2021 – 2022 Ski Season – Most Disappointing Winter Ever In The US?

Photo by: Local Freshies®

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As the saying goes, “Misery loves company” where nearly the entire United States had a challenging season through Mid-March. For some regions, you were gifted with FEET of new snow as a consolation prize. Others not so much. Here’s a rundown of how the 2021 – 2022 ski season has unfolded. As usual, huge thanks to Tony Crocker for allowing us to use his information.

California

ariel view of South Lake Tahoe California along with casino corridor at Stateline Nevada
Tahoe during the mega storm cycle this December – Photo by: Local Freshies®

If there’s been a winter that’s the poster child of the Tahoe feast or famine cycle, it’s this season. October had record level snowfall with an atmospheric river dumping almost 3+ feet of gorilla snot on the peaks in two days. Even Palisades Tahoe was able to open for its earliest skiing on record. Then November hit. It was so warm and dry that most ski resorts couldn’t preserve or make enough to open / stay open for Thanksgiving. This dry spell continued until mid-December and that’s when Snowmaggedon hit. In half a month, Tahoe blasted right past the 50-year record for December with 193 inches of snow! January and February were followed with another record – the longest dry spell between storms ever. Typically, when there are long dry spells like this, California is gifted with a Miracle March… not this year. A few minor storms helped refresh the base but that was about it.

Pacific Northwest

To the north, Pacific Northwest’s mountains were having issues of another kind in October and November – high snow levels. It was so bad that NO Washington or Oregon ski areas opened in November. Fortunately, just like California, they were gifted plenty of the good white stuff in December, and instead of shutting off in January, it continued through the first half. Despite Miracle March missing California, the Pacific Northwest received a ton of new snow. The snowfall juggernaut of Mt. Baker got nearly 100 inches in the second half of March. Although a rough winter from a rain perspective, they still are at or near average for snowfall.

Northern Rockies

ski patroller at Lookout Pass Ski Area
Image appears courtesy: Lookout Pass Ski Area – Dedicated Patroller Chris blasting thru the Pow on Borderline!

Like a broken record, the second half of December was the banner period of snowfall. While the season started slow with even Grand Targhee not opening for Thanksgiving, Targhee kept their record streak of being the only resort to be fully operational by Christmas intact for its entire tenure. The snow continued in the first half of January but shut-off through mid-February. The only resort that did get more than a foot of snowfall during that period was Idaho’s snowiest resort – Lookout Pass. By Mid-March, Jackson Hole had received only 221 inches but the PNW snow train headed east and helped deposit almost 100 inches of snow to finish off the winter with a bright spot.

Utah

Utah’s winter until March was very similar to Tahoe’s. Above average October and then it melted out in November. Big snows in December followed by a dry January through Mid-February. Then in March they received some of the snows from the northerly storm track with feet of snow falling throughout the month. Still below average but not as brutal as Tahoe experienced.

Colorado

opening day at Wolf Creek Ski Area
Photos from October 13th – Image appears courtesy: Wolf Creek Ski Area

The early season snowfall stuck in Colorado a bit more than other areas due to their elevation. Wolf Creek opened in October and preserved enough snow (albeit 14 inches by the end of November) to limp into the 2nd week of December when they got pummeled with three feet allowing them to fully open. The rest of Colorado didn’t fare as well with no areas more than 10% open at the end of November. The same storm that hit Wolf Creek helped a bit but not enough. Starting the holidays, nearly all resorts were a 1/3 open but after the 2+ feet during it, the terrain inched up to half. Throughout the rest of the season a foot or two accumulated every few weeks. The second half of March has gifted them a few more feet of snow as well helping them finish the season better off.

Northeast

Killington won the race to open this year turning lifts on November 6th. Cold weather and a bit of snow in late November / early December allowed most ski areas to open about 25% of the terrain. Unfortunately, mid-December was warm AND rainy making it one of the worst holiday skiing periods in a long time. Fortunately, January was cold and snowy helping get many operations fully open. This continued into the 1st week of February. The last quarter of the season has been like a yo-yo. Rain during the 3rd week of February followed by 2-3 feet of snow restoring the conditions. It then rained the 1st week of March, but as you’d expect, it dumped two feet during the next week. Based on our friends reports, it’s been a rollercoaster ride.

Oh Canada!

It’s very rare that Canada gets skunked, and even if they do, it’s still good. This is true yet again this winter. Each of the ski resorts is above their seasonal averages. Similar to their southern counterparts, they got hammered in December. Extreme cold weather and small storms throughout the season kept the conditions in a great place.

Most Disappointing?

Over our two decades of living on the West Coast, we’ve seen our fair share of drought seasons. There have been worse winters where there isn’t ANY snowfall. With that being said, this one ranks as one of the most disappointing. How so? Hopes were set high after December’s record snowfall across the continent. What transpired was a resounding “dud.” Pretty much even the perennial powder meccas like Utah or Wyoming didn’t get what they normally do. Even so, this season was filled with some of the deepest dry powder days I’ve ever seen in Tahoe. Plenty of soft snow to keep skiing through March. Curious about other seasons? Be sure to visit our Ski Weather Facts & Phenomenon page where we highlight that and many, many more fun facts like what were the biggest snowstorms ever to hit a ski resort.

5 thoughts on “2021 – 2022 Ski Season – Most Disappointing Winter Ever In The US?

  1. Pretty much the same story unfolded here in New Mexico. Early snow that melted off, and tiny percentage of terrain open for Christmas, but a late December storm helped that situation, then more drought. But in mid-February, storms returned and Taos and Ski Santa Fe had some big dumps, with bases hitting 6 to 7 feet. March continued to get refreshers, and it’s snowing now, so we will end on an up note. Considering we are in a La Nina cycle, which favors the Pac NW, we’ll take it! That cycle held up the past two winters, which is unusual, but is reported to be weakening so next winter should be better! Skiers have to be the most optimistic folks on Earth!

  2. You forgot to mention the 3 weeks in February (which is usually peak time for best snow and base) when there was hardly any snow in Colorado. Fortunately for me, I happened to have races scheduled those 3 weekends instead of burning PTO on weekdays during that period to free ski the hard pack.

  3. My initial response when I saw this article was, and is, hardly. Try 1977-78 for the all time worst winter. It was dismal. Skiing the Rockies was literally skiing rocks. My first year of living in Aspen. I broke 4 pairs of K2s and the 5th was a dishrag by the last day of the season. Blew out my knee hooking a tip under a small cut log at the end of a rare powder day in late March. Across the US snow was bad, communities were disrupted, many long time locals left because no snow meant hardly any tourists and that meant no money to live. The drought the following summer was little better.
    This year was sketchy, but there was snow and eventually in most places more than enough to have a decent season.
    Snowmaking today is vastly superior to the early days both in terms of areas of coverage and better/faster systems. This also made skiing this year tolerable across the US despite the slow start to the season.

    1. Yep, although the start was terrible in CO due to no snow until the holidays, enough fell afterwards, and despite the dry spell in February, in March, Vail resorts announced extending the season past 2019 closing dates at several resorts. BTW, although this is my 41st season, 1977 was 3 years before I started skiing as a teen.

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