5 facts about the precipitation phenomenon in Western Canada
A lot of people ask me if the skiing and snowboarding in the Revelstoke area really lives up to all the hype, and if it does, why?
Well, it does, and the precipitation phenomenon is a big part of the reason why:
- During the winter months, the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Haida Gwaii Islands receive the most rainfall in North America. These storms turn to snow when they hit the coastal mountains.
- The driest locations in British Columbia are just inland from the coastal ranges where a series of huge valleys run north and south including the South Thompson and Okanagan. These are some of the driest and warmest locations in British Columbia, since the storms lose much of their moisture passing over the coastal ranges and warm air is funneled up from the south.
- The warming of the air over these valleys allows the atmosphere to pickup more moisture as the storms pass over the rivers and lakes of these Interior valleys, one of the world’s largest reserves of fresh water. The air in these valleys is warm enough that the lakes and rivers remain largely unfrozen, allowing evaporation to continue through the coldest winter months.
- When the storms reach the Columbia Mountains on the eastern edge of these warm valleys, they are again saturated with moisture. Most of the moisture in the Columbia Mountains, which feeds North America’s 4th largest river by volume, falls during the winter months, in the form of snow – usually the light, fluffy champagne kind.
- To the north the Polar High, a shallow dome of high pressure and frigid air that moves south during the winter months, feeds cold air into the northern reaches of the north-south valley systems including the North Thompson and the Columbia River valley.
Super-saturated storms simultaneously slam into a huge mountain range and a wall of frigid arctic air directly on top of the CMH Heli-Skiing areas. Bingo - Take Flight!
This phenomenon is what makes the Mt. Fidelity weather recording station near Revelstoke, some 400 kilometres from the coast, the snowiest weather station in Canada. On average, the Mt. Fidelity station receives almost 15 metres (49 feet) of snow, and during one epic season the station recorded 23 metres (75 feet) of snow!
Any ski guide will tell you that while the Mt. Fidelity weather station gets a lot of snow, there are pockets in the region receive even more. Those spots just don’t have a weather station to record the totals, but we can go Heli-Skiing there…
Photo of the Gothics Lodge and a happy Heli-Skier, with a view out the window worth writing home about, by Topher Donahue.