The 20/21 La Nina winter delivered just enough snow at just the right times to be considered a very good winter. Snowfall started in mid-October enabling Mt. Norquay to be the first resort to open in Canada on October 24th. The snowpack built slowly but steadily throughout the season bringing sibling resort Sunshine Village the distinction of being the very last resort to close in Canada (May 24).
From tiny Pass Powderkeg to mega resorts Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, all ski operations made it through the pandemic winter from start to finish without having to halt operations for health reasons. Reservations for ski days were a challenge, as were the lift lines, but in the end it all worked out. Patience and grace were especially important this season.
A strong start to the season with some hefty storms in October and November allowed early openings at many resorts from Banff to Jasper. By the first week in December, all Alberta resorts/areas were open offering a wider variety of terrain than usual. The snowy pattern tapered off a bit in mid-December but returned strong just before the Christmas Holiday bringing great conditions through the busiest ski week of the season.
Below: A mid-December (20th) pow day at Mt. Norquay.
January started strong with memorable deep powder days at Castle, Sunshine and Marmot during the first ten days of the month. High-pressure then moved in bringing mostly dry conditions into mid-January. By the last week of the month small systems brought consistent light snowfall amounts along with an active storm track that continued into the first week of February.
Below: Things really kicked in during the first week of January as is evident below at Sunshine.
February overall was a cold month that brought some memorable deep powder days, especially during the first and last weeks of the month. The snowpack was slowly building across the Rockies with the cold temps but overall, February’s snowfall was actually just below historic average. The culprit, another strong high-pressure ridge that dug in over the middle of the month delivering an extended dry spell under arctic air. Still, coverage was good enough and the snow was staying nice and soft.
Below: Forgetting about Covid in the alpine, post storm at Lake Louise on February 6th.
March started off with consistent light snowfall periods extending into the second week before high-pressure built in bringing with it warm air from the States that elevated temps well above average. After the solstice, March ended incredibly strong riding a moist SW flow that brought some sweet late season powder with snow totals ranging from 30 to 65 cm over that last week.
Finally, the stormy pattern continued into early April with all resorts enjoying small doses of fresh pow before high-pressure kicked in bringing blue skies and near record warmth into the middle of the month. Snowpack was starting to recede a bit before an unsettled pattern returned to end the month, adding to the season’s near normal mountain snowpack.
Below: Springtime at Sunshine.
As usual, there were variations in the mountain snowpack from south to north across the Alberta Rockies. Highest percentages of 110% of historical norms at Castle Mountain (south Rockies) to around 90% of average to the north at Marmot Basin. Castle had the longest season in their history with 132 days with a cumulative snowfall of 811 cm. Marmot Basin to the north ran daily operations until the 2nd of May with 171 days in total and 503 cm of snowfall. Pretty impressive.
The Bow River Valley and the Big3 resorts of Mt. Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise varied widely as can be expected. Mt. Norquay, one of Canada’s oldest ski areas had its longest ski season in their 95-year history, closing on May 2nd with cumulative snowfall of 443 cm. Lake Louise had a good year as well with 585 cm of snowfall. Sunshine Village, historically the snowiest spot in the Alberta Rockies kept their crown with cumulative snowfall totaling 936 cm as of the 4th of May. Over in Kananaskis, Nakiska, normally one of the drier spots in the Rockies had many memorable powder days through the season with a cumulative 345 cm of natural snow.
All in all, you really have to feel pretty good how the winter turned out in the face of various challenges brought on by a worldwide pandemic. The mountains provided all of us with much needed sanctuary and freedom. Heartfelt thanks especially go out to the lifties who had the extremely tough job of insuring the diverse cliental wore their masks. Kudos to ski patrol for keeping us safe and getting avalanche control finished by first chair. Accolades to the various resorts management teams who designed systems for operating within enormous challenges in their many frontline departments.
And finally, thanks to you, the skiers, boarders, parkies, mono-skiers, snow bladers, and snow bikers out there that wore your masks and endured longer lift lines. Make no mistake about it, this was a weird winter with lots of headaches. Not only did we make it, we shredded it to the very end! Thanks so much for reading and hopefully I helped in a little way to bring you to the pow this past season. We’ll talk again next November, until then enjoy an amazing summer in the Rockies!
Powder Out –
All images courtesy of SkiBig3
IT AIN'T OVER TIL' IT'S OVER...
Alberta Rockies Ski Resorts & Areas / North & South “Regions” are solely for Geographic References in my forecasts…
Banff /Sunshine Village – OPEN DAILY / Closing 24th May
Mt Norquay _ CLOSED
Lake Louise Ski Resort – CLOSED
Marmot Basin – CLOSED
Castle Mountain – CLOSED
Fortress (KPOW Cat Skiing) - Please check website
Nakiska – CLOSED
Pass Powderkeg – CLOSED