As the crisp mountain air settles in and ski enthusiasts eagerly await peak ski season, it’s time for a closer look at what Mother Nature has in store for Colorado’s ski resorts. This year, all eyes are on the looming weather phenomenon known as El Niño, and its potential impact on snowfall in the high-country. At Bluebird Oxygen, we’re keenly aware of the seasonal forecast; we want to maximize our quality turns on the mountain just as much as the next guy. In this edition of Bluebird News, we’ll explore the implications of the strong El Niño weather pattern that experts predict will define the 2023/2024 ski season.
Understanding El Niño:
El Niño is a natural climate pattern characterized by the warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon can have far-reaching effects on global weather patterns, including those in the Colorado high country. El Niño events often result in increased precipitation and altered temperature patterns.
Colorado’s ski resorts are of course known for their lofty elevations with most base-areas starting well above 8,000 feet (2,438 meters). Elevation plays a pivotal role in snowfall predictions because cooler temperatures at higher altitudes favor the formation and preservation of snow. Therefore, any variation in weather patterns can significantly impact both the amount and quality of snow these resorts receive.
El Niño and Snowfall:
The strong El Niño weather pattern tends to bring a mixed bag of effects to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. While El Niño often increases the overall moisture content in the region, the relationship between El Niño and snowfall in Colorado is more complex. El Niño can lead to warmer temperatures and increased rain at lower elevations, which may not bode well for snow accumulation. However, at higher elevations where temperatures remain cooler, snowfall can be enhanced. For these reasons, it’s important to review historical data at each Colorado mountain resort to get a more accurate picture, and potentially anticipate which resort(s) might fare best this season.
El Niño’s Effects on our favorite Colorado Ski Resorts:
Keystone’s base elevation of around 9,000 feet (2,743 meters) positions it well for potential El Niño-related snowfall. Historically, El Niño events have produced above-average snowfall at Keystone, making it an attractive destination for powder enthusiasts.
Breckenridge, perched at approximately 9,600 feet (2,926 meters), also stands to benefit from El Niño. Breck typically experiences increased snowfall during El Niño events, offering skiers and snowboarders above average conditions.
Copper Mountain, situated at an elevation of roughly 9,700 feet (2,957 meters), is another resort that tends to enjoy more abundant snowfall during El Niño years. Winter sports enthusiasts can anticipate a promising season here as well.
Vail, with elevations ranging from 8,120 to 11,570 feet (2,476 to 3,527 meters), often sees mixed results during El Niño events. While Vail’s higher elevations may benefit from increased snowfall, lower slopes could experience more rain, thus affecting the overall skiing experience. Expect Vail’s conditions to be more variable based on where you are on the mountain and several other storm-related and environmental factors this year.
Winter Park’s base elevation, averaging around 9,000 feet (2,743 meters), coupled with the mountain’s geographic location places it in a favorable position for potential El Niño snowfall. Winter Park skiers can anticipate enhanced snow conditions during this year’s El Niño.
Crested Butte, known for its extreme terrain, enjoys elevations ranging from 9,375 to 12,162 feet (2,858 to 3,707 meters). CB typically benefits from El Niño with above-average snowfall, making it a prime destination for the ‘23/’24 season. El Niño increases the likelihood of CB’s famed “Extremes” opening on time, with solid coverage, for a good portion of the season.
As we look ahead to the 2023/2024 ski season, the strong El Niño weather pattern has the potential to bring varying effects to US ski resorts depending on their elevation and geographic location. While most of the advanced-elevation resorts Bluebird Oxygen serves should see increased snowfall, others may experience mixed conditions. There are of course many factors that can and do shape the snowfall in each season, but during El Niño your best bet is to plan your trips to higher elevations in the central and southern US, making reservations with Bluebird Oxygen more important than other years. For up-to-date information circle back to our individual resort pages for each mountain we serve, we’ll help you stay informed about local conditions. Embrace the adventure and get ready for an unforgettable season on the slopes!