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Snow

It's fickle.
It's glorious.
And it can make your trip.
There's more than a few things that go into evaluating resorts' snow profiles. To have a look at all of the factors for which we account, browse all of our explanations below.
Snow Ranking Calculus
Or just head straight to our resort snow rankings and all of the numbers (there's a lot).
Snow Rankings!
  • General Notes

    For most major areas there are well over 100 months of snowfall data. Within each region there is at least one area with a minimum of 35 years of complete monthly data that can be used to index snowfall to any closely correlated area in that region. Snowfall is sufficiently volatile that even 10 year averages can deviate from long term averages by 20%.

  • True Snowfall: Why our numbers might be different from those posted by ski resorts

    1. Ski areas don't always measure snowfall precisely from November 1 to April 30. It’s not fair to penalize remote areas which open late and close early due to number of skiers, not lack of snow. With very few exceptions October snow that melts away before ski areas open and May snow that falls after areas are closed are excluded.

    2. Ski areas may not keep long-term snowfall data, and utilize averages over shorter periods of time—often five years—for marketing purposes. These can vary radically from long term averages, and the temptation is strong to leave the number alone after a bad year rather than update. For virtually any area an optimal 5-year streak can be cherry picked that exceeds a long term average by 25% or more.

    3. Ski area snowfall figures are occasionally white lies—marketing directors blow smoke with anecdotal information and inflated figures. More often legitimate data is collected from a choice snowfall area and marketed as representative of the entire mountain. That is why the altitude where snowfall is measured is shown in the tables here for every area so it can be compared to the lift served elevation range of the ski area. A few areas measure from more than one location. In those cases we look for a mid-mountain location representative of the ski terrain, and occasionally we average upper and lower measurements.

  • For ski areas which do not collect monthly snowfall data

    The word “estimate” appears with the snowfall total and no elevation is listed for measuring snow. We do not accept marketing “brochure quotes” at face value. We will use them if they are consistent in regional climate/topography context and with our personal observation or local reputation. If not we make our best educated guess to the nearest 25 inches and expect that in the vast majority of cases it will be within 10-20% of the “real” average.

  • True Number or Estimate

    This is either the real snowfall figure, culled from true data (not imaginary brochure-land) or, when there's a dearth of true data for this resort, this number is an estimate based on the region and data we know about close-by points. We indicate whether this number is pure data or an estimate in the next column. True Data is drawn from places like daily patrol reports and avalanche center records that go back decades.

  • Elevation from which data drawn

    Patrol shacks and avalanche observatory points from which data is sourced can be placed on different spots on the mountain. Some are low, some high. This can make a large difference in the reported snowfall figure; precipation at the top of a resort can be double or triple the base. Some of our data comes from points high on the mountain, some low. Jackson Hole's data number, for example, is drawn from a lower number than another observation point higher on the mountain, where it snows more. You can gauge how relatively high or low our data point is by looking at the base and summit elevations of the resort in the next column.

  • Confidence in Estimate

    Some of our estimates we have a extremely high level of confidence in: we base off of data coming from spots in the near vicinity with similar aspects and elevations. For others, we can have lesser degrees of confidence, as indicated by this column. In all cases, however, our estimate number is the closest thing to the truth that you can find, in lieu of real data.

  • Days w/ 6"+

    The average percentage of days within the months December through March when this Resort sees more than six inches of snow. As any skier knows, four inches is kind of neat, but six inches is when the real fun starts, especially with bigger skis.

  • Months w/ 90"+

    The average percentage of winter months (December to March) during which this resort sees more than 90 inches snow. This is a strong indicator of the likelihood of experiencing deep powder conditions (storms of a foot or more) over a shorter period, such as a week. Also, a high percentage here shows a greater likelihood of achieving a deep mid-winter snowpack by Christmas.

  • Months w/ less than 30"+

    The average percentage of winter months during which it snows less than 30 inches. This figure does not always vary inversely with average annual snowfall. Some resorts that see prolific averages of 400 inches per year may also be prone to extended periods of warm and dry weather. Most of these mountains are in California, where it is possible to get 8 feet of snow in a week, or by contrast no snow at all for a month. Either these extremes are very rare in the Rockies. This figure is also a red flag for early season reliability. A high percentage of 20% or more indicates a risk of only a limited amount of terrain being open by Christmas. Christmas weeks in the California Sierra tend to be feast or famine, as indicated by the high figures for both 90+ and less than 30 inch months.

