Snowpack Stacks Up At Alyeska, AK

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[sponsored by Alyeska]

Whiteroom in greyscale
Vintage AK, C.Anderson photo

As winter nears seasonal stride, snow enthusiasts fix their attentions upon current snowpack figures and future forecasts. 

Compared against below average ‘13/’14 and ‘14/’15 seasons, Alyeska slopes have roller-coastered of late.

According to its website, Alyeska Resort reported a bumper 2015/’16 ski season (874 inches of total snowfall, an extra 200 inches atop season totals for the previous two years) while last year’s colder temps. proved to yield a snowpack that lasted longer, and at lower altitudes, but only reached the 400 inch range of total depth.  

Each winter season, as well as the mountains it affects, is studied individually to discern distinctive characteristics, i.e. – snowpack. And variable factors such as slope aspect, elevation, or predominant weather pattern-ing play large roles in the growth of that snowpack.

Alyeska at altitude.

Factoring its relatively low elevation and near sea-level base facilities, current Alyeska snowpack statistics can be seen as economically and recreationally positive, an up-swinging outlook which is supported by comparative global study.

Austrian locality, Sankt Anton Am Arlberg bestows its namesake upon one of Girdwood Valley’s main transit veins and is claimed as the “cradle of skiing”. The sport’s iconic birth-bed saw 207 inches over 41 snowfall days last year and to date reports 28 inches on the ground in 2017.

Scandinavian nation, Norway details a ski history told in cave art and extending to the roots of Telemark. Online snow almanacs shared major ski area, Trysil to have accumulated 70 inches in 2016 and off to an at-pace 2017 start with approximately 20 inches of total accumulation.

Turning to the Lower 48, Vermont ski institution, Stowe, benefits from an average snowfall hovering around 200 inches, but Big Sky Resort fares better. The towering Montanan operation elevates over 11,000 feet, collecting approximately 400 annual inches (matching Alyeska’s predominant trend) and doubling that of Canadian ski destination, Lake Louise. The Maple Leaf nation’s iconic resort rises to 8651 feet, seeing 200 inches of snowfall over an average year.

Elevation alone, however, is no guarantee of high accumulation figures.

A mid-June storm cell blankets Los Andes.

Roosted high amidst the Andes, Portillo, Chile summits just shy of 11,000 feet yet, according to Ski Portillo data, the area receives 100 fewer inches, than its opposite number at Alyeska.

When compared alongside Northern Hemisphere slopes, Australasian ski operations report fractional annual snowfalls. New Zealand’s south-sloping Cardrona Alpine Resort, an operation which NZ Ski claims as the island nation’s “most reliable for snow” spans 4153 to 6102 feet above sea level and gathers annual average snowfalls of 51 total inches.

That which goes up...
Bootpackin’ is a way of life atop NZ’s Southern Alps.


...must come down.
…and Aotearoa’s rewards. S.Bickley photo

Also lingering at the low end of reported seasonal totals is former Winter Olympics host site, Sochi, Russia. The ski area managed selection in 2014 despite collecting only 60 annual inches.

In fact, NASA scientists reported Sochi to be “the warmest location to ever host a winter Olympic Games”.

Japan, on the other hand, represents stats scale’s opposite extreme. With 595 average inches collecting annually across a 853 to 3937 foot elevation, Niseko has been recognized as the ski industry’s “2nd snowiest location” behind Mt. Baker, Washington’s 641 annual inches.

In a worryingly snow-sparse age attributed to climate change, global analysis provides relative perspective.

Seemingly precip-magnetic Alyeska Resort notes enviable 650 inch top and 512 inch mid- mountain snowfall averages, a benefaction Alaska snow faithful seem to acknowledge contentedly in light of the many ski areas the world over that would gratefully accept such statistics.

BC at AK
AK panarama never fails to pack ’em in. C.Anderson photo

In the end, it’s while waiting in the lift line that the outlooks of AK’s Ski-past and Ski-present wryly meet.

“We should be buried in ten feet of snow right now,” to my left, a wind-worn Alyesk-an offers a dry smile to the clearing sky. “But hey,” he said, “we’ll take what we can get.”

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