You may have heard rumblings on the winter weather forecast or been reading a few articles about the upcoming ski season that they’re predicting a La Nina snow season yet again. While there’s A LOT of talk about the El Nino ski seasons, there’s much less about La Nina. So, let’s talk about what is La Nina and what are the best ski resorts to visit during a La Nina Ski Season.
What Is La Nina
Like waves in an ocean, the North American winter seasons fluctuate between El Nino & La Nina. This relates to what the average sea-surface temperature is during the fall, winter, and spring months. When it’s above average temps, it’s an El Nino and then below average, it’s a La Nina ski season. On years that there is a stronger event, there’s a higher likelihood of it affecting the winter even more.
Want To Know More?
If you want to learn more about El Nino, La Nina, and other interesting snowfall facts like which ski resort gets the most lake effect snow or weather folklore in ski towns, be sure to head over to our all-things weather homepage:
Best Ski Resorts To Visit During La Nina Winter
As we stated above, if it’s a moderate or strong cycle like they’re predicting right now, it can affect the storm track. In La Nina Ski Season’s, the storm track prefers to stay north hitting states like Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Here’s the ski resorts that are the most affected by a La Nina in a good way. For where we obtained this information and what it means scroll down to the bottom.
Whistler (Lower Elevations) – 142% Above Normal Snowfall
It isn’t just that the storm track affects Whistler, but a La Nina winter typically means COLD storms and thus the lower elevations have a higher likelihood of the white stuff instead of the dreaded “R” word. And Whistler Blackcomb’s car-free village makes it so that once you’re there, you don’t have to drive. That in itself makes it a more stress-free vacation.
Mt. Baker Washington – 132% Above Normal Snowfall
As we mentioned before, this is one of our top 5 mountains in North America. It’s funky. It isn’t corporate. It’s got tons of steeps, easy access to the backcountry, and most of all, gets the most snow in North America or at least near the top of the list in any winter. In La Nina ski season’s, you’re more likely to find drier snow than an El Nino due to the northerly storm track. And of course, don’t forget to stop by the bar that the Hillside Strangler, DC Sniper, and Ted Bundy used to hang out at.
Snoqualmie Pass – 132% Above Normal Snowfall
One of the first ski resorts you hit coming from Seattle, Snoqualmie is divided up into four separate mountain areas: West, Central, East, and Alpental. For the toughest terrain, book it over to Alpental. Separated from the other three, it has the steepest and most challenging terrain of the three. If you’re there on a Wednesday, be sure to set aside some time at night to sneak in a “Powder Night.”
Mt. Hood Meadows – 131% Above Normal Snowfall
If you’re looking for a ski trip that combines a bit of urban fun, Mt. Hood Meadows is a good choice since it’s about 70 miles from Portland. Meadows offers a lot for beginner or intermediate powder hounds while experts have about 20% terrain dedicated to them. Once you’re done shredding the slopes, you can sample the legendary IPAs, Stumptown Coffee, and visit the legendary Voodoo Donuts.
Mt. Bachelor – 131% Above Normal Snowfall
One of the biggest issues about Pacific Northwest winters is the sun doesn’t come out that often. If you need a bit of Vitamin D with your trip, the town of Bend has the highest average of sunny days in all of Oregon. Combine that with Mt. Bachelor’s surfy terrain and lengthy season that runs until the end of May and you got yourself a great place for spring skiing too.
Schweitzer – 129% Above Normal Snowfall
Located in the Panhandle of Idaho, Schweitzer is what a ski destination should be. Sure, it isn’t the biggest, or the steepest, or the snowiest, but what it has it does right. It provides a bevy of intermediate terrain and a decent helping of expert terrain to keep an entire family from the young kiddos to the expert Moms and Dads smiling. It also provides affordable ski-in/ski-out accommodations. Or, if you want a bit more après access, stay in Sandpoint which is just down the road. The best part? It’s challenging enough to get to, so that helps keep the Park City and Colorado crowds away.
Jackson Hole – 122% Above Normal Snowfall
Is there anything that can be said about Jackson Hole that hasn’t already been said? This is where off-piste skiing really took off. Consistent snowfall. Some of the most consistent lift accessed fall-line skiing on the continent. If you haven’t been to Jackson and you call yourself a skier or snowboarder, you should go at least once.
Whitefish – 120% Above Normal Snowfall
The secret’s out. 2021 Ski Magazine readers have voted Whitefish the 3rd best ski resort in the West. It has everything you’d want. A quaint REAL ski town that isn’t manufactured. Consistent snowfall. A variety of terrain for all abilities to enjoy. Last, but not least, it doesn’t feel corporate because it isn’t. Is this the last great Ski Town? It might be. Go before it’s too late.
How Did We Get These Numbers
These statistics were pulled from Tony Crocker’s research on La Nina winters. He took all of the snowfall data he’s collected since 1979 and selected the years that were a La Nina winter. Based on their average snowfall during a “normal winter” during a moderate or strong La Nina winter a ski resort such as Mt. Baker typically receives on average 131% of their normal snowfall.
Long Range Weather Forecasting Is Like Blackjack
Just because the odds favor a snowy winter doesn’t mean it will be. There’s still a good chance it will be average snowfall. One thing it can do is for places like Whistler or the resorts in Washington with lower elevations is make it that the storms are colder and thus your likelihood of getting rained on goes down. If you do visit one of the coastal resorts, just know it’s still a maritime snowpack so don’t expect Utah fluff or Colorado Champagne.
Remember, this is by no means a guarantee that it will be a mega-snow year for these mountains. The La Nina waters could fizzle out. Other meteorological phenomena could affect the storm track. If you do make a ski trip to one of these resorts, be sure to check conditions and operations ahead of your trip.