  • North, East, West, South-facing terrain

    These headings are mostly self-explanatory. A quick primer: Snow on north-facing terrain tends to stay cold and chalky long after the snow on other aspects has turned to mush or, in some cases, melted completely. Snow on south-facing terrain can degrade quickly, depending on the latitude and altitide of the resort. Steep terrain is most sensitive to exposure, preserving better than gentle terrain if facing north but degrading faster if facing south. Chronically cloudy areas in the Northwest and Western Canada are less degraded by south exposure because of much less direct sun.

  • Snowfall Score

    This is a rating accounting for snowfall quantity, quality and consistency. It’s a good indicator of the attractiveness of a resort for powder skiing.

  • Total Snow Score

    The reality is that powder days occur not much more than 20% of the time even at the snowiest places. The final snow score adjusts the snowfall score for the factors than help or hurt preservation of snowpack and packed powder conditions the other 80+% of the time. The key factors affecting snow preservation are exposure, altitude, latitude and rain incidence. Many Colorado and Vermont areas have similar snowfall scores, but most Colorado areas get large positive adjustments for the snow preservation factors while all Eastern areas take a big hit for low altitude and rain incidence.

  • Snowmaking

    For large western resorts a relatively small proportion of terrain is covered by snowmaking and almost none beyond the intermediate level. For many western areas that do well with snowmaking, such as Sun Valley, Mammoth and several in Colorado, a key reason is high altitude, which is already a positive factor in the snow score. For smaller areas with modest natural snowfall but good snowmaking reputation, we adjust drought resistance and in some cases raise the snow score by 15-20 points. However, given the severe snow preservation issues (altitude and rain) highly snowmaking dependent areas rarely score more than 30-35 points even with a snowmaking adjustment. The highest scoring eastern areas, notably in Vermont, derive most of their snow score from their 200-300+ inches of snowfall, with a modest assist from the snowmaking.

