Photo from Alta Ski Resort
After what was already a semi-steady line of snow squalls over the first half of winter, the beginning of February brought in a huge system that dumped a ton of snow in the mountains (more than 5 feet in some areas) as well as many areas of the Salt Lake Valley (more than 18 inches in some areas). The upcoming forecast include additional snow squalls that should help keep a fresh layer of powder on top of what is now a solid snowpack. And while they don’t have the same eye-popping numbers or media coverage of their weather, parts of southern Utah have seen even more snow than normal, as a percentage, than the Wasatch Front.
Last we checked in the middle of February, the Wasatch Front and major population centers where at 133 percent of normal for their snowpack. Notably, all 16 areas in Utah defined by the National Water and Climate Center as having established snowpack levels were above normal. Southwestern Utah was at 159% with some areas reaching as high as 172% of normal.
Not a Return to Normal—Not Yet
Most Utahns are well aware that we’ve been below average for our snowpack for a number of years as part of a larger debate among climatologists as to what constitutes a drought and what constitutes a new normal. This time last year, some areas in Utah were recording their lowest snowpack levels in 30 years.
With this in mind, a heavier than normal year for snowfall does not in itself reverse the effects of a sustained “drought.” Experts suggest we need something more along the lines of five straight years of a snowpack that’s above 125% of normal to get our ecosystem back to what used to be considered normal. Now, this is a decent down payment, and it’s unclear how climate change stands to impact our annual snowfall and precipitation.
Looking to Take Advantage of this Year’s Snow Fall?
It’s not our thing, but we know a lot of people in Utah and around the country love the state and the Wasatch Front especially for its accessible ski areas and multiple resort options. If you’re looking for upscale accommodations and a secluded vibe, we recommend Deer Valley. If you’re looking for something with a little more friendly and welcoming, we recommend Solitude or Alta. We asked around. If you don’t already have a local connection for cheap tickets and lodging, here’s a user-friendly website to research lift ticket and lodging prices for Utah ski discounts.
Late Hiking is Beautiful Hiking
If these snowstorms keep up through the rest of winter and the snowpack holds put or expands even further, then we can count on late access for full highway and trail openings in the Uintas as well as higher elevations along the Wasatch Front. This may not be ideal news for the most hard-core trail runners…who aren’t also ski fans. For everybody else, once you get past the headaches of digging out your car and driving in the snow, it’s pretty good news. And a late, sloshy start to the hiking season usually yields an abundance of colorful, summertime wild flowers that are truly a sight to behold along with many of the other more famous attractions in Utah.