Ski Season Update: A Slow Start, But No Need to Panic…Yet

December 6, 2019

6pm Friday…

Way back in late September, then more so in late October, there were hopes we might see an early ski season.  There was more snow on the ground in late October than right now!

That was due to a couple of very early season cold spells + snow.   This was my graphic on October 19th.


That all melted away, but then a huge Thanksgiving week storm dumped 1 to 2.5 snow up on the mountain.  Once again we’ve gone back to mild & mainly dry.  So we’re down to 1 to 1.5′ at Timberline and Meadows, and just a few inches down at Skibowl.  Timberline is hoping to have two lifts open tomorrow again, and Mt. Hood Meadows has some basic terrain open with a few lifts turning this weekend.

So when will real skiing begin?  That typically happens when a ski area has a solid 30″ base (or more).


  1. We are not in any sort of “crisis” right now. There have been LOTS of early seasons that don’t deliver; then suddenly in mid-late December the snow gods deliver the goods.
  2. There’s no need to freak-out/panic until we get to Christmas Vacation time…that’s the 20th this year.  Still a full two weeks away.
  3. Above 5,500′ there should be 4-8″ this weekend, but very little below that elevation.
  4. There are hints we may get some sort of a dumping late next week, maybe enough to get more runs open for NEXT weekend.  Maybe.

The reason for the lack of snow is obvious when looking at the upper-level height anomaly chart for the past 30 days.  A persistent area of high pressure over and just northwest of the Pacific Northwest.  This weakens approaching storms, splitting them as well.  Notice lower than normal “heights” in California; that explains wet and cool weather down there recently.


Now this weekend a weak system is moving onshore California and we’re getting southerly flow as it moves by.  This setup isn’t typically a big snow-producer in the Cascades and it tends to be quite mild as well.  In this case I think we could see up to 10″ WAY up high.  Like well above 6,000′.  But it’ll be tough to get any sticking snow below 5,500′.  Forget about snow at Government Camp

RPM Snow Accumulation Mt Hood Zoom In

Upper-level ridging wants to develop over the PACNW again Monday through Wednesday.  Notice the above-average heights on Wednesday…ridging


But the ridge flattens a bit Thursday/Friday, allowing a more typical wet/snowy system into the Pacific Northwest.  In fact the ECMWF shows a cool upper-level trough or two slipping through the region that following weekend (14th/15th).  This would be much better for Cascade snow.

Both the ECMWF and GFS ensemble forecasts say we’re done with ridging after that time.  Going out a full two weeks, they both forecast upper-level troughing right over us.  Back to chilly weather like we saw Thanksgiving

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Yet the GEM (Canadian) builds the big ridge right over us again at the same time…hmmm.


We’ll see how this plays out, but for now it appears we’ll get at least a bit more Cascade snow late NEXT week.   Our forecast for Government Camp temps plus ski area snow & snow levels around Mt. Hood

7 Day Forecast GOVT CAMP

By the way, there’s absolutely no sign of lowland snow/cold in the next 7-10 days.  The ECMWF ensembles for snowfall (51 separate runs from this morning’s data) say forget about it:


Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen