New England Snow Holes

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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby J.Spin » Mon Jan 11, 2010 10:08 am

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to follow the weather throughout the entire Northeast as much as I’d like, but I am able to follow the snowfall/weather/skiing in Northern Vermont very closely, so I can make some comments on how this season has gone so far in this sub-region. In general I’d side with Tony in saying that the conditions have been close to average around here, but I certainly wouldn’t put them any higher than that. Sure there has been some great powder, but as I always say, that’s just the way it should be. In fact, I think I could make an argument based on the data below, that we’re actually a bit below average using some of the standard metrics. I’ve alluded to this before, but personally, I think that many people have a rather warped perception of what the average skiing is actually like around here. I’m not sure if it’s simply due to the extraordinary number of mixed precipitation events that have come through over the past few seasons, or the way a simple mixed/rain event can get so much more attention than a snowstorm (as evidenced recently in the Vermont Snow Updates thread). Perhaps it’s some aspect of human nature that causes people to focus on when the conditions have taken a bad turn – but it’s as if people are constantly looking over their shoulder for the next weather event that’s going to cause a downturn in ski conditions, and that may have an affect on their expectations. Those thoughts aside, we know that impressions and memory can be somewhat unreliable, so that’s why it’s good to look at the actual data. I’ll use three categories below to make the case for average or even slightly below average conditions:

Thaws, and mixed/rain events: River commented on how there’s been a prolonged stretch of cold for about a month, with the major hiccup being the event around Christmas. I know that in general, the farther south and closer to the coast one goes, the more likely it is to get warm, but that stretch of weather, containing just a single rain event is very much the norm for this area. Where are the data to say this? Thanks to Tony’s hard work, we are provided with those data for Mt. Mansfield at the bottom of his snow quality page. The way people talk about the rain/mixed precipitation events around here, I’d bet many would be surprised to find out that a typical season contains roughly ONE rain day per month in the December, January, and February period. Based on the precipitation numbers (just 0.85 inches/month), that likely equates to ONE rain event per month. So in that regard we are very much following an average progression so far this season, and if it turns out that there were actually two days with rain as Tony mentioned above, that would be a bit worse than “average” for December. We did have a very quick recovery from that rain event however, so that may have added to the quality of the skiing.


Snowfall: In general my snowfall data from Waterbury correlate fairly well with what is going on in the local mountains – the correlation isn’t perfect, but it’s a pretty decent gauge, especially during the heart of the season when elevation-dependent snowfall events aren’t the norm. Granted I only have four seasons worth of data to use, but what do my Waterbury snowfall data say for the state of the season so far? They say that we are running around average at best, and more likely we are below average. Here are my Waterbury cumulative snowfall numbers for the past four seasons through January 11th:

2006-2007: 26.6 inches
2007-2008: 97.2 inches
2008-2009: 98.7 inches
2009-2010: 65.4 inches

Those four seasons reveal an average of 72.0 inches of snowfall through this point in the season. If anything, I wonder if that number is a bit low because of the extremely low 26.6 inches from the 2006-2007 season pulling the average down. That season saw little if any snowfall, not only for November like this season, but also for December, so that has got to be a rather rare occurrence. But are the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 numbers simply higher than average, making the average artificially high? It’s hard to say with only four seasons worth of data, but I’d argue that the snowfall numbers for those two seasons are not all that high. None of the local ski resorts in the northernmost part of the state had any astronomical numbers in those seasons, they were all in the typical 300+ range. I know there is one of these past few seasons that people consider notably better than average, but none of them have really been standouts as far as I’ve seen from personal experience or snowfall numbers from the local resorts. So basically my data say that at 65.4 inches of snowfall for the season so far, we are currently running below the average of 72.0 inches of snowfall in Waterbury. Then we have Tony’s snowfall data for the actual ski areas this season as of January 6th:

Jay Peak (mid)
Season snow: 95 inches
Percent of normal: 70%

Mansfield Stake
Season snow: 78 inches
Percent of normal: 86%

Smuggler's Notch
Season snow: 105 inches
Percent of normal: 84%

Sugarbush
Season snow: 71 inches
Percent of normal: 69%

These numbers are only through January 6th, but they are clearly below average. Snowfall has been OK lately, but we’ve really just been making up for the nearly snowless November, so that may have provided some good powder days.


