words by Evan Thayer
We don’t just get a lot of snow in Utah, we get a lot of that snow early in the season. That’s the main reason you will frequently see Utah resorts topping lists of best ski destinations for early season. In fact, per ZRankings.com, Utah occupies five of the top 10 spots in their list of Best Resorts for Early Season. While early season snowfall is not unusual in the Beehive State, the amount we saw in October of this year is unusual. Utah is coming off its snowiest October since 2004 – and likely one of the top FIVE snowiest Octobers in the past 100 years.
How snowy was it? Alta Ski Area recorded 67" of snow during October 2021. For reference, Alta has a historical November average snowfall of about 60 inches and hasn’t even seen that much snow in November in seven of the past nine years. But Alta isn’t the only mountain receiving snowfall. Solitude Mountain Resort, in neighboring Big Cottonwood Canyon, is reporting 63” of snow in October this year. That’s more than 5 FEET! Even southern Utah, where the resorts Eagle Point and Brian Head Ski Resort are located have seen several storms bring accumulating snowfall this past month. When we look at a statewide map of our snowpack, we can see immediately that we are WAY above normal:
Some of these numbers might seem absurdly high, but that is because most SNOTEL sites in these watershed basins do not typically have snow on the ground this time of year – so it doesn’t take much to have many times the normal snowpack. Again, this just illustrates how unusual it is to have this much snow, this early in the season.
One location that is no stranger to having snow on the ground at the end of October is the upper elevations of Little Cottonwood Canyon. The below graph shows the snowpack this year (so far) along with the previous 11 winter seasons:
You can see this year is tracking well above any of the previous 11 years. In fact, we have more snow right now, than some of these years had in mid-December. Statistically, this site is recording 726% of median snowfall for the last day of October.
Now that we have established that we have had a snowy October, what does that mean for the rest of our season? The most obvious answer is that resorts should be able to open on time and hopefully open with considerable amounts of terrain. While early season snowfall does not directly correlate with getting good snowfall for the rest of the season, it certainly helps to have a head start. It is worth noting, however, that the last time we had this much October snow was 2004, and that season (2004-05) ended as one of the snowiest we have ever had. Let us hope Mother Nature repeats herself!
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