Actual vs. Claimed Snowfall

This project is about skiing the best 100 ski resorts in North America, and the most important thing that makes skiing great is snow, so this page is dedicated to comparing our selected resorts on annual snowfall.

The problem is that there is no “official” way to report average annual snowfall and there are often no nearby NOAA snow reporting stations, so resorts can pick and choose data that is advantageous when they report their average for marketing purposes.

A good example of this is Kirkwood.  2010/11 was a huge snowfall year at Kirkwood with over 800-inches of snowfall.  Shortly after that the average snowfall jumped 100-inches on their web site.  Every year since then has been below average, but the number has not gone back down.  Hmmm…

To get an idea of what the real number is, I looked at the annual reported snowfall from 2008-2014 taken from www.onthesnow.com from aggregated daily reports that they collect.  These are calendar year numbers so they don’t match the ski season, but over the 7-years of data it averages out.  This is snow reported during the season, so I’m adding 20% for the snow that probably fell when the resort was closed and for inevitable lost days in data collection.  The average reported vs. claimed is 78%, so on average resorts are not padding numbers much.   If the reported number + 20% was higher than the claimed, I am using the claimed number for the actual.  Data was missing or suspect from 19 of the 100 resorts, so they are not on this list.

Resort Claimed Actual Rank Comments
 Mt Baker, WA 700 562 1  Baker is well-known as the top dog when it comes to snowfall, but they do get a lot of rain like other Cascade resorts.
Alta, UT 560 536 2  Gets lake-effect snow from the Great Salt Lake in northwest flow storms which are very common.  High altitude makes the snow very light.
Kirkwood, CA 600 509 3  Kirkwood is on the Sierra Crest with a favorable orientation for snowfall from almost any wind direction.  Base elevation is high enough that rain is rare.
Snowbird, UT 500 500 4  Same as Alta since they are right next door with similar elevation.
Grand Targhee, WY 500 486 5  This resort and nearby Jackson Hole get very consistent snowfall year to year and these are a great choice for guaranteed powder.
Crystal, WA 486 486 5  This high number is somewhat deceptive because Crystal gets a lot of rain and warm temps due to its altitude, resulting in ice and cement.
 Solitude, UT 500 482 7  Big Cottonwood Canyon benefits from the same conditions that provide lots of snow for Alta and Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon to the south.
 Alyeska, AK 512 475 8  Alyeska is right at sea level and gets frequent rain on the lower half.  Big dumps are common, but it’s a maritime climate with more dense snow.
 Mt. Bachelor, OR 472 462 9  Bachelor is an exposed volcano with strong winds and frequent “icing” situations which freeze the lifts.  The altitude is high enough that it doesn’t suffer from rain as much as other areas in the Northwest, but it does happen.
 Jackson Hole, WY 459 459 10  Like Grand Targhee to the west, has very consistent year-year snowfall.  The only problem is that it is both higher and lower than Targhee, so the top gets windy and the bottom gets warm.
 Sugar Bowl, CA 500 456 11  Gets a lot of snow, but the elevation is low enough that rain is common as well and is going to happen a few times a season.
 Squaw Valley, CA 450 450 12  The base elevation is the lowest for any Tahoe resort so rain is common on the lower half even though the total snowfall is impressive.  Because of that the snowfall at the base is often only about half of that higher up.
 Brighton, UT 500 447 13  Not sure why Brighton is reporting less snow than Solitude, which is right next door.
 Steven’s Pass, WA 450 444 14  Similar to Crystal and Baker… gets a lot of rain.  The location on the west slope of the Cascades gets the full force of storms.
 Mt Hood Meadows, OR 430 430 15 Located on the lower flanks of Mount Hood, this place gets the full effect of moisture-laden pacific storms.  Unfortunately rain is fairly common or the number would be much higher.  It faces predominantly southeast so snow quality suffers as well.
Wolf Creek, CO 430 430 15  Wolf Creek gets a lot of early-season snow and often has the deepest depth in North America before Christmas.
 Loveland, CO 422 422 17  Loveland is located right on the crest of the Rockies, and during a storm it is very windy with whiteout conditions.  The snowfall is the 2nd highest in Colorado though, so it’s a good bet for at least a day if you are skiing Summit County.
