (0.26ºC) above the next highest Oct-Dec period (2014).

Source: NCEI
December 2015 in particular was the first month in the instrumented record with a temperature a full 2ºF above the 20th-century average for the month.

Source: NCEI
Now for the worst-kept secret in the climate business: 2015 was the warmest year on record, and by a pretty wide margin, reaching 1.62ºF (0.90ºC) above the 20th century average.

Source: NCEI
This extreme warmth reflects both global warming and the strength of El Nino.  The last "super El Nino" was in 1998 and if you look at the graph above, you'll see that it was the warmest year on record to that point.  However, 2015 tops 1997 by 0.49ºF (.27ºC).

And let me get this out of the way so I don't have to answer questions about it in 2017 or 2018.  After El Nino wanes, there will probably be a temporary decline in global mean temperatures after 2015 or 2016, as occurred after 1998.  This is natural climate variability in action and when it happens, it doesn't mean that global warming has stopped or paused (see Global Warming Hasn't Stopped from March 19, 2014).  We are on the global warming locomotive and it is picking up speed, even if there are some ups-and-downs in the global mean temperature from year to year.  

Convective Snow Showers

The trough moving through northern Utah this morning is bringing some convective snowshowers to the Salt Lake Valley and the surrounding region.

Radar imagery early this morning (1400 UTC, 0700 MST) showed some areas of higher (> 35 dBZ) radar reflectivity, with the speckled, cellular structures likely produced by stronger updrafts.

Rimed snow crystals (small round balls below) could be seen at my place in the Avenues, although they were fairly small.  I wouldn't be surprised, however, if there was some decent graupel in other areas.

Expect some valley snow showers at times this morning, which should be the epitome of if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes.  Accumulations of an inch or two are possible in areas that are fortunate to have more sustained snowfall.

The recent storms have pushed Alta-Collins over the 75" mark for the first time this season.  Due to settlement, they are now fluctuating around that level.  I'm not sure if today's snowfall will be sufficient to move them permanently above that mark, but it should help.

75 is a good psyche point, but as many of you know, I don't consider it winter until we hit 100.  We won't get there today, but we're getting closer.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Snowfall and Snowpack Numbers Don't Tell the Whole Story

I often tell people that total snowfall or peak snowpack observations don't always tell the whole story about how the quality of the skiing in a given season.  Seasons with near average snowfall (and peak snowpack) may have been good or bad ski seasons depending on when and how the snow fell and other factors such as temperature.

Let' me show you some interesting numbers to illustrate this.  First, is it your impression that this year is a better ski season than last?  Most people I spoke with this weekend said yes and for my interests as a backcountry skier, this year seems to be much better than last.

However, if we look at the snowpack in the central Wasatch, it's not much different than last year.  At Snowbird, the snowpack water equivalent is actually a bit behind last year.

Source: NWS
Any individual SNOTEL station can sometimes be a bit unrepresentative, but if we look at others in the central Wasatch, we see a similar result. For example, at the Mill-D SNOTEL in Big Cottonwood, we're sitting almost dead even with last year.

Source: NWS
So what gives?  

Well, for one the low elevation snowpack this year is substantially better than last year.  The SNOTEL sites in the central Wasatch are at relatively high elevation, but if we look at a low-elevation SNOTEL station like Ben Lomond Trail (5829 ft) we find we are running well ahead of last year.  

For backcountry skiing access and for skiing at resorts with lower elevation terrain, that makes a big difference.

Another possible factor is that the storms last December and early January tended to be large and  separated by many days.  This may have resulted in a bit more loss to sun-driven snowmelt on south-facing aspects than we've seen this year, although I'm not sure if that really kicked in until about this time (perhaps your recollection is better than mine).  

Finally, when we think back to last year, we might be strongly influenced by the trajectory for the latter half of the ski season, which was terrible.  Note how the red lines above climb up very slowly compared to the average or the median.  Last year was a really terrible season from mid January on, and that had a dramatic impact on our perception of the season.