Z rankings logoBest Snow in North America

   Resort     Zone True
Snow*
Data or data-
based Estimate
Elevation of data
Base & Top Elev.
Confidence
in estimate
Days w/ more
than 6 inches
Months w/ more
than 90 inches
Months w/ less
than 30 inches
Snowfall Score
North-facing Terrain
East-facing Terrain
West-facing Terrain
South-facing Terrain
Total Snow Score
w/ Preservation 
1 Alta Ski Area
UT
Rockies 519" Data 9600' 8530'
to
10550'
-- 20.3% 50.0% 1.4% 97.5 53% 17% 29% 1% 100.0 more
2 Snowbird
UT
Rockies 448" Data 8100' 7760'
to
11000'
-- 17.6% 38.3% 4.0% 87.2 50% 16% 21% 13% 95.1 more
3 Powder King Mountain Resort
BC
Canadian-Rockies 492" Est -- 3000'
to
5500'
medium 20.0% 45.0% 3.0% 93.4 20% 75% 0% 5% 93.5 more
4 Grand Targhee
WY
Rockies 464" Data 8800' 7408'
to
10000'
-- 19.0% 41.0% 3.2% 90.0 20% 0% 60% 20% 92.4 more
5 Brighton Ski Resort
UT
Rockies 430" Data 9400' 8750'
to
10500'
-- 16.4% 30.8% 6.8% 82.3 43% 15% 32% 10% 87.9 more
6 Wolf Creek Ski Resort
CO
Rockies 389" Data 10642' 10300'
to
11904'
-- 14.9% 26.6% 18.1% 73.5 65% 35% 0% 0% 86.5 more
7 Solitude Mountain Resort
UT
Rockies 398" Data 9000' 7988'
to
10035'
-- 16.1% 27.8% 8.1% 78.6 55% 27% 15% 3% 84.1 more
8 Alyeska Resort
AK
Northwest 500" Data 1400' 250'
to
2750'
-- 20.9% 47.9% 10.2% 90.3 35% 0% 40% 25% 83.9 more
9 Mt. Baker Ski Area
WA
Northwest 640" Data 4300' 3589'
to
5089'
-- 26.1% 61.4% 5.5% 100.0 50% 25% 25% 0% 83.7 more
10 Kirkwood
CA
Sierras 459" Data 8526' 7800'
to
9800'
-- 20.0% 44.5% 17.6% 77.4 65% 25% 10% 0% 83.1 more
11 Winter Park Ski Resort
CO
Rockies 349" Data 10800' 9000'
to
10700'
-- 13.4% 10.6% 9.3% 70.5 50% 10% 38% 2% 82.5 more
12 Loveland Ski Area
CO
Rockies 346" Data 11200' 10800'
to
12700'
-- 12.7% 11.8% 10.6% 69.7 40% 30% 0% 30% 81.0 more
13 Vail Ski Resort
CO
Rockies 359" Data 11250' 8120'
to
11570'
-- 14.1% 18.9% 10.3% 73.3 40% 20% 20% 20% 79.0 more
14 Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
CO
Rockies 315" Data 10820' 10780'
to
12472'
-- 10.4% 6.2% 23.0% 56.5 55% 25% 15% 5% 78.5 more
15 Beaver Creek Resort
CO
Rockies 329" Data 11200' 8100'
to
11440'
-- 12.2% 8.3% 12.8% 66.9 55% 25% 20% 0% 77.9 more
16 Whitewater
BC
Canadian-Rockies 390" Data 5500' 4523'
to
6567'
-- 15.7% 26.1% 5.4% 77.1 30% 24% 30% 16% 77.7 more
17 Whistler
BC
BC-Coastal 415" Data 5413' 2140'
to
7494'
-- 16.9% 34.3% 10.6% 76.1 55% 2% 40% 3% 75.6 more
18 Mammoth
CA
Sierras 350" Data 9000' 7953'
to
11053'
-- 14.7% 31.3% 29.2% 59.9 65% 22% 10% 3% 75.3 more
19 Shames Mountain Ski Area
BC
Canadian-Rockies 480" Est -- 2300'
to
3900'
medium 20.0% 35.0% 7.0% 84.4 0% 40% 0% 60% 75.1 more
20 Copper Mountain
CO
Rockies 280" Data 11000' 9712'
to
12313'
-- 10.6% 4.1% 20.2% 58.1 55% 25% 15% 5% 74.8 more
21 Steamboat Ski Resort
CO
Rockies 372" Data 9200' 6900'
to
10568'
-- 14.2% 16.6% 8.3% 74.7 20% 2% 55% 23% 74.5 more
22 Mt. Bachelor
OR
Northwest 380" Data 6300' 5700'
to
9065'
-- 15.2% 25.0% 17.8% 67.8 55% 20% 20% 5% 74.5 more
23 Powder Mountain Ski Resort
UT
Rockies 350" Est -- 6895'
to
8900'
high 15.1% 20.0% 9.0% 72.2 32% 33% 28% 7% 74.4 more
24 Aspen Snowmass
CO
Rockies 296" Data 11000' 8104'
to
12510'
-- 10.7% 5.0% 21.0% 59.7 60% 25% 13% 2% 74.3 more
25 Pomerelle Mountain Resort
ID
Rockies 325" Est -- 8000'
to
9000'
low 14.4% 18.0% 13.0% 66.7 65% 35% 0% 0% 73.7 more
26 Eagle Point Ski Resort
UT
Rockies 325" Est -- 9001'
to
10401'
low 14.4% 18.0% 13.0% 68.0 35% 5% 40% 20% 73.0 more
27 Monarch Mountain
CO
Rockies 287" Data 10800' 10790'
to
11952'
-- 11.0% 5.2% 22.8% 58.3 35% 55% 5% 5% 72.7 more
28 Jackson Hole
WY
Rockies 366" Data 8250' 6311'
to
10450'
-- 15.6% 30.0% 10.5% 75.8 10% 60% 0% 30% 72.0 more
29 Brian Head Resort
UT
Rockies 312" Data 9770' 9600'
to
11307'
-- 12.5% 14.2% 19.3% 63.1 35% 20% 35% 10% 71.7 more
30 Breckenridge Ski Resort
CO
Rockies 283" Data 11100' 9600'
to
12840'
-- 11.3% 5.4% 17.5% 60.0 20% 60% 0% 20% 70.8 more