October is a strange time of year in a ski town. The nights are getting cold, but winter hasn’t arrived. So we have to occupy our minds by planning elaborate Halloween costumes and predicting how much snow we’ll get this winter.

Enter El Niño.

At its simplest, El Niño is distinguished by warmer than normal temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean, and it affects weather across the world. Everyone wants to know what it means for ski season, and the answer is, “It depends.”

The maps below (marked with Steamboat’s location in northwest Colorado) show NOAA’s 2015-16 winter outlook. The first map shows a precipitation outlook, and the second map shows a temperature outlook. On both maps, Steamboat falls within the equal chances swath, meaning Steamboat has an equal probability of a wetter and drier than normal winter as well as a colder and warmer than normal winter. Basically, it’s anyone’s guess how this season will play out.



That said, all storms are not created equal. Meteorologist Joel Gratz, of OpenSnow.com, says about half of a season’s snowfall comes from about 10 percent of winter storms. “This means that just a few big storms are responsible for the majority of snow, so the absence or addition of just one or two storms can change the outcome of the winter,” he said.

Here’s what we do know: Steamboat’s all-time snowfall average at mid-mountain is 316 inches. Its 10-year average is even better at 348 inches. On the man-made side of things, Steamboat recently upgraded its snowmaking system with new pipe in addition to adding 32 tower guns and two fan guns to its arsenal. The improvements will significantly accelerate the resort’s ability to produce snow early this season. Whether there’s powder or sunshine headed Steamboat’s way, the resort’s  21-machine grooming fleet is prepared to keep the corduroy ready for carving.

No matter what mother nature throws at us this winter, we’ll be ready for it.


Nicole Miller, social media specialist

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