Snowpack: I checked on the current graph for the Mt. Mansfield snowpack, and was surprised to see that it is actually above average. The average snowpack depth at the stake for this date is 44 inches, and as of the latest update it is at 55 inches, so that is almost a foot above average. It should be noted that as of just a couple of weeks ago the snowpack at the stake was running right along near average, but as of now this parameter should clearly go in the above average category. I’ll add an additional note in this category based on some other comments I saw in this thread with regard to surprise about how much terrain was open. I created the image below to address the point about average snowpack on Mt. Mansfield a few weeks back, but I’ll also use it here. If one looks at the snow depths for the holiday period, they generally run in the three-foot range at the stake. Now the unofficial kick off for off piste skiing in the area is when the stake hits 40 inches, but that’s generally considered the marker for the start of relatively “safe” skiing in the trees. It’s quite obvious that woods skiing typically gets well under way with less than the 40 inches of snowpack at the stake, and from the graph below, one can see that the typical snowpack on Mt. Mansfield is just shy of that range. So again in an average season, one should expect to find plenty of off piste skiing in Northern Vermont for the holiday period. I’m not sure exactly how this relates to the percentages for trail openings, but if there is enough coverage to ski the trees, there should be enough coverage to ski the trails. The level of skier traffic may come into play for trails however. I think that once again with the string of rain/mixed events that have happened during the last several holiday periods, people may have a skewed perspective on what to expect for holiday offering around here.

Image


So what’s the tally in these three categories?
Thaws, and mixed/rain events: Probably average (or possibly a bit worse)
Snowfall: Below Average
Snowpack: Above Average


Certainly the data I’ve presented can’t speak for areas outside of Northern Vermont, and some of those areas do seem to be above normal, but around here I’d say conditions are roughly average based on those parameters. I don’t see any reason to go above that level based on those data – or personal experience from out on the slopes (since we know that these snow-related parameters are a big part of the story, but they may not tell the whole story). In terms of actual personal observations of ski conditions in this area, I can report on both Bolton Valley and Stowe from this weekend. At Bolton, the off piste is currently excellent (great in many areas, but not all) but on piste the conditions are rather unimpressive where trails have been groomed. Relative to my standards and compared to what it can be, the snow is rather firm in many places. At Stowe I was skiing on piste at Spruce yesterday, and the groomed runs are clearly a step below what I’ve seen at Bolton Valley. I’m not sure if it’s the wind, the effect of holiday crowds, or lack of recent snow, but Stowe’s groomed terrain (at least on Spruce) was much firmer than I expected. The off piste snow looked nice, but I didn’t get a chance to sample it.
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby Marc_C » Mon Jan 11, 2010 11:13 am

J.Spin wrote:The way people talk about the rain/mixed precipitation events around here, I’d bet many would be surprised to find out that a typical season contains roughly ONE rain day per month in the December, January, and February period. Based on the precipitation numbers (just 0.85 inches/month), that likely equates to ONE rain event per month.

Wow, thanks for pointing that out. If by "typical" you mean more or less average, it certainly reaffirms my perception that, indeed, it does rain a lot in NE during the winter. And nearly a drenching inch when it does.
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Jan 11, 2010 11:57 am

Marc_C wrote:indeed, it does rain a lot in NE during the winter. And nearly a drenching inch when it does.

This is news?
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby rsmith » Mon Jan 11, 2010 12:14 pm

Even with the rain events it seems probable that the NE is actually scoring higher (at this point of the season) on Tony's Snow Conditions ranking than Northern/Central Colorado...

Not to change the subject too much, but I'm curious about the 4.3% of wet snow months seen at Snowbird. I'm surprised that there's ever been even a single month that averaged 15-20% water at Snowbird. Is this an error?
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby Marc_C » Mon Jan 11, 2010 12:21 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:
Marc_C wrote:indeed, it does rain a lot in NE during the winter. And nearly a drenching inch when it does.

This is news?

Not to me, but I've only had an empirical feel about the truthiness of the assumption till I saw the distillation of the data.
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Jan 11, 2010 1:25 pm

rsmith wrote:Not to change the subject too much, but I'm curious about the 4.3% of wet snow months seen at Snowbird. I'm surprised that there's ever been even a single month that averaged 15-20% water at Snowbird. Is this an error?

That data was compiled manually and covers the seasons from 1979-1995. So I would have to dig through some archives that I haven't touched for well over a decade to see what months those were.

With regard to the New England rain data, keep in mind that the Mansfield Stake is at ~3,900 feet, higher than nearly all lift served terrain in the Northeast. With respect to both altitude and latitude it's safe to say that rain incidence is worse at most eastern areas. Patrick attempted to refute this with respect to Quebec, but the Laurentian data he found showed a similar pattern to the Mansfield Stake, so the altitude and latitude differences offset there. I am inclined to agree with JSpin that the altitude differences are not likely as big as most westerners assume. By observation the big rain events seem to rain everywhere in the Northeast. Occasionally there's a geographic boundary, as with the Quebec City group getting big snow out of that Christmas storm this year.
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby Geoff » Mon Jan 11, 2010 4:09 pm

christopherb wrote:My experience at Killington and Okemo this week was one of thin cover on natural trails and glades, lots of ice and hard pack and a desire to go back to the groomies & snow making trails.


