Tag Archives: PNW Weather

Promises, Promises

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“Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.”  –Warren Miller (via Mark Twain)

prayer flags_rainier

Praying for Snow

It’s no secret that the PNW is suffering in the snow department. We never received that November dump that lays down a thick base layer and covers the rocks and stumps and lets us sit back and gloat. We’re now into the holidays and the snowpack is still scratchy. We haven’t yet been able to groom much snow at Crystal because when the pack is this thin, the machines would break through and pick up rocks, ultimately making it worse. But there’s some hope. Last week the forecast ramped up our enthusiasm. For a few hours the collective PNW ski world held its breath in anticipation of a winter storm watch. Some areas did better than others. Stevens picked up 6″, which must have made for a great day of skiing yesterday and greatly improved their pack. Baker has picked up close to a foot of new snow, of course. Baker’s reputation for the snowiest place around is holding true even this year.

Above the clouds on Saturday overlooking Powder Bowl

Above the clouds on Saturday overlooking Powder Bowl

At Crystal, we got a mixed bag. Some snow on top (a total of 4″ that felt more like 3), some freezing rain, some regular rain on the lower half of the mountain and some valley fog that just made us feel soggy. The new snow yesterday did make a difference. Accompanied by wind, those 4″ smoothed out the base, making for a fun day. The best turns were on the right side of Powder Bowl and Green Valley. I also heard a report that Southback was good skiing. Looking ahead, tonight we will most likely get a little rain. But the forecast is calling for a change to snow by tomorrow along with an increase in precipitation. Even though usually when the temp falls so does the precip, this time I’m very hopeful. When the snowpack is this thin, even a few inches makes all the difference. Give us 8″ and it would be a powder frenzy. The weather pattern is going to change and we will start to get our typical winter storms piling up out in the Pacific. How do I know this? I just have a feeling. And remember, any skiing is better than none.

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Crystal Reopens Tomorrow: Conditions Report

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John and Scott give two enthusiastic "thumbs up"

John and Scott give two enthusiastic “thumbs up”

Thanks to the new snow we received in the past 24 hours, Crystal will reopen tomorrow. This morning, when John, Scott and a few other patrollers and I headed up the Gondola for a look, I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I was last Saturday. That time I had a feeling about the snow. My instinct was telling me it would be good, and it was.

This time I wasn’t so sure.

Green Valley covered in snow was a pleasant surprise

Green Valley covered in snow was a pleasant surprise

It rained hard last night at the base, and the telemetry wasn’t showing any new. I was a bit skeptical. But we headed up into the fog nonetheless, ready to ski down or ride back down on the lift or do whatever was necessary.

I was pleasantly surprised. The fog lifted and we found up to 6″ at the top.

The rain line made it up to about the elevation of the bottom of Green Valley. Above that is all new snow. It is thick and “buttery” as ski patroller Michelle Longstreth put it. Classic PNW base-building snow. The top portion is really good skiing.

Once John made the call to reopen, off-duty patrollers Michelle, Christina, Peter and I felt we had to do our part too. So we skied a few laps in the valley, then headed over to the cache run just to make sure it was fit for public consumption.

Christina and Peter survey the goods

Christina and Peter survey the goods

And it is.

Green Valley Bowl itself offered up 6″ of chalky powder, while the lower valley was a bit thicker. However, we didn’t run into a rain crust until we skied Lucky Shot to the base. I wouldn’t recommend breaking any closures and skiing to the base. As Michelle described it, the conditions below midway were “character building,” and from our most enthusiastic patroller (hell, our most enthusiastic employee) at Crystal, that’s saying something.

So come up tomorrow and make some happy laps in the valley. The forecast is calling for sun the next few days, and the conditions are pretty darn good for pre-Thanksgiving turns. I, for one, will be up here enjoying the sun and the lift-served skiing.

Green Valley looking good

Green Valley looking smooth and buttery

Snow in the Forecast

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I’m not one to obsess about the forecast¹. So when I just happened to check out the latest forecast discussion on NOAA, I was pleasantly surprised. I especially liked this part:

  A MUCH STRONGER SYSTEM WILL IMPACT THE REGION ON FRIDAY FOR 
  THE POTENTIAL FOR HEAVY SNOW IN THE MOUNTAINS AS WELL AS 
  COLDER WEATHER AND LOCALLY WINDY CONDITIONS.
Winter Forecast

7 Day Forecast for Crystal Mountain

Friday looks like our best chance for snow, with the forecast calling for 6-10″ up high and about 4-6″ down low. With strong west winds, we could pick up a little more than that in places like Green Valley Bowl. Saturday will bring some leftovers and orographic showers with Sunday now offering cold enough temperatures to add a little man made snow to the mix.

Already we have a 8-12″ base on the upper mountain, but need quite a bit more to open. It rained lightly yesterday, but not enough to melt what’s already in place. However, the rain hopefully helped to rid the growing snowpack of early season facets that could cause avalanche problems down the road.

24 Hour precipitation amounts ending Saturday

24 Hour precipitation amounts ending Saturday

People always ask John, “how much snow do you need to open?” The answer is always, “it depends.”

We always welcome a big November storm that deposits two feet of wet snow that compacts into a nice, smooth base. (Miles Clark over a snowbrains.com put out a nice post this week about why the PNW gets so much snow. The pattern mentioned in the article would be very welcome right about now.)

But this year we’ve had an accumulation of smaller amounts of snow that could add up to enough. Some of the long-term models are showing a low in the Gulf of Alaska, which could usher in those classic November storms we all like to see.

With “summer grooming” and strategic rock picking at Crystal, we try to set ourselves up for needing the least amount of snow possible to open. This could be one of those years where we get enough to open Green Valley, but have to wait for more snow to open the rest of the mountain. Only time will tell.

So start doing your snow dances and rubbing your Ullr pendants. Book that non-refundable trip to Mexico for Thanksgiving and stop washing your socks. We could use all the help we can get up here.

¹ Actually this is a complete lie.