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Week of massive snowfall boosts Mt. Baker Ski Area

Opening day at Mt. Baker Ski Area, Nov. 19, 2015. After a weekend of spectacular snowfall, the Mt. Baker Ski Area is at full operation in all areas.
Opening day at Mt. Baker Ski Area, Nov. 19, 2015. After a weekend of spectacular snowfall, the Mt. Baker Ski Area is at full operation in all areas. pdwyer@bellinghamherald.com

After a weekend of spectacular snowfall, the Mt. Baker Ski Area is at full operation in all areas and is boasting the deepest base in the U.S. – 69 inches at Heather Meadows.

“What an amazing week we’ve had,” said Amy Trowbridge, the ski area’s marketing manager. She said accumulations grew in stages as snow fell and then the weather cleared, followed by more snow.

“We had some rain Friday, but that actually can be good,” she said. “ The rain can help consolidate the snowpack so it bonds well. We’ve been incredibly lucky this year.”

She said 75 inches of snow was recorded in some areas over the past five days. The ski area uses snowfall data provided by the Northwest Avalanche Center and “telemetry” readings provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SNOTEL remote monitoring stations.

We get a lot of snow here.

Josh Smith, National Weather Service meteorologist

National Weather Service forecasts snow, snow showers or light rain nearly daily at the ski area through Sunday, with temperatures hovering around freezing at the 3,500-foot level. Daily accumulations of 1 to 3 inches are possible.

Ski area elevation ranges from 3,500 feet at White Salmon Lodge to 4,300 feet at Heather Meadows and 5,100 feet at Pan Dome.

Meanwhile, avalanche danger remains “considerable” above the treeline on the western slopes of the North Cascades, which includes Whatcom County, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center. The considerable danger level is between moderate and high, and backcountry travelers are urged to make “careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making.”

Mt. Baker Ski Area frequently leads the nation in snowfall in unofficial snowfall totals, with an average annual accumulation of 659 inches, or nearly 55 feet. It holds the world record for most snow in a season at 1,140 inches, or 95 feet. That figure was certified as accurate by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Trowbridge said she was unsure how the current snowfall totals compare with historical records.

Meteorologists credit the area’s geography with its frequent massive snow accumulations. Powerful storms hit Northwest Washington from the west, bringing massive amounts of moisture that fall as snow in winter in the higher elevations.

“We get a lot of snow here,” said Josh Smith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Seattle. “A lot of the reason is that we’re in an area where big Pacific storms come off the ocean. When the air hits the mountain, all that moisture is squeezed out of the air.”

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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