The Steamboat Ski Area’s official snow depth measuring stake on Storm Peak shows a record 138 inches on April 4. The 2010-11 ski season was a La Niña year, and climate forecasters are expecting more of the same for this winter.

Larry Pierce/Courtesy

The Steamboat Ski Area’s official snow depth measuring stake on Storm Peak shows a record 138 inches on April 4. The 2010-11 ski season was a La Niña year, and climate forecasters are expecting more of the same for this winter.

La Niña likely to return to Steamboat Springs

Expert: Climate event typically means above-average snowfall for Steamboat


By the numbers

Steamboat’s deepest winters:

  1. 2007-08: 489 inches*

  2. 1996-97: 448 inches

  3. 1983-84: 448 inches

  4. 1995-96: 441 inches*

  5. 2010-11: 433 inches*

  6. 2005-06: 432 inches

  7. 1992-93: 416 inches

  8. 2008-09: 405 inches

*La Niña winters

Source: Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

— Knock on wood, but one of the major tools used to help predict the abundance of snow in Steamboat Springs boasts some good news for powder hounds.

With 70 to 80 percent certainty, La Niña is expected to return, according to Joe Ramey, a meteorologist and climate expert at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“It’s not a given that it will be La Niña, but it’s about as strong as we can get,” he said. “We had La Niña last year, and it turned out to be a great year for Steamboat.”

La Niña occurs when there is cool water in the central and east-central Pacific near the equator. Ramey said it typically results in average to above-average snowfall for Steamboat and less moisture at resorts to the south.

By contrast, El Niño is the result of warmer ocean water, typically resulting in lower moisture levels.

The past two La Niña events resulted in 400-plus inches of snow at Steamboat Ski Area. The ski area broke its snowfall record during La Niña in the 2007-08 ski season with 489 inches of snow. Last season, La Niña occurred again, and the season closed with a 433-inch total.

Ramey said that he is studying back-to-back La Niña events and the effect on snowfall. He said consecutive events have happened seven times since 1950 and that it appears the consecutive event has not typically been as strong. This could result in a near or slightly-above normal snowfall. Ramey’s observations are based on in-town snow totals, and historic snow totals at the ski area both support and contradict the theory.

Historic snow totals at the ski area seem to support the theory that an El Niño event can lead to a drier ski season in Steamboat. During the 2009-10 season, 261 inches fell during an El Niño event. In 2004-05, there was 274 inches, 344 inches in 2002-03, 291 inches in 1997-98, 255 inches in 1994-95 and 172 inches in 1991-92. The all-time historical average snowfall at the ski area is 308 inches. The average from the past 20 years is 335 inches.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said that there have been seasons where snowfall was abundant without La Niña but that ski area officials are happy to hear the forecast.

“When people start buzzing about a La Niña year, especially this early, we get caught up in the excitement,” Kasten said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email


Cresean Sterne 5 years, 7 months ago

What a great place to live. Moved to Steamboat in 89. The deepest years have almost all been in the last 20 plus years. Steamboat has difinately spoiled us locals over the years and it has been fantastic!!! "Get In It & Get Some On Yah"..!!!! Crash


rhys jones 5 years, 7 months ago

This is not good news. After spending most of the last 26 winters here, I can honestly say there hasn't been a "bad" year yet. Even the bad years aren't bad, up high. By now Slop Maintenance can produce an excellent experience, all the way to the top, with almost NO natural supplementation. An extra rock here or there is there is just a course hazard, adding to the degree of difficulty, much like a bunker or water in golf.

For the first time ever, I have a fully paid Season Pass, not one I have to now earn. And I am hoping for many sunny days. My GS Rossi's really love packed powder. I usually let the Texans pack down the new snow for me. Too many lenses; something will fog.

There are other days, when it's snowing in town, and clear blue up on Storm. Looking down on the top of the cloud is pretty cool too. Then our hill looks like an island, in an ocean of fluff. Your neighbors are the fishes below.

Fortunately the Weather Service is no more reliable than wooly caterpillars, skunk cabbage, or the Farmers' Almanac at predicting upcoming winters. We can't be sure of anything until it gets to Craig, and not even then, always.


rhys jones 5 years, 7 months ago

And I'm about tired of hearing "supposed to get," as in "We're supposed to get 2 feet tonight!!" Just SAYING it, JINXES it, my friends!! Now we'll be lucky to get 4 inches.

The best forecast is 2-4" -- that means they really don't know what's going to happen. (As if anyone does.) Any less is probably right, and any more is wishful thinking.

I will make a standing bet, right now: On ANY day this winter, I will bet cash money that we don't get HALF of what we're "supposed to get." If we got everything we're supposed to get, we'd get about 1500" a year and the lift towers would be perpetually buried.

This town survives on what it's NOT "supposed to get" and I hope that remains true this year.


jk 5 years, 6 months ago

Yikes, rhys where do I get what you been smokin' brotha'?! hahaha Enjoy your labor day weekend!!


rhys jones 5 years, 6 months ago

I guess it's legal to plug RMR. They keep me mellow and pain-free. Please understand, I have no life outside this box; I am a border collie, and these forums are my stick. And I found this article timely -- EVERY YEAR about this time, the Weather Service predicts an El Nino or La Nina winter. The last time they called for a drier-than-average winter, we set the season snowfall record which still stands. So I read this somewhat dubiously. You can't predict the weather a week out around here, let alone a season.

And if I had a dime for every time I heard "supposed to get" -- I'd still be poor, but it would've bought some brews. Having a great weekend, thanks jk, taking a break from the code for PBR and Rockies. Just rolled through town, saw the crowds, good for the businesses, glad to miss it. You have a great labor day too!!


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