Killington had a lot of high winds over the last week. If you know the mountain and were around to see where the snow was getting deposited, there were lots of places in the woods with great cover and a great surface. A lot of the hill was wind scoured suckdom with porcelain on a lot of the high traffic snowmaking trails.
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby riverc0il » Mon Jan 11, 2010 6:14 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:And no offense, but I have a hard time calling it a great season when half the eastern reports are still mediocre and and only the dedicated aficionados like Riverc0il are scoring good days.

I have scored more good days this season to date than most other years, at least as far as lift service goes, for what it is worth.

J.Spin posted a SkiVT-l Mansfield Stake Graph but did not extend it out to the present which is more than a foot over average...

Image

You may note that Mansfield has had four events of one foot or more snow year to date. Pretty damn fine to have four 1 foot powder days by the first week of January.

Just sayin...

...but I will admit that my perspective may be different than the average skier's view point.
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby J.Spin » Mon Jan 11, 2010 7:30 pm

riverc0il wrote:J.Spin posted a SkiVT-l Mansfield Stake Graph but did not extend it out to the present which is more than a foot over average...

Image


Thanks for posting that River, I had my labeled one made from back in December and didn't have the time to put labels on another one. Actually, back on January 4th at the peak differential we were roughly 18 inches (54 inches minus 36 inches) above average, but with the latest data in from today, the snowpack at the stake is just 7 inches (51 inches minus 44 inches) above average. Mt. Mansfield hasn't really been picking up much in the way of accumulating snow, so the differential with respect to average snowpack has been shrinking.

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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby J.Spin » Mon Jan 11, 2010 8:02 pm

Marc_C wrote:…indeed, it does rain a lot in NE during the winter. And nearly a drenching inch when it does.

I’m not sure that “a lot” is the appropriate qualifier for a value of “1” or even “3” or “4” events, but it’s important to remember that that’s the number that really matters with respect to midwinter events and their effect on ski conditions, not the inches of liquid precipitation. Whether it’s a half inch, or an inch an a half of liquid, the result is pretty much the same with regard to the snowpack during that part of the year. The snowpack will often absorb the liquid, but conditions are likely to be hard when it freezes. What the 0.85 inches/month tells us, in conjunction with the average days of rain, is that you are on average looking at one moderate to large storm with rain or other mixed precipitation for each midwinter month.
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby Marc_C » Mon Jan 11, 2010 11:03 pm

J.Spin wrote:
Marc_C wrote:…indeed, it does rain a lot in NE during the winter. And nearly a drenching inch when it does.

I’m not sure that “a lot” is the appropriate qualifier for a value of “1” or even “3” or “4” events, but it’s important to remember that that’s the number that really matters with respect to midwinter events and their effect on ski conditions, not the inches of liquid precipitation. Whether it’s a half inch, or an inch an a half of liquid, the result is pretty much the same with regard to the snowpack during that part of the year. The snowpack will often absorb the liquid, but conditions are likely to be hard when it freezes. What the 0.85 inches/month tells us, in conjunction with the average days of rain, is that you are on average looking at one moderate to large storm with rain or other mixed precipitation for each midwinter month.

Just for comparative purposes, in 9 seasons here, we've had perhaps 3 mid-winter rain events that go above 9K'. When that rare event does happen, it's on the order of 0.10", if that. You're talking 3 consecutive months of at least one event each month of nearly an inch. That's a lot. My point was that having skied over 20 years in NE, it always seemed like it rained a lot during the winter. Your data distillation illuminated that quite well.
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby christopherb » Mon Jan 11, 2010 11:32 pm

Geoff wrote:
christopherb wrote:My experience at Killington and Okemo this week was one of thin cover on natural trails and glades, lots of ice and hard pack and a desire to go back to the groomies & snow making trails.


Killington had a lot of high winds over the last week. If you know the mountain and were around to see where the snow was getting deposited, there were lots of places in the woods with great cover and a great surface. A lot of the hill was wind scoured suckdom with porcelain on a lot of the high traffic snowmaking trails.