Let's hope we do better the rest of this season.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Rare Sighting

Nearly as rare as a Bigfoot sighting, a photo of Professor Powder was captured today at Alta Ski Area.  As is almost always the case, heavy snow makes confirmation of the sighting difficult.

However, his progeny were seen nearby, increasingly the likelihood he was in the area.

Actually, I haven't skied much at all in bounds this year.  It was nice to get out today, although I somehow managed to bust out my sidewall.   My alpine skis were old, and now they are shot.  Bummer!

The skiing will only get better as the day goes on, but I needed to return to town today.   The scene in the valley early this afternoon, with snow cover and rain reminded me of a winters day in upstate NY.  Grey, dreary, and terrible for skiing.  Thank goodness we have a big mountain range here to get above the snow level.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Change in the Cottonwoods Is Desperately Needed

I have lived in Salt Lake City for 20 years and have seen dramatic changes in the Cottonwood Canyons during that period.  The canyons have always been popular, but transportation and parking for either resort or backcountry recreation is at its breaking point on many weekends and holidays.  This year we seem to be pushing it to a whole new level with major backups for the canyons and lots filling at resorts in both canyons.  Backcountry trailhead parking is becoming quite difficult.  Yesterday, the number of cars parked at Mineral Fork and Butler Fork was staggering.

Perhaps there's a lot of pent up powder desire out there and this is just a temporary surge, but I doubt it.  Population projections for Utah show another million people will be here by 2035, possibly earlier depending on the estimate.  This is due to both internal growth (i.e., birth rate) and in migration, with those in the latter category frequently coming and staying here for the remarkable quality of life and access to recreation that we have here in Utah.
There is no place in the United States like the Cottonwood Canyons (and Mill Creek to the north) with their combination of snow quality and ease of access to a major metropolitan area.

With some hard work, you can find skiing like this less than 3 miles from the edge of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area.
Surveying friends, I find a remarkable range of views about options for the future.  One thing is clear, the status quo is a recipe for disaster as we are now frequently at the carrying capacity for automobile transport into the canyons.  Doing nothing means more gridlock and further degradation of quality of life we enjoy.  And no more making fun of Colorado and their I-70 gridlock.

Ignoring potential rail solutions, which are likely to be costly and take many decades to implement if they ever see the light of day, we need to look at ways to get more people up the canyon highways more efficiently.  This could include improvements in current bus service, which often works well on days when it's not very busy (although bus routes midday are often lacking), but can be a disaster on busy days due to limited parking near the canyon mouths, overcrowding, difficulties even getting on late day buses if you aren't at the first stop, etc.  

Another option that might be implemented quickly and at low cost is slugging.  Slugging is a car sharing option used in the Washington D.C. area in which drivers pick up passengers at designated locations with similar destinations in order to travel in HOV lanes.  I've always though such an approach has some potential in the Cottonwoods.  A number of pick-up-areas could be designated on major routes to the canyons, possibly even at some bus stops, and drivers would pull in, announce where they are going (e.g., Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, or Brighton), and people with those destinations would hop in for the ride.  Basically this is hitchhiking with some organization.  Uber is providing a paid car-service already, but the idea with slugging is that it would be free.  

For slugging to be successful, carpooling would need to be incentivized, either through some sort of HOV access to the canyon mouths (perhaps doable to Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood might be more difficult unless something more draconian were implemented like SR-210 being HOV or local traffic only from 7-10 am), better or cheaper parking at the resorts, etc (it's hard to imagine that paid parking isn't going to become more common at the resorts).  The issue of return back to the Salt Lake Valley is another potentially problematic area since people would need to slug back to the Salt Lake Valley and typically this would not be with the person who drove them up the canyon.  

There's no silver bullet, but change is needed, or gridlock will only worsen in Wasageles.