For many people in the Northeast , the Pacific Northwest is not thought of as a potential snow vacation destination. That said, in my opinion, this area of the country has a lot to offer to those who are looking for a unique mountain experience. Both inbounds and in the backcountry, if you love snow, you can find it year round out here. Typically, the best snow comes in February, March, and April.
Over the past week, conditions at most areas went from dismal to decent. I shot this one yesterday from Paradise Basin at White Pass.
The snowpack is still a bit thin, but things are looking much better. There has been 2 to 3 feet of new snow in most areas over the past 4 days. West of the Cascade crest, the lower elevation snow was classic concrete. East of the crest, a cold air dam was in place, and it was pretty dry. This week will be dry and cold. Another cycle is forecast to move in by the end of the weekend.
My wife and I have explored the area (WA, OR and BC) extensively over the past 4 years. If you need any advice on planning a trip out here, I'd be glad to help.
2 words: Pretty Shitty. It was decent for a few days, but now it's basically shitty. It's much better East of us in ID & MT.
Snow started last Friday with temperatures in the low 20's and ended on Monday as rain with surface temps still well below freezing. It turned into a wicked ice storm in a lot of the local valleys. Higher elevations closer to the crest saw 1 to 2 ft before the rain started.
My wife and I toured on Sunday a few miles East of Stevens pass. Although the snowpack in the region is still well below normal, the conditions were pretty nice. The snow was non-reactive on all aspects that we traveled. After the rain on Monday, and recent warming, most regions are reporting considerable or high avalanche danger.
Today, I was earning turns at Mission Ridge. Looking at the local telemetry, I thought it would be pretty soft. Unfortunately, it wasn't. The surface was nothing short of shitty. Based on my weather observations, I would say it's safe to assume all ski areas in the Cascades are experiencing similar conditions.
There is more snow in the forecast for the weekend but the general pattern still looks pretty inconsistent. We are currently inverted in many areas. It's been pretty warm up high. While transitioning today, I was comfortable without a shirt, at 6800 ft. Cold air is about to move in and make things right side up, which means everything that was softened with the recent warmth will now be quite crusty. Unfortunately, at our ski areas, not a lot of snow is manufactured, so when surfaces become shitty... they stay shitty.
There are still 4 months left in our Powder Window, but most out here would agree that the first 5th of this pow season has been a disappointment.
Final descent back to car from Sunday's tour:
Castle Peak at Mission Ridge today. It looks pretty shitty. Lots of rain over here on Monday:
Inconsistency has been the only consistent element of our weather pattern. MLK weekend ushered in a big storm cycle (38 inches at Stevens). Unfortunately, it was upside down (started cold, ended warm), so if you were not on snow for the first 12 hours of the event, enjoyment was severely limited. We had 4 hour tickets for that Sunday, and left after the first hour (big crowds + difficult snow = potential severe injury). The storm cycle ended pretty similar to all cycles this season... with some heavy rain. Since the last cycle, it has been warm and showery.
On the East side at Mission Ridge, in an effort to "preserve the snowpack" operations have been scaled down to weekends only with chair 1 & 2. Skinned up yesterday, and it looked more like May than January.
Outside of WA state: It's even worse in Oregon. Up in BC: A friend of mine just got back from Whistler, and said that the higher elevation terrain is in excellent shape... down low, it's hit or miss. In general lower elevation areas are suffering across the entire Cascade range.
In my last post, I indicated that things were much better to the East of us. I am now able to confirm that assumption. Last weekend, we decided to go to the Panhandle of ID, and it was indeed much better. Not a powder weekend, but the snowpack looks like it should for late January, and the conditions were quite good:
About to drop-in to one of the Lake Side chutes at Schweitzer:
Riding the Snow Ghost lift:
Looking up the Great Escape:
Old growth cedar grove approaching the base of Stella:
2nd month of the PNW Powder Window is in the books... Even if Feb, Mar, and April are exceptional, this season will probably go down as the worst so far this decade.
