Analysis of Southern California Snow Conditions

The table History of Southern California Snow Conditions assigns a letter grade to each weekend's ski conditions in southern California over the past 31 years. The grades are defined as follows:

A:
All areas are in full operation with predominantly packed powder conditions.
B:
All areas are fully operating with spring conditions, or at least one area is fully operating with packed powder.
C:
At least one area is close to full operation.
D:
Any area open is in restricted operation.
R:
Rain

Each A weekend is counted as 3 points, each B weekend 2 points and each C weekend 1 point, and month point totals are shown. At the far right, the season point total is shown along with the total number of A, B and C weekends for that season.

There are substantial differences among the Southern California ski areas in snowfall, snowmaking capability, and other factors. This information is based upon my 2.6 million vertical feet of experience at these areas over the past 31 years.

Current California Ski Conditions

Return to the Powder Magazine Guide to Snowfall and ski conditions at 94 locations across North America.

Analysis of Southern California Snow History

How erratic are Southern California snow conditions compared to Mammoth? If Mammoth were scored by the same point system described above, an average season total would be 59 points. 90%of all Mammoth seasons would score higher than the record high Southern California point total of 43, set in 1978-79. Notice that there are hardly any "average" seasons. About half of seasons never get enough natural snow to permit wide-open off-piste skiing. But the ones that do are usually good for at least a couple of months.

There is a positive trend over the past 20 years due to increased snowmaking capacity. The average season score was 21 through 1986-87 and 27 since then. The December average has increased from 1.8 to 4.3. The 1982-83 and 1997-98 El Nino seasons were very comparable. 1982-83 had 3 feet of snow in November which was lost in a dry December. December 1997 had better skiing than December 1982 due mostly to snowmaking. 1996-97 was a warm and rainy season similar to 1985-86, but snowmaking maintained a base in 1997 which was washed away in 1986.

Average of 7 El Nino Seasons: 33.43
Average of 4 La Nina Seasons: 19.75
The El Nino seasons bring abundant snow, but it tends to come late and with warmer weather there can be rain also. 1978-79 remains the standout season because of early snow and unusually cold temperatures. With 3 feet of November snow and below zero temperatures in early December, 1978-79 would have scored 46-47 points with 1990's snowmaking capacity. The season's biggest dump at the end of January 1979 was very cold, bringing 6 inches snow to Palm Springs and 4-7 feet above 4,000 feet. It was then possible to ski over 3,500 vertical from Baldy's Thunder Mt. to Icehouse Canyon near Mt. Baldy Village.