Utah's Greatest Snow on Earth

Current Utah Ski Resort Information

Winter storms that affect Utah generally originate in the North Pacific Ocean, where cold Arctic air encounters the relatively warmer Pacific waters. As these storms move inland some of their moisture falls over the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains. However, upon encountering the abrupt rises of the Wasatch and central/southern Utah mountain ranges, the cold, wet airmasses rise "orographically"--or are forced upward by the rise in surface elevation. The airmass cools further as it rises, leading to enhanced condensation and precipitation. Higher altitudes and generally lower temperatures produce the colder, drier "powdery" snow for which Utah is known.

It is the structure of the snow crystals that makes Utah snow unique. Utah is the second driest state in the nation (after Nevada), and the cold, relatively dry conditions produce light, crystalline snowflakes called "dendrites." These snowflakes are thick and symmetrical, and float slowly through the cold atmosphere to the surface, accumulating as fluffy "powder" in the mountains. Often, storm fronts that move through northern Utah are followed by brisk northwest upper-level winds, which are aimed directly the mountain peaks. Additional moisture is drawn from the warmer waters of the Great Salt Lake, which never freeze, and snowfall in the mountains may continue for days, even after the main storm has passed. It is not unusual to see an additional 24-36 inches of snowfall in the day or two following a storm, all because of this northwesterly flow of cold air across the Great Salt Lake and over the Wasatch Mountains. After such a storm, skiers will likely find several feet of fluffy powder at the resorts.

During late winter and early spring, tropical moisture sometimes arrives from the central Pacific. Due to the warmer source of this moisture, subsequent snowfall in Utah is often heavier and denser, with a higher moisture content. These late season wet snows undergo a thaw-freeze cycle as the days grow warmer, producing icy "corn snow" conditions, which makes for faster skiing.

Average temperatures in winter range from the single digits to the low 30's, with sub-zero readings common on clear nights following a storm. Highs may reach the 40's or 50's just preceding a storm front. Elevation is the greatest factor, as temperatures generally change 5°F per 1,000 feet in elevation. When inversions form in the valleys, ski resorts are often warmer. Of more concern is the wind-chill, which indicates the "apparent" temperature or "what it feels like." Wind chill is based on air temperature and wind speed. The higher the wind speed, the colder "it feels" on exposed flesh. Frostbite can occur quickly when wind-chills fall into the sub-zero range.

At Utah's northern ski resorts, mid-elevation snowfalls vary from 200 to over 500 inches per year. Utah's southwestern ski resorts average mid-elevation accumulations of over 300 inches per year. Most of the ski resorts in northern Utah usually receive their greatest monthly snowfall during December or January. The ski resorts in southwest Utah usually get their largest monthly snowfalls during January or March. The greatest six-month snowfall total ever recorded in Utah skiing history occurred from November 1983 through April 1984, when two of the highest ski resorts in northern Utah recorded snowfall totals of between 650 and 700 inches near their base elevations.

Estimated Average Snowfall at Utah's Ski Resorts:

* November-April snowfall

** Annual Snowfall


Resort

Base

Inches

Mid-level

Inches

Summit

Inches

Alta*

8,550

421

9,600

516

10,650

621

Beaver Mountain**

7,200

222

8,016

298

8,832

374

Brian Head*

9,600

360

10,453

382

11,307

405

Brighton*

8,755

389

9,627

441

10,500

493

Deer Valley*

7,200

174

8,300

268

9,400

362

Elk Meadows/Mt. Holly**

9,100

284

9,750

316

10,400

348

Nordic Valley**

5,400

155

5,900

202

6,400

249

Park City*

6,900

162

8,450

248

10,000

334

Powder Mountain**

7,600

349

8,250

414

8,900

479

Snowbasin*

6,400

168

7,750

280

8,800

392

Snowbird*

7,760

326

9,380

465

11,000

634

Solitude*

7,988

365

9,012

458

10,035

551

Sundance**

6,100

124

7,175

209

8,250

294

Wolf Mountain**

6,800

120

7,900

214

9,000

308


Note: Base, Mid-level and Summit elevations are in "feet" above sea level. "Inches" means inches of snowfall.

Much of the information for this section originally appeared in the copyrighted book Utah's Weather and Climate, edited by Dan Pope and Clayton Brough, in 1996. UCCW Directors have received permission from the copyright owners of this book to reproduce such information on its website and to revise and updated it where appropriate.