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Local ski areas extend snow season

Thu., April 3, 2014

Usually inland northwest ski areas pull the plug after the first weekend of April. About 10 years ago Silver Mountain bucked convention to stay open on Saturdays throughout April, as long as skiers and riders continued to show up. This season, more local hills are getting into the act with extended seasons.

Mount Spokane, 49 Degrees North and Schweitzer stay open until April 13th. Silver Mountain’s “Silver Saturdays” could have some competition a few miles east as Lookout Pass contemplates doing the same. Their decision is pending. It could be tough to compete with 49 Degrees North, home of “Toyota Ski Free Week,” when skiing and riding for everyone during spring break is sponsored by area dealerships.

What can you expect if you want to extend your season to closing day and beyond in the backcountry? The climate forecast through April refuses to show its hand.

“We’re still in a neutral situation in regard to the El Nino southern oscillation – the ENSO,” said John Livingston, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service (NWS) in Spokane. “There’s really not a lot that forecasters can say about what’s going to happen this time of year when we’re in a neutral situation.”

The NWS issues a climate forecast on the third Thursday of every month. The most recent, March 20, called for a slight increase in chances of above normal precipitation across northeast Washington and north Idaho. That’s encouraging if temperatures are below normal. The temperature forecast is for equal chances, which means no climate signals exist to justify any prediction.

Climate behavior has been anything but normal lately. Perhaps that’s a good sign. Meanwhile, I asked Livingston what he thought of the winter we just left behind.

“It was very peculiar,” he said. “We had that ridge that hit us hard for maybe two months, not a lot of precipitation, some pretty bad inversions. You have to look back to some unusual years, like ’76-’77, to find ridges that persisted for as long as they did this year.”

Even when the winter storm track finally muscled that epic high pressure ridge out of the way, local mountains often were merely grazed, instead of clobbered.

“A lot of times, the storm track would be just to our north and east,” Livingston said. “Montana did great this year, especially central Montana and western Montana to a certain extent. When we were getting nothing, storms were coming up over the top and down into that area. Their snowpack is well above normal now.”

Around here the snowpack has made a recent comeback. Livingston said at the headwaters of the Spokane basin the snowpack is 113 percent of normal, with precipitation at 94 percent of normal. Should no new snow arrive, there’s plenty left that should hang around for a while. Enjoy it while you can.

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