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What El Niño May Mean For Your Ski Vacation. Hint: It’s Not All Bad

December 4, 2015
El Niño and ski snowfall outlook

Ready to hit the slopes? Before planning your fabulous ski vacation this winter, consider what the El Niño weather phenomenon might mean for snowpack, fresh powder, and even some extra risk at favorite ski resorts.

This year the National Weather Service is calling for a “Godzilla El Niño," and that could mean a significant difference in snowpack in the U.S. and Canada.

Jack Boston is a senior meteorologist at Accuweather. He says the drought-stricken areas of California and the southwest, including New Mexico and Arizona, could see above-normal snowfall in the mountains this year. The extra white stuff could extend to Utah and the southern Rockies. In fact, the central Rockies may get increased snowfall, too, he says.

“During El Niño years, some mountain ski resorts [in these regions] could have bases of 200 inches or more. The last few winters have been pretty poor as far as the amount of the snowpack built up. In an El Niño year you’re likely to see huge improvement. Any ski resorts above 9,000 or 10,000 feet could have this base,” according to Boston.

If the monster El Niño does dump significant extra snow, there are also safety concerns to keep in mind. Snow could build up in a hurry, which could carry the potential for dangerous avalanches.

Some Areas Could Suffer

The forecast isn’t as snowy for other big ski areas. The Pacific Northwest “will definitely see below-normal precipitation,” Boston predicts.

In Canada, the Vancouver region and Canadian Rockies may receive some snow from northern-track storms, but Boston says the forecast is for below-normal snowfall because of El Niño.

New England may see some coastal storms that bring snowfall to the mountains, but Boston notes that these storms could also bring ice, even in the higher elevations, which isn’t the best for skiing if you ask most avid skiers.

“The last two winters have been favorable for manmade snow, which a lot of New England resorts do … but this winter the forecast is not as cold, so there is a little less opportunity for snow-making except for the highest elevations,” he says.

Midwesterners, plan to go elsewhere to ski as the Michigan and Wisconsin ski areas might be out of luck.

“There’s a dire outlook for snow there. It’s very likely to be a milder-than-normal winter and drier than normal,” according to Boston.

And for Europe?

El Niño doesn’t affect Europe much, points out Alan Reppert, senior meteorologist at Accuweather, but the ski season in Western Europe generally looks favorable, particularly for France, Spain, and the western Alps.

“There should be above-normal snowfall, and temperatures should be normal to a little bit below normal in France and Germany,” Reppert predicts. Snows are expected early in the season, drying out toward the end of winter.

Eastern Europe, however, is forecast to see above-normal temperatures and not much moisture, particularly in the Baltic region, the Ukraine, and Romania, he says. Meanwhile, in Scandinavia, generally normal weather conditions are forecast.

“There could be good ski conditions there,” he says.

All told, a little weather research should long precede buying that lift ticket—and that plane ticket.

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