The Winter of All Winters | The ’98-’99 Season at Mt. Baker, WA

Mitchell Milbauer |

mt baker
Image: Mt Baker Ski Area

If you love snow, especially skiing or riding it, and have made looking at reports your morning ritual to go along with that nasty coffee habit—you may know about the large quantities that appear at Mt. Baker Ski Area most mornings. Especially during the 1998-1999 season, their snowfall was nothing short of legendary and recorded as a world record.

How do we know the 1,140 inches is the truth?

First and foremost, the ’98-‘99 season, just like this year, was a La Niña year. With low temperatures coming from the Pacific, it pushes the jetstream further north with the addition of moisture, creating what we like to call a ‘powder day.’ Which, in simpler terms, pretty much guarantees that the northern mountainous areas (PNW, Montana, Idaho, BC, etc.) are destined for a bigger snowpack.

Image: Mt Baker Ski Area

Just because it was a La Niña doesn’t mean it was a record-setting season!

Yes, that is true. Although, it does help create a record-setting season. Furthermore, what helps justify the truth is the NCEI (National Center for Environmental Information), which is in charge of the SCEC (State Climate Extreme Committee). The people here have been assigned to comprehensively evaluate meteorological observations that may have tied or exceeded records.

“Think of the SCEC as a sort of “CSI: Meteorology.”

 – Via NCEI’s website

Those who work on this team put claims through serious scrutiny. This includes:

  1. Conducting an initial review on-site
  2. If the claim seems legitimate, they convene the SCEC and an ad-hoc committee of five (one NCEI representee and four representing local agencies)
  3. Then they examine the claim for rejection or acceptance

The process is no joke, and when Mt. Baker Ski Area was claimed to set the world record snowfall, there were four resort staff members calculating snowfall. These four used the parking lot located at 4,200-feet as the observation location. The NCEC, when assessing the record-breaking claim, evaluated the practices employed by these four. They were deemed correct and used the proper method of averaging various sample depths. This can be found via Twitter on the NOAA NCEI Climate account.

To add to the observers’ findings, they discovered that trees over 120 years old had snapped off.  Whether you believe it or not, record or not, during the ’98-’99 ski season, if you skied Mt. Baker, you probably were surfing on snow all day.

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6 thoughts on “The Winter of All Winters | The ’98-’99 Season at Mt. Baker, WA

  1. I agree 1140 inches of snowfall was correct and verified for ’98-’99 season. I did “Snow Control” at Mt Baker from 1967 thru 1974 before the current excellent Pro Patrol was started. There were a couple of years in the early 1970s with over 1000 inches, but the ’98-’99 season had many spots where the snowpack nearly reached the chairs and had to be dug or plowed out..

  2. Alpental was insane that year, on the top lift they used black plastic to create a tunnel so chairs could clear. It was hard to sleep with the urge to peak out the window at the streetlights to confirm it was still raining really hard. 9″ 14″ 11″ 21″ new just about every day for 3 months. Hit the baker gap in spring was 50ft above the road.

  3. Better believe it. It’s the truth. That was the second season I worked at Mt Baker. I rode all but five days that entire season. On a 185 glissade!!there was so much snow they had to dig trenches under chair 5 (back then it was chairs 4&5) I was there Sunday, looks like a great start to another great La Nina!!!!!!

  4. It was a leap year that February, in which it snowed 28 of 29 days. Over 300 inches that month alone! They had to close for 3 days that month because of TO MUCH SNOW!!! Did I mention 300 inches in February?

  5. Mitchell. Believe the stats. Not sure why you think it’s unbelievable. Are you joking or maybe it was before your time?
    98-99 was the most snow I have ever seen in the Pacific northwest. I ride at cypress mt. which typically gets a third less snow than baker. That year, cypress got 60′. We rode lines I had never done and not done since.

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