American meteorologists have skewed priorities. Forecasts for this winter's strong El Niño include warnings about natural disasters (mudslides in the South, flooding on the coasts, torrential rainfall in Southern California) and yet there's nothing about what it all means for downhill skiers’ deep-powder prospects. That ends today.
“What normally happens during El Niño is wetter weather in the South and dryer weather in the North,” says Tom Di Liberto, a meteorologist for NOAA’s climate prediction center. “With a lot of the areas where you see a lot of skiing, you’re stuck between the two."
Di Liberto advises dividing El Niño’s atmospheric impact into three (ski) areas: the Northwest, the Rockies, and the Northeast.
It will likely be wetter than average in Southern California, “with less of a chance the farther north you go,” says Di Liberto. Simultaneously, temperatures are more likely to be warm in the northern part of the state and cooler in the south. That’s great news for the Lake Tahoe area, where ski resorts are seeing their earliest opening dates in more than a decade.
But that’s bad news the further north you get. Mountains in the Northwest like Timberline and Mount Bachelor in Oregon, Crystal Mountain and Mount Baker in Washington, and even Sun Valley in Idaho could see dramatically less precipitation and higher temperatures than average.
Powder Outlook: Not great, unless you’re at Tahoe
“If there’s anywhere in the Rockies that’s favorable during El Niño for extra snowfall, it’s Southern Colorado and Southwest Utah, in the higher elevations,” Di Liberto says. “In terms of skiing, the four-corners area is your best bet.” That's fantastic news for some of the nation’s biggest ski resorts: Telluride is in the sweet spot, with Aspen and Vail not far behind. Mountains in the north, though, might not be so lucky. Jackson Hole in Wyoming, Park City in Utah, and Big Sky in Montana could see lower than usual precipitation.
Powder Outlook: Spectacular the farther south you go