 Alpine Meadows, CA 402 402 18  Alpine is right next to Squaw with a higher base elevation.  Like all Tahoe resorts there is going to be rain a few times a season.
 Timberline, OR 400 400 19  Right next to Mt. Hood Meadows, Timberline gets copious amounts of snow from frequent pacific storms, but also gets a lot of rain and faces mostly south so snow quality is lower than this high number would suggest.
 Big Sky, MT 400 400 19  Big Sky has a very high summit elevation, so they can measure snow much higher than Bridger Bowl which is nearby, but Bridger actually gets at least as much snow in the real world.  You will hit rocks at Big Sky if you venture off the lower groomers, but the snow quality is great.
 Sierra At Tahoe, CA 480 397 21  Sierra is on the crest just like Kirkwood, but the lower overall elevation results in more rain and less snow.
 Dodge Ridge, CA 400 385 22  This number is hard to believe given the fact that Dodge Ridge has essentially been closed for the last 2 years due to lack of snow.  No snowmaking and low elevation are the problems.
 White Pass, WA 380 378 23
 Whistler/Blackcomb, BC 462 375 24  Whistler has an enormous vertical of over 5,000 ft, which means rain on the lower 2,000 ft is common, as well as fog up high.  They do benefit from consistent early-season snowfall so it’s good for a December trip.
Park City, UT 370 370 25  Park City, Deer Valley, and The Canyons get great consistent snowfall and very little rain, but they are on the wrong side of the Wasatch Front so don’t get as much as BCC or LCC resorts like Alta and Solitude.
Vail, CO 366 366 26  Vail is in a great location for consistent snowfall.
Heavenly, CA 360 360 27  Heavenly averages a lot of snowfall, but it often rains below 7,800 ft, so most of the action is above that.
Bear Valley, CA 359 359 28  Bear gets a lot of snow but the steepest terrain is at the bottom which is often closed due to lack of snow.
Arapahoe Basin, CO 350 350 29  A-Basin is similar to Loveland and is usually the first resort open in North America in mid-October.
Bridger Bowl, MT 350 350 29  Bridger gets great quality snow, but it can be windy.
Breckenridge, CO 350 350 29  Breckenridge has a very high base elevation so snow quality is great, but it’s often windy.
Steamboat, CO 349 349 32  Steamboat benefits greatly from storms that come in from the Northwest.  Snowfall is slightly more consistent due to it’s more northerly location in Colorado.
Northstar, CA 350 332 33  Northstar is too low to have good quality snow due to frequent rain.
Fernie, BC 444 329 34
Beaver Creek, CO 325 325 35  Beaver Creek is of course close to Vail and has similar snowfall and quality.
Whitewater, BC 480 323 36  Located on the “Powder Highway” in interior BC, this resort is a great choice for powder, but it’s very rocky so they do need all they get.
Brundage, ID 320 319 37  Brundage gets the best snowfall in Idaho.
Winter Park, CO 313 313 38  Winter Park gets great snowfall and benefits from Northwest flows coming in to Colorado.  Similar to Steamboat.
Jay Peak, VT 379 302 39  Jay is the king of snowfall in the East.
Big White, BC 300 300 40
Snowbasin, UT 300 300 40  Snowbasin is about average for snowfall in Utah.  Altitude is high enough that it’s good quality.
Deer Valley, UT 300 300 40  Although claimed and reported snowfall is lower than Park City and The Canyons, they are right next door so it’s really about the same.  They also have a large snowmaking system.
Snowmass, CO 300 300 40  Snowmass gets the most snow of the Aspen area resorts.
Silver Mountain, ID 300 292 44
Homewood, CA 450 292 44  The summit elevation of Homewood is the lowest in Tahoe, so rain and snow quality are problems.
49 Degrees North, WA 301 288 46
China Peak, CA 325 288 46  China Peak was effectively closed for 2 seasons during the 2011-2016 California drought due to lack of snow and too much rain so there is no consistency at all.
Whitefish, MT 300 288 46
Crested Butte, CO 300 285 49 Crested Butte always seems to get a little less snow than other resorts in Colorado, but it is good quality.
Copper, CO 282 282 50  Copper gets a little less snow than other Summit County resorts, but there is very little difference in reality.
Stowe, VT 333 275 51  Stowe is 2nd in the East and it is more consistently good than most others in the area.
Purgatory, CO 260 260 52  Kudos to Purgatory for claiming a realistic number.  The Southwest CO location means there are often long dry spells.
