2016 Snowpack Update

It is that time of year when the Steenburgh Winter is coming to an end. I first posted about this concept in 2014 and gave an update last year, so it looks like it's time to check out the data and see how the Bozeman area ski areas are doing this year.

Below are the snowpack comparisons as reported by the ski areas:
  • 2016 (February 12) Big Sky between 43” - 65”;   Bridger Bowl = 56”
  • 2015 (February 17) Big Sky between 42”-  63”;   Bridger Bowl = 56”
  • 2014 (February 12) Big Sky between 57” - 85”;   Bridger Bowl = 76”
So it looks like we're right in-line with what was going on last year. Lucky for Montanans, we still have two more weeks of the Steenburgh Winter while that season has already passed for our neighbors down south in Utah and Colorado. Bridger Bowl has a posted closing date of April 3 and Big Sky remains open for two additional weeks. Unless we get big storms or unexpectedly cool weather in the coming weeks, it isn't looking likely that the ski areas will be able to extend their seasons.

As for ski conditions outside of the ski area, grass is starting to pop out of the snow at in-town Nordic ski venues but hopefully conditions will hold on until early March as they usually do. Of course, the intrepid backcountry skier has nothing to worry about because snow will stick around in the high country long into the spring and even the summer. All it takes is motivation and willingness to get out in the backcountry to extend you ski season beyond the point when the ski lifts stop running and the Nordic ski venues are melted out.

We're in the middle of a warm spell in southwest Montana but last night there was a small bit of rain town and a skiff of snow in the mountains. More snow is expected Saturday evening but the forecast doesn't predict this to produce any significant accumulations.

As we all know, anything could happen snow-wise so don't let the warm weather and lack of snow get down. We've still got plenty of skiing and winter left!

As a review, the concepts mentioned above are as follows:

Just what is the Steenburgh Winter? 

“Steenburgh winter begins the first day that the Alta-Collins snow stake reaches 100….It represents the approximate snow depth needed to transition from early season conditions to winter conditions in the Cottonwoods…. Steenburgh winter ends on February 10…. It seems to be around this time of year when the sun begins to have an increasingly caustic effect on powder…. Prior to February 10, powder can linger for many days on most aspects.  Even south facing slopes might survive without a melt-freeze cycle if it is really cold.  After February 10, the south aspects will almost always suffer a melt-freeze cycle if the sun comes out and, as the days go on, the sun becomes an increasingly formidable enemy to powder on an increasingly greater range of aspects.”
Sun Angles & Snowpack
To learn more about sun angles, check out this website. http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/AltAz.php. February 10, is the first day in the Wasatch area maximum sun angle reaches 35 degrees above the horizon, and that is when the sun become high enough in the horizon to mess with the snow.
Steenburgh Winter
Late June 2011, Beartooth Pass

According to the above link, the first day the maximum sun angle reaches 35 degrees above the horizon in the Bozeman/Big Sky area is February 24. For comparison sake, Crested Butte, Colorado reaches the same point on February 4.