I guess I could say that it's even worse now than it was 2 weeks ago. I suppose I'm looking on the "bright" side of things. If it didn't feel like mid April in terms of sun and temperature, it would be much worse. We have seen some record warmth, so if you like corn in February, then you should plan a trip to the PNW.
I think a year-over-year backyard picture pretty much says it all.
Both of these were taken at the end of the first week of February. The image on the left is from 2014. We had a tremendous Feb/Mar cycle last year. By the end of March there was almost 50 inches of settled snow in my backyard. The bird bath and feeders were completely buried. The image on the right is what we have now... ugly remnants from late December and early January.
Bottom Line: With correctly managed expectations, there is still enough snow at the lift serviced areas to provide limited enjoyment. I was at Mission Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and Stevens today. With the warm temperatures, the groomed surfaces soften up nicely. They were spinning 7 lifts at Stevens today. Although it felt more like closing day in May, the afternoon in Mill Valley on and off piste was really fun.
Touring is a lot of work. Carefully planning and good timing can potentially yield enjoyment. My last hike was on February 1st. Unfortunately, it was not so carefully planned, and poorly timed. This resulted in very little enjoyment: We ended up taking our gear for a 2500 foot vertical walk.
Harv... we'll take what we can get. In this case... not much. NWAC is calling it a rain/snow event across the entire Cascade range. I'm still stoked, and I remain optimistic. Our largest cycle this season started with a forecast for less than 6 inches.
On a mesoscale, the winds will briefly blow from the East. We should see some lift, and enhanced snow totals on the Eastern slopes. For WA state, this appears to be a weak system in general. The way it currently looks, I think we'll be lucky if we get 6 inches by Friday night in my neck of the woods, a bit less in the Stevens pass area. At Baker and Crystal, they are only looking at a few inches. The heavier snow will be above 7K. This will be mostly rain down low at the Snoqualmie complex. Snoqualmie closed up shop a couple of weeks ago... I think they're done for the season. In general... the cycle will not yield enough to make a difference in WA state. Essentially, we need 2 to 3 weeks of consistent Winter storms to orchestrate any semblance of a "recovery." The best chances for a significant accumulation with this event will be around the volcanoes. If you can get above 6 to 7K around the southern volcanoes, you find some good snow. Earning turns around Rainier should be sweet. Up high, there could be over a foot. The same goes for the Mount Hood area, and the Wallowas of Eastern OR.
It's been seasonably cold for the past week (highs in the 30's, lows in the 20's). Mission Ridge is maintaining one run with snowmaking, and allowing skiers to "travel at their own risk" over other areas that have more snow than rocks. I skinned up and around the West rim of the ski area on Monday. It really looks and feels like May in the upper basin. Here is a shot from a spot called Wind Ridge looking over to the Bomber Cliffs and Bowl 5:
In the lower basin, it looks like July. The parking lot is a mud bog, and the lower slopes have little if any snow. The snowmaking crew has done a fantastic job with farming the manmade snow... you can still ride chair 1 to the upper basin, and ride continuous snow back to the parking lot.
We have a tour planned in the Chelan Sawtooth range on Sunday (Northeast Cascades). I'll get a better idea of what this brief cycle yields after that trip. We are going up pretty high, so I am hoping to ride some good Winter snow. Sadly, the majority of my days this Winter have been on Spring snow...
Yeah, I'm going to Whistler in April, and hoping for a change in the weather pattern. Right now, it looks pretty weak out there. Only 168" of snow so far this year. Amazing.
Anything can happen between now and April. My wife and I were at Whistler during the 2nd week in April in 2012. It snowed everyday up high. The lower elevations were a mess, but there was good coverage, and above 5K the snow was sweet. I think they currently have good coverage, but there has not been any consistent weather across all elevations in about 6 weeks. If things turn for the better, April will be a great trip.
I know squat about the PNW but also think April must have a 50/50 shot at being good. I did read somewhere (can't remember where) that this pattern shift is temporary, but I think 12+ weeks of the same pattern seems unlikely.
Nepa...let us know how the weekend goes...
"If it's my mountain, I'm installing a fixed grip and telling the lifties to stuff the beginners into chairs as aggressively as they have to, to keep it going full speed." —Brownski