NW ski areas see La Niña as promise of powder

With the ski season just about to start, predictions of a La Niña weather phenomenon have ski areas in the Pacific Northwest virtually guaranteeing powder. SNEWS looks behind the bet on Mother Nature.
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The forecast for a strong La Niña weather phenomenon this winter has ski area operators in the Pacific Northwest acting as if they had received a guarantee of deep soft snow all season long.

“The forecasters are calling for a La Niña with predictions of a colder, wetter winter,” read a recent marketing email from Mount Hood Meadows in Oregon. “The last La Niña brought more than 800 inches of snow to Meadows that winter.”

With a historically massive La Niña snowpack in its recent history as a barometer, Mount Baker in Washington is also building the buzz for an epic year to come.

“The world record winter of 1998-99 was a La Niña winter,” the Mount Baker website states under the heading, "What Happens at Baker in a La Niña Winter?" “In just that winter, we received 1,140 inches of snowfall, which became the new world record for the most snowfall ever recorded in a single winter anywhere on Earth.”

From British Columbia to Wyoming, the message is the same.

“Past La Niña years have resulted in an average snowfall of 1110 cm, almost 100 cm more than the total average since records began,” read the statement on the homepage at www.WhistlerBlackcomb.com.

“La Niña is usually quite good for WB and we are talking about it everywhere we can,” said Stuart Rempel, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Whistler.

Rempel said the media and word of mouth are also helping, and that the queries are pouring in.

“It seems like awareness of this being a La Niña year is quite high outside of those we’ve told,” said Rempel. “It has become a big media interest topic lately and we are getting a lot of calls asking for information.”

The mirror opposite of El Niño, where warmer-than-normal waters in the Pacific Ocean typically result in increased precipitation in the Southwest, colder-than-normal La Niña waters push increasingly wetter storms to the north. And according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, this La Niña is supposed to be a big one.

“From what we understand some of the strongest La Niña weather patterns in 50 years are building, and Wyoming is in the bulleye for the region forecast to receive the most snow,” said Zahan Billmoria, communications manager at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

On the other side of the Tetons, at Grand Targhee Resort, Communications Director Shannon Brooks Hamby said, “Phones are ringing and bookings are up. Based on calls to our reservations staff, it’s because our guests are hearing the La Niña buzz and betting the snow is coming hard, fast and early.”

Of course, there is that old adage that it’s not really snow until it’s on the ground. Which, according to Ralf Garrison, can be a problem when talking about a season that has yet to begin.

“Most destination guests choose where to go based on things like history, brands and perception, and the majority make those decisions before the snow is on the ground,” said Garrison, director of The Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP), a research firm specializing in destination travel to the mountains. “So even though the snowmaking is so good at most ski areas now anyway, marketers should be careful what they promise or it could hurt their credibility in the long run.”

But La Niña or not, Garrison said, getting out to a fast start is going to be crucial for ski areas this season. That’s because Easter is so late this spring, and both the buzz and the abundance of real snow will be critical to bringing springbreak skiers to the mountains.

“Ski areas are going to have to stretch it a little later than usual,” Garrison said. “The late Easter could be the biggest factor in determining the make or break aspect for many areas this season.”

--Peter Kray


On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived -- just in time for the start of the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at pkray@snewsnet.com. Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!

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