The Heli-Ski Blog

Powder forecasting guru on BC snow trends

Posted by Topher Donahue on Oct 10, 2013 7:00:00 AM

Last week I had a chat with Joel Gratz, the legendary meteorologist who has turned the ski conditions forecasting world on its head with his snow-rider-centric websites, Colorado Powder Forecast and Open Snow. We were at the Denver showing of Take Flight, the latest visual treat from CMH Heli-Skiing where he shared some interesting (and exciting for powder hounds) trends in Colorado precipitation after the record-breaking Colorado floods.

Joel told me he’d been looking at historical weather data from the Mica Dam, just up the road from the CMH Monashees lodge and an area known for extraordinarily deep snow (and steep tree skiing) but that his results weren’t quite ready for prime time.  Since then he dialed it in and this week he sent me a summary of his results.

BC early snow

To begin with, this year the water in the central Pacific is about average temperature, creating what Joel calls La Nada, as opposed to El Niño (warmer than average waters in the central Pacific) or La Niña (cooler than average waters in the central Pacific).

Joel found the following trends in snowfall at the Mica Dam:

  • During El Niño years, snowfall is 92% of average, and is twice as likely to have a below normal snow year than a normal year or an above average year.
  • During La Niña, snowfall is 111% of average, with almost no “normal” years and is twice as likely to have an above average year than a below average year.
  • During La Nada (which we have this year) snow is 100% of average, with equal chances of having an above average or a below average year.

By crushing more of the Mica Dam data into statistics, Joel found a few more interesting things:

  • In December, it snows an average of 61% of the days, with 13% of the days having at least 15cm (6 inches) and 3% having at least 30cm (12 inches).
  • In January, it snows an average of 56% of the days, with the same percentage of 15cm and 30cm days as December.
  • In February, it snows and average of 44% of the days, with 7% of the days getting 15cm and 1% getting at least 30cm.

Joel noted that Mica Dam is at the lowest altitude of any Heli-Skiing pickups and explained that “Even though it's at a low elevation, the snowfall trends should be similar to higher elevations, but the amounts at the dam are far lower.”

In his research, Joel came up with a couple of other interesting tidbits:

First, he learned that there is no trend in snowfall over the past 30 years, but that the late 60s and early 70s had average snowfall that was about 25% more than the snowfall during the past 30 years. This supports the observations made by some of the old-timers that I interviewed while writing Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles CMH and the invention of Heli-Skiing, who said that in the early years it snowed more. They’ll be happy to learn that it wasn’t just the passing of the years that made the snow seem deeper – it really was deeper.

Second, and perhaps most fascinating to CMH and Revelstoke area skiers and snowboarders, is that about 75% of the maximum base (which occurs from February 1 to March 1) is accumulated by December 31. This may come as no surprise to fans of the cold smoke of early season Heli-Skiing, but it is a fascinating statistic considering how much it snows in the Columbia Mountains from January through April. Perhaps the part we forget to consider is that right now the snow is already accumulating in the Columbias…

If anyone knows when to plan a ski trip, it’s Joel Gratz himself, and he’s planning a trip to the tree skiing nirvana of CMH Monashees this winter from December 28 to January 2 where he will share some secrets of the art of forecasting powder – as well as schralp a bunch of the white stuff. Want to join him? Contact Brad Nichols, CMH Rep at or call (303) 378-9106.

Photo of early season snow in the Columbias by Dani Lowenstein.

Topics: Revelstoke, Skiing Conditions, weather, Deep Pow, Monashees, Take Flight