British Columbia Daily Snow

2020-2021 Season Recap

Summary

Most ski areas are closed for the season and high pressure will dominate the weather pattern for the foreseeable future, so I decided that now would be a good time to wrap up the winter forecasting season. Most regions of BC experienced an above-average winter in terms of snowpack, except for the southeast corner where snowpack has been below average.

Short Term Forecast

Weather Outlook through Late April

A blocking ridge of high pressure has set up over British Columbia and conditions have quickly transitioned to spring-like following last Friday's storm. The dry/sunny pattern will continue through the remainder of the week and into the weekend with only a few weak disturbances breaking through with showers from time to time next week.

Medium range models project the ridge of high pressure to hold strong over the next 10 days with only slight weakening projected during the final week of April.

As a result of this pattern, there is a pronounced signal toward warmer than average temperatures and below-average precipitation over the next 10-15 days.

There are two ski areas in BC that are currently open, so there are opportunities to enjoy some lift-served spring skiing depending on where you live.

Grouse Mountain in Coastal BC is open indefinitely as long as conditions allow, while Hudson Bay Mountain in Northern BC is open on weekends-only through April 25th. 

Interior BC resorts are all closed for the season, but if you're willing to drive further, then several resorts in Alberta will remain open into early May.

Spring backcountry skiing is coming into form during this sunny/dry spell. However, the warmer temperatures are also increasing the potential for wet avalanches during the afternoons so plan your ascents/descents accordingly.

Be sure to visit Avalanche Canada for the most up-to-date backcountry conditions, and also check out OpenSnow's Avalanche Map (available with an All-Access subscription) to pinpoint the forecast most relevant to your intended destination. 

Winter 2020-2021 Season Recap

This has been a good winter overall with above-average snow recorded across a large portion of British Columbia – consistent with what we would expect during a La Nina winter. However, there were regional variations and some ski regions did better than others.

Coastal BC and Northern BC experienced the deepest winter relative to average, while snowpack was closer to average across the Interior. More specifically, western and northern portions of the Interior were slightly above average, while southern and southeastern areas were near to below average. 

For many areas, the deepest and most consistent snowfall occurred in December and January, but Northern BC ended up with some of its deepest totals in February and March. A few isolated areas such as Apex and Manning Park also ended up having huge February's.  

Below is a map of the major river basins and snowpack percentages as of April 1st – the date widely used to evaluate winter snowpack relative to average since it is just snowpack reaches its deepest values on average prior to the spring melt.

Remember, snowpack is a measure of the depth of snow on the ground on a specific date, not the amount of snow that has fallen and accumulated over the course of the season. 

Here is a closer snapshot of major river basin snowpack percent of averages, and associated ski areas within the regions:

  • Lower Fraser – 123% of average (includes Whistler and Sasquatch Mountain)
  • South Coast – 118% of average (includes Cypress, Grouse, Seymour)
  • Skeena-Nass – 115% of average (includes Shames Mtn, Hudson Bay Mtn)
  • Peace – 112% of average (includes Powder King)
  • Vancouver Island – 110% of average (includes Mt. Washington)
  • Okanagan – 109% of average (includes Apex, Mt. Baldy, Silver Star)
  • Upper Columbia – 108% of average (includes Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Panorama)
  • West Kootenay – 100% of average (includes Red Mountain, Whitewater)
  • East Kootenay – 93% of average (includes Fernie, Kimberley)

This was my second year writing the British Columbia Daily Snow and I have tallied up snowfall totals from December 1st through March 31st both seasons at major ski areas. 

Actually, that's not entirely true – snow reports ended on March 15th last year due to the pandemic, so I missed the last two weeks of March in 2020 as a result.

Here are the monthly breakdown in snowfall totals for this past season, and cumulative totals from December-March for the season, along with those from last season for comparison's sake. I broke down the snowfall totals in both centimeters and inches.

2020-2021 Snow Totals (centimeters):

 

2020-2021 Snow Totals (inches):

Coastal BC Summary:

It was a great season across the board for the Coast Range with all seven major ski areas topping 700 cm (275") over the four-month winter period. Whistler was the big winner with 932 cm (367") but Sasquatch Mountain was not far behind with 922 cm (363").

Snowfall totals for most resorts in Coastal BC were also higher in 2020-2021 compared to 2019-2020 (*only caveat being that 2019-2020 snow reports ended 2 weeks earlier).

The snow season got off to a fast start in late October and November and heavy snow continued to fall in December with all of the North Shore resorts recording 100 inches or more of snow. 

January was another deep month, especially for Whistler as a persistent southwest flow kicked. Whistler recorded the highest monthly snow total of any resort in BC during any month with 381 cm (150") in January.

February was a bit less active for most of the Coast Range. However, there were notable exceptions in Manning Park and Sasquatch Mountain who received deep totals during a more dominant northwest flow pattern.

Snowfall was less impressive in March across the North Shore Mountains compared to the rest of the winter, but Whistler and Mt. Washington benefited from a couple of big storm cycles with heavier snow totals compared to other areas.

Interior BC Summary:

The Interior experienced a fast start to the snow season prior to lifts opening in October and November and snowpack remained at healthy levels largely due to the big early season, but the previously active weather patterns slowly relented as the winter progressed.

Overall, it was a solid winter but snowfall totals were lower compared to 2019-2020 in most places, and snowfall/snowpack relative to average was not as impressive compared to the Coast Range and Northern BC.

Revelstoke experienced the deepest winter of all Interior resorts with 681 cm (268") recorded from December to March and snowfall was also more consistent here compared to other Interior resorts. The next deepest total was 592 cm (233") at Whitewater.

Fernie and the Lizard Range in Southeast BC had the most disappointing season compared to what they are used to, with only 511 cm (201"). Typically, this is one of the snowiest areas in the Interior, but that was not the case this winter. Nearby snow telemetry stations indicated that snowpack in this area was only about 63% of average on April 1st, which is far lower than the rest of BC.

As a whole, December and January were the snowiest months across the Interior while February and March were drier. One exception was Apex, who benefited from a northwesterly flow in February and recorded an impressive 292 cm (115") of snow for the month. This ended up being the deepest single month for all Interior resorts this season.

March was a relatively quiet month compared to the rest of the winter.

Northern BC Summary:

The north just capped off an awesome winter with the some of the deepest snowfall occurring in February and March, though really, all four months from December to March were outstanding.

Both Shames Mountain and Powder King topped 1,000 cm and 400 inches from December to March, and these ended up being the snowiest resorts in all of BC this winter.

Shames Mountain, Powder King, and Hudson Bay Mountain all recorded deeper snow totals in 2020-2021 compared to 2019-2020.

Well, that's a wrap!

I hope those of you who were lucky enough to ski in British Columbia enjoyed a fantastic season!

I'm selfishly hopeful that the border will reopen for next season as I had a big trip to BC postponed for the second year in a row due to the pandemic. But I'm also glad that most ski areas were able to operate for nearly a full season after what happened last March.

It's a bummer that Whistler had to shut down early, but at least it happened late in the season and was an exception rather than the norm. 

Have a great summer and check back in November as we gear up for next season!

ALAN SMITH

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