Winter: when Jack Frost nips at an open fire, chestnuts are buried under six feet of snow, and you can’t feel the void where your nose used to go. If you’re having trouble with any of the above, it means you’re doing winter right. This is a special time of year, and 2017 could shape up to be a special winter, whether or not La Niña conditions stick. After coming and then going, El Niño’s petulant sister decided she wanted to come back for good, although, if we’re being honest, we’re still not sure she’ll come after all. She is fickle, it seems.
We can only hope that the Sierra Nevada Mountains will see snow, and there’s no doubt that we’ll see fresh powder in the Front Range. Aspen and Telluride, Mammoth Mountain and Tahoe will have their years. But when the pendulum swings from El Niño to La Niña, weather patterns hit the north hardest. One of the heaviest winters in the Pacific Northwest happened in 1998-99, a La Niña year, dumping over 1,100 cumulative inches of snow on Mount Baker—a record. And last year, which was considered the strongest recorded El Niño year, was still 142% snowier than the year before. Meteorologists project a neutral to weak La Niña for winter in 2017, and if our hopes prevail and the trend continues, this will be as cold and wet a winter as ever in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and the intermountain north.
Fingers crossed, the best winter adventure destinations on this exhaustive (but not comprehensive) list will be pristine winter wonderlands come December 21, begging for a fresh set of tracks in the snow, and maybe an igloo.
The on-again, off-again flirtation with La Niña has been giving forecasters fits in B.C., where they have already revised their long-term forecasts several times. The outlook is weak—or so they say. After a strong October, resorts expect to open early this year. Storms have been dumping snow at Whistler-Blackcomb, and Lake Louise in Alberta predicts one of its earliest-ever openings on November 18. This is good news, all of it. A high base at the resorts promises heavy snows cordillera-wide, which means all the more of that fresh powder for your backcountry winter excursions.
The forecast in Washington mirrors that of its neighbor to the north, and while optimism for a cool and wet winter is tempered by phrases like “neutral or weak,” some of the biggest storms hit during these cycles. Washington has already seen accumulation at Crystal Lake and White Pass, and the resorts, at least, are calling it an imminent winter party.
The Evergreen State will be ever white this winter. A spate of once-tropical storms has already struck in Oregon, and forecasters are predicting a snowpack higher than average. The prediction is stronger here than in Washington: years that are neither La Niña nor El Niño—neutral—tend to bring stormy winters. Indeed, Mount Hood had a foot of snow by mid-October.
October of 2016 is officially the wettest on record in Missoula and the Flathead Valley, breaking a 102 year-old record. Forecasts on La Niña’s strength are still lukewarm here, but the weather service still expects averages to be higher than normal.