Yes, to be fair I am not familiar enough with Killington or Okemo to know where to find the better woods stashes. The glades I visited were marked and moderately high traffic (mostly off North Ridge) I spent many years living closer to the coast and skiing NH and Maine and this is only my second full season exploring VT.
It was amazing what kind of job the wind did on the fresh snow pack on the main mountain and it reaffirms my original post about conditions being average not great this year for most of New England. Case in point: some folks over at the Alpine zone were raving about great days out this past w/e not because of great snow coverage but b/c of light traffic due to the frigid temps.
I'm going to hit some local Berkshire areas later this week b/c I have some discount vouchers and let's hope we get on track for some more snow. Forecast looks like a snow drought out through day 10 but the weather here is so changeable I generally don't get discouraged unless temps. blowtorch.
However, I digress and the long range weather forecast is fodder for another thread... :stir:
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby Mike Bernstein » Tue Jan 12, 2010 12:15 am

Having skied the SB trees for over a decade, I can tell you with a high level of confidence that having the woods ski like they are this early is fairly rare. Typically, we are sniffing around the cleaner, low angle lines of the mid-mountain hardwoods this time of year absent the occasional December mega dump (ala 2002-2003) The fact that it's essentially open season for the vast majority of woods terrain, and has been for over a week, tells you right away that it's a well above avg season. If I had to guess, I'd say in the 75-80th percentile if not a bit better. Now one of the things that makes NE so tough is that, at least w/r/t SB, they benefited from a streamer off Lake Ontario a few weeks back that dumped 2' + there where most other mountains got little to nothing. Woods season is Northern NE is generally a 2 or 2.5 month affair. They are on track for 3 months plus this year, so that's more than slightly above avg.
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Jan 12, 2010 4:14 pm

Even with the rain events it seems probable that the NE is actually scoring higher (at this point of the season) on Tony's Snow Conditions ranking than Northern/Central Colorado...

Actually very similar. Vail went from 44% open Dec. 30 to 85% shortly after New Year's. And we're comparing a 10% percentile start in Colorado to an average (or slightly above?) start in Vermont.

It is unlikely the comparison will hold up over the whole season. March is Colorado' prime month, and in the NE you average 3 of those rain events, not 1 as in the midwinter months.
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Re: New England Snow Holes

Postby J.Spin » Thu Jan 14, 2010 7:19 am

Mike Bernstein wrote:Having skied the SB trees for over a decade, I can tell you with a high level of confidence that having the woods ski like they are this early is fairly rare. Typically, we are sniffing around the cleaner, low angle lines of the mid-mountain hardwoods this time of year absent the occasional December mega dump (ala 2002-2003) The fact that it's essentially open season for the vast majority of woods terrain, and has been for over a week, tells you right away that it's a well above avg season. If I had to guess, I'd say in the 75-80th percentile if not a bit better. Now one of the things that makes NE so tough is that, at least w/r/t SB, they benefited from a streamer off Lake Ontario a few weeks back that dumped 2' + there where most other mountains got little to nothing.

Thanks for your input Mike, that’s very interesting. In line with my comments earlier in the thread looking at Tony’s snowfall data and my own Waterbury snowfall data, I haven’t felt that the skiing has really been above average around here. But, I also haven’t visited the Mad River Valley areas this season. What do you think is going on with regard to what you are seeing for Sugarbush skiing vs. what Tony’s snowfall data indicate as of January 6th?:

Sugarbush
Season snow: 71 inches
Percent of normal: 69%

That snowfall number is pretty low. I guess if much of the snowfall had been very dense, it might explain some extra base relative to what one would expect for 69% of the snowfall, but so much of the recent snow has been so dry, that would be expected to exacerbate the snowfall deficiency. Has it been colder than normal or has there been less rain? The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield stake has been above normal for the past couple of weeks, but at this stage even a normal snowpack would mean open season for the trees. What do you think is going on?



Mike Bernstein wrote:Woods season is Northern NE is generally a 2 or 2.5 month affair. They are on track for 3 months plus this year, so that's more than slightly above avg.

Just off the top of my head I consider the entirety of January, February, and March to be virtually a lock in terms of tree skiing availability around here during an average season, with December and April being the fringe months that you can often get. For December, it depends on how comfortable one is with skiing the trees in lower coverage, or else you may need a big early season dump to get things going like you said. For April, the base is generally there (at least in the higher elevations), I just don’t typically ski the trees much in April because I’m not as big fan of skiing the trees when it’s corn, mush, or hard spring-cycle snow. They always seem to be skiing the trees at the SkiVT-L party each April though. If April features a lot of powder, then I will certainly find myself in the trees. Basing tree skiing off the 40 inch rule for the Mt. Mansfield stake, there should be four months (January through April) where the snowpack at the stake is at 40 inches or more during an average season, and from the comments on SkiVT-L in the past few weeks, it seems that many people consider the 40-inch rule too conservative. I always though that the 40-inch rule was conservative enough to account for tree skiing in the entire northern half of the state, but perhaps it’s not. When I get the chance, I will look closely at my archived reports and see when I have started skiing the trees each season, but from a quick perusal so far, I think the average start is well ahead of early January. It’s also possible that I’m just on the more liberal side with respect to coverage for skiing in the trees. I certainly don’t follow the 40-inch rule, although I think I have used it occasionally to make the final yes/no call on committing to a section of woods if they look questionable.

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