So, 2020 hasn’t dialed up too many highs yet, but could the winter powder forecast be one of them?
We all love those Facebook memories. Read “One year ago, today…” and you are instantly lost in dreamy recollections of past opening weeks at Aspen Snowmass.

Those memories bring smiles along with the reflections: the distinct ski town hoots and hollers of deep-snow revelers on your first chairlift ride of a powder day; the tingling impatience you feel as you wait to add your own screeches and laughs to the chorus.

They remind you of commiserating with friends at the Red Onion on those days when high-pressure systems just will not seem to let our much-desired storm cycles move into town.

They are memories that make you forget about life’s responsibilities, your mind wandering to the love you have for leaning your skis on edge over freshly groomed corduroy under bluebird skies, the Bonnie’s pancakes you just devoured keeping you fueled.
Snow forecast for Aspen Snowmass' 2020-21 winter
Snow forecast for Aspen Snowmass' 2020-21 winter

Good news, daydreamer: Since the lifts started spinning at Aspen Snowmass on November 25, we have already had the full range of ski experiences, with the good days quickly outnumbering the bad.

Over our first three weeks, we have experienced some annoying high-pressure, but we have also had amazing top-to-bottom groomers and, more recently, Jello-leg-inducing powder days that some long-timers have called the best in years. And, there are still 17 more weeks to come!

What might future weather patterns have in store for us? Most forecasters agree we are in a La Niña pattern for 2020-2021. To understand what that means, we turned to Joel Gratz, founder of OpenSnow.com, long-time meteorologist, and professional powder-aholic.

“We have a moderate La Niña this season, which means water temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean are colder than average,” says Gratz. “This can change weather patterns here in North America and often results in snowfall in Colorado that's at least average if not a little above average.”
That sounds encouraging! So why are other modelers — like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the Old Farmer’s Almanac — so down on La Niña when it comes to snowfall this season?

It turns out those colder water temperatures in the Pacific cause high-pressure regions to form off the West Coast. This high pressure, in turn, deflects the jet stream and winter storms northward, causing generally wetter conditions in the Pacific Northwest and dryer ones in the Southern Rockies.

Hence, Joel’s fellow forecaster Larry Schick, who handles predictions for the Northwest at OpenSnow.com, predicting “abundant snowfall” in that region thanks to La Niña. So far, he’s been spot on.

The NOAA winter forecast for the United States “favors warmer, drier conditions across the southern tier of the United States, and cooler, wetter conditions in the north, thanks in part to an ongoing La Niña.” Colorado is right on the border of what NOAA considers the north and the south, so half of our state is looking at a drier than normal probability while the other half — the northern half — is looking at an equal to average probability of precipitation.
Snow forecast for Aspen Snowmass' 2020-21 winter
Snow forecast for Aspen Snowmass' 2020-21 winter

Where’s Aspen on that map? As expected, we’re invited to both parties, sitting smack between Colorado’s northern and southern halves. Being right on the border means unpredictability. That’s actually something we can work with! As Joel says: “Every La Niña season is a little different, because La Niña is not the only factor that controls the storm track. Some La Niña seasons produce more snow than others.”

Aspen skiers should start praying that the La Niña models push just a smidge further south. Joel points out that while good La Niña news in the Pacific Northwest does not guarantee big storms here in Colorado, it does tip “the odds a bit more in our direction.” We saw exactly that this past week here in Aspen. Our legs are still feeling it!
NOAA Forecast map
NOAA Forecast map

To get to his final season prediction, Joel looks at a plethora of models from Europe and North America. Long-range agreement among these various models is often elusive. That’s why Joel doesn’t like to give too many long-range forecasts. They are notoriously unreliable. But when the various models start to show shorter-term consistency, Joel can start to predict what specific mountains will be seeing in the days and weeks to come. That’s when you should start crafting creative out-of-office replies in your mind.

So, a good bet is to remain weather-obsessed. It’s what hardcore skiers do. Check our snow report for forecasts and snow reports, and visit the more niche weather and powder predictors like OpenSnow.com regularly to see how the models are lining up.
Actually, even better yet, just go skiing when the lifts are running regardless of how much snow fell overnight. That’s what really hardcore skiers do. It’s the only way to ensure Facebook memories pop-up a year from now and remind us of a universal truth: Every day is better when you ski.

This being said, long-range forecasts are notoriously fickle and unreliable. The best bet is to check the Aspen Snowmass' weather page for forecasts and visit the more niche weather and powder predictors like opensnow.com and aspenweather.net. Or even better yet, go skiing when the lifts are running regardless of how much snow fell overnight, because in 2020, getting outside and making some socially distanced turns is the best way to say “take that” to the year that has given us such a hard time. Oh, and the short-term forecasts are pretty good… and there’s some snow out there and more on the way. Enjoy!

About the Author

Nicole Birkhold
Nicole Birkhold

NICOLE BIRKHOLD

With nothing but a pair of skis and a journalism degree from Michigan State University, Nicole headed west looking for mountains, snow, and someone to pay her to put words to paper. She found the writing gig in Freeskier Magazine for ten years, but needed to be closer to the mountains to she packed it up and came to Aspen where she still crafts words but with more time on the snow.

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