It’s the end of a successful season, but Northwest ski areas are already revving up their marketing campaigns with a La Niña forecast for next year.
NOAA has issued a La Niña watch for next winter, saying the current El Niño pattern will be gone by this summer.
For skiers in the Pacific Northwest, La Niña is great news. The weather pattern, with colder than normal temperatures in the Pacific, can spark a steady flow of powerful storms from the gulf of Alaska. In the La Niña winter of 1998-99, a world-record 95 feet of snow fell at Mt. Baker Ski Area.
Crystal Mountain in Washington and Schweitzer Mountain in North Idaho are already touting the La Niña forecast on their home pages, hoping to entice skiers to buy season passes for next year. It won’t take long for other ski areas to jump aboard the La Niña marketing train.
Remember that almost nobody was right about last winter’s dire El Niño forecast, as the SkiZer detailed in this post. El Niño typically brings drier and warmer weather than normal to the Northwest, but that didn’t happen. Only the Farmer’s Almanac correctly called our wet winter — so stay tuned for that publication’s old-school forecast.
It’s raining everywhere in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I’m blaming Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog. Ever since Feb. 2, what had been a stellar ski season in the Cascades has been warm and mushy.
Like Bill Murray in the classic movie “Groundhog Day,” the SkiZer is hoping to take out Phil in a desperate attempt to break the cycle.
There’s something I love about skiing in a major storm.
When the winds are howling and the snowflakes are flying sideways, you’ll find me with a huge grin on my face.
SkiZer’s Day 15 at Mission was like that. A wild Pacific storm dumped several inches onto the slopes of this gem in the eastern Cascades by the time I arrived. And it just kept dumping through the day.
As luck would have it, I rode with a ski patrolman on the first chairlift. I asked him for a run recommendation and he pointed me to the Bomber Bowl area of Chair 2, the “Liberator Express” quad that takes skiers from mid-mountain to the top of Mission Ridge.
“Seems like it’s really blowing in over there,” he said.
Skiers descend into Bomber Bowl.
Wild weather pounds the top of Chair 2.
With 30 mph winds pounding the top of the ridge, I headed to Bomber Bowl on one of the area’s primo cruisers, Katsuk. About four inches had fallen over a very hard base. The low-angle intermediate run was fast and fun as I floated on the new-fallen snow.
Bomber Bowl is named after a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber that crashed on Mission Ridge in 1944. A piece of the plane’s wing is displayed on the slope with a large sign that commemorates the crash.
Legend has it that if you touch the wing, you’ll bring more snow to the mountain. Consequently, riders are constantly swinging by to give it a lucky pat. The mojo seemed to be working on this day.
As I dropped in, swirling winds buffeted the impressive Bomber Cliffs, dumping more snow into the bowl below. It was mid-shin deep and I even got a few face shots.
Wow. This was still my first run.
I spent the morning doing laps on Chair 2, skiing various lines in the accumulating fluff. A sparse crowd — which is the norm at Mission — was there to share the wealth.
As the day wore on, I headed to Chair 3, the other lift that accesses the upper mountain. The raging storm had turned what had been a bullet-proof base into effortless powder skiing. The best runs tended to be the cruisers, which Mission has in abundance.
After a quick stop at Midway Lodge to get warm, I found the storm had picked up. Winds were gusting to 5o mph on the ridge, so I headed back to Chair 2. It was a full-fledged blizzard now, and the chairlift swung precariously as we ascended.
“Yee-oww! That was fun!” I screamed in the gale to my chairlift mates as we got off the swinging lift. The wind was making a loud moaning noise and it was hard to stay upright.
It was now a race to get in as many runs as possible before winds closed the lifts. I did one on the Bomber Cliffs, a stunning out-of-bounds hike into a large side-country bowl that brings skiers back onto Chair 2. And then I made another run under the cliffs, hitting a line I had skied earlier in the day. Nobody else had touched it and I laid down a nice set of parallel tracks.
Then it was over. Chair 2 closed in mid-afternoon, and I managed to get three more runs on Chair 3 before the storm took it down too. Snow was falling harder as I skied back to the base area.
Wow, that bomber wing really does have some magic.
Nobody really saw this coming. Well almost no one.
The Pacific Northwest was supposed to be in the grips of the dreaded El Niño this winter. Typically, that means warmer-than-average temperatures and below-average snowfall. Skiers hate El Niño because it can mean horrible conditions in the mountains.
Instead, regular storms have pounded the Cascades this winter, creating a well above-average snowpack. Crystal Mountain currently has 95 inches piled up at its top elevation. Mt. Baker Ski Area currently has 168 inches on top.
Earlier this season, most meteorologists were fretting that things would be horrible for then drought-plagued Washington state.
According to Newsweek magazine in October, “The force of El Niño will bring particularly bad news to the Pacific Northwest” in the form of continued drought conditions.
“The bottom line is that El Niño … heavily weights the atmospheric dice for a less stormy, warmer and a bit drier Pacific Northwest,” wrote Cliff Mass, the UW weather savant.
But one weather-prediction source, the venerable Old Farmer’s Almanac, seems to be spot-on this winter. Make that sunspot-on.
“We derive our weather forecasts from a secret formula that was devised by the founder of this Almanac, Robert B. Thomas, in 1792. Thomas believed that weather on Earth was influenced by sunspots, which are magnetic storms on the surface of the Sun.”