Brian Head, UT 400 260 52  The southwest UT location means less snow than other UT resorts.
Telluride, CO 309 256 54  Telluride is our favorite resort, but it’s best to go in Mid Feb – Mid March due to lower snowfall.
June Mountain, CA 250 250 55  June is interesting in that they don’t get that much snow and have very little snowmaking, but they don’t seem to need that much since the skier traffic is low and it’s not very rocky.  The lower lift is almost never open and hasn’t been skiable since the record 2010-11 season though.
Sugarbush, VT 269 249 56
Mt. Hood Skibowl, OR 300 246 57 This data is actually from a reliable weather station in Government Camp.  The base area is at the same elevation.  Mid-mountain would only be 750′ higher so I feel like this is going to be very close.  The data from onthesnow.com looks very suspect here and would put the total at 202″ which is clearly too low for that area.  Skibowl gets a lot of rain due to the low elevation and marine influence or this number would be much higher.
Eldora, CO 300 237 58  Eldora is on the Front Range in Colorado so is more sheltered from the typical Northwest flow snowfall.
 Kicking Horse, BC 295 235 59
 Keystone, CO 235 235 59  Kudos to Keystone for claiming a realistic snowfall number.  Luckily they have a lot of snowmaking.
 Sunshine Village, AB 360 235 59  Sunshine Village is so far north that their lower snowfall number doesn’t impact conditions that much.  Their snow reporting seems to be inconsistent so not sure how accurate this low number is.
 Le Massif, QC 270 232 62
 Powderhorn, CO 250 231 63
 Taos, NM 305 225 64  Taos has the most snowfall in New Mexico, but the storm track is often to the North so they can’t match the Colorado resorts typically unless it is an El Nino year.
 Diamond Peak, NV 300 225 64  The low elevation and location on the eastern part of Lake Tahoe result in the lowest snowfall in Tahoe.
 Lost Trail, MT 300 221 66
 Sun Peaks, BC 220 220 67
 Killington / Pico, VT 250 212 68 Killington and Pico are right next door to each other so I used Killington’s numbers because Pico is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays and doesn’t have accurate numbers
 Santa Fe, NM 225 205 69  Santa Fe is similar to Taos, but being even farther south doesn’t help.  They very high base elevation of 10,400 ft means great snow quality when it does fall.
 Red Lodge, MT 250 202 70  Red Lodge does remarkably well with what little snow falls, but without much snowmaking coverage much of the terrain is often closed before March.
 Sugarloaf, ME 200 189 71
 Panorama, BC 188 188 72
 Sun Valley, ID 220 187 73  Sun Valley is known to have little snowfall, but they have the best snowmaking system in the West.
 Arizona Snowbowl, AZ 260 185 74 Snowbowl recently put in top-bottom snowmaking so they can now operate in lean years.  Arizona is usually south of the typical winter storm track, but the high elevation means surprisingly good snow quality.
 Lake Louise, AB 179 179 75  Like Sunshine Village, the northerly location of this resort means they don’t need as much snow to have good conditions.  They also have a lot of snowmaking.
 Mission Ridge, WA 200 177 76
Mont Sainte Anne, QC 187 176 77
 Angel Fire, NM 210 175 78  Angel Fire has little snowfall and the top elevation is lower than other NM resorts so quality is not as good and the season is short.
 Whiteface, NY 195 173 79
 Discovery, MT 215 171 80
 Mont Tremblant, QC 163 163 81

As mentioned above, the other 19 resorts have missing or suspect data and can’t be ranked.

2 thoughts on “Actual vs. Claimed Snowfall

  1. Tony Crocker

    You could have saved yourself a lot of work by checking out my website bestsnow.net.

    http://www.onthesnow.com collects data on an automated basis. It is very easy for them to miss or double count some snow reports. It’s often useful in the short term, but rarely over an entire season.

    It is also strange that you report as “actual” a lot of the round number “brochure quotes,” even a few which I know are grossly overstated.

    If you want more detail explanations or specifics contact me by e-mail.

    Reply
    1. skyfree Post author

      Yes, please check out Tony’s site for a different and much more detailed approach. Our numbers are pretty close in most cases, but this site is just for a comparison between resorts and his is more for choosing when to go. He sells detailed reports on his site for those that are interested.

      Reply

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