2017 Snowpack Update

Backcountry skiing, Yellowstone National ParkWhat you've been waiting for. This year's snowpack update.

In some circle, it is considered gauche to talk about the weather. For avid outdoor folks like many Bozemanites, talking about weather isn't exactly di rigueur, but it isn't shunned upon either.  Staying on top of weather conditions can help when planning your next adventure and selecting the best possible activity for your time in the mountains. With this in mind, I bring you the snow report each year.
I've kept this blog since 2012 and started the annual tracking of snow conditions in 2014, so we can take a look at the trend for the past few years. Here's what we have:
  • 2017 (February 14) Big Sky between 48" - 72"; Bridger Bowl = 45"
  • 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”
Surprisingly, it looks like we're a bit ahead of where we were last winter. This is kind of hard to believe given that storms have been scarce. Luckily temperatures have been on our side with lots of cold weather so what little snow we've received has stuck around. In-town skate ski venues are holding on and it looks like we're on track to having these venues provide skiing into early March, which seems to be the norm.

I chose to make this report at this time each winter as it's the time of year when the Steenburgh Winter is coming to an end. (Concept review found below) We Montanans have ten more days of the Steenburgh Winter while that season has already passed for our neighbors down south in Utah and Colorado.

Yellowstone Backcountry Skiing
Yellowstone Backcountry
Bridger Bowl has a pojected closing date of April 2 and Big Sky remains open for two additional weeks. Sometimes the ski areas are able to extend their seasons if the snowpack is there, but it is questionable as to whether they are on track for making that happen. Do you snow dance and hope for more snow and cooler temperatures to help preserve our snow pack!

We've still got plenty of skiing and winter left. As always, backcountry skiing should last into the spring and even summer, and you should never let the closing of the ski areas determine the end of your ski season!
As a review, the concepts mentioned above are as follows:

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
Steenburgh Winter
Late June 2011, Beartooth Pass

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.

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. 

Curious about the types of snow? Find out all about it in this wildly popular post.