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Buried Cars in Front of the Alta Peruvian Lodge on a sunny winter day

Not So Dry January

By Adam Fehr 01-17-2024

Alta received over 10 feet of snow in two weeks.

In an uncharacteristic move, Alta Ski Area started the new year by committing to a Dry January. And like many of us, that commitment was short-lived and ended by the first weekend of the new month.

In reality, the dry spell for Alta started in early December. After a solid start to the season that included eighty inches of snow in the first week of December—blessing Alta with the most snowfall in the lower 48 states—the Alta snow globe sat idle. Between December 9th and January 3rd, the Collins Study Plot saw just 8.5 inches of snow over those 27 days. While not the longest dry spell in recent years, it was a far cry from the never-ending snowfall we witnessed during last season’s record-breaking 903-inch season. Despite the lack of new snow, the blue skies and sunshine provided great skiing conditions and relatively few operational hurdles through the holiday season. December 2023 concluded with 88 inches of snow, only slightly less than the 43-year average December snowfall of 90.62 inches (97%).

On Thursday morning, January 4th, Alta Ski Area released Soul of Alta—a short film that explores the intersection of people and powder skiing throughout Alta’s 86-year history. As if tapping into a secret reservoir of Alta Magic, snow returned to Alta. Three weeks later, Alta Ski Area has received over 140.5 inches of snow from a series of cold winter storms.

January 2024 | 140.5 inches of snow

The snow returned on Thursday, January 4th, delivering 30.5 inches of snow through a powder-filled first weekend of 2024. Two days of storm skiing yielded to a classic Alta bluebird powder day on Saturday, January 6th.

Johnny Collinson enjoys the first storm of 2024 | Photo: Rocko MenzykSammo Cohen enjoys the first storm day of 2024 | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

January 5th: Childhood friends raised at Alta, Johnny Collinson (left) and Sammo Cohen (right), enjoy the first storm of 2024 | Photos: Rocko Menzyk

January 6th: Jascha Herlihy enjoys a well-timed return to Alta | Photo: Photo-John

January 6th: Jascha Herlihy enjoys her well-timed return to Alta | Photo: Photo-John

The snow continued to fall throughout the second week of January as a cold snap embraced Little Cottonwood Canyon. Skiers who braved the coldest weather of the season were rewarded with some great powder skiing all week long as Alta Ski Patrol worked through the frigid temperatures to open additional terrain.

January 8th: Alta-raised Jacqueline Pollard is no stranger to the cold, or the deep powder snow | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

January 8th: Alta-raised Jacqueline Pollard is no stranger to the cold—or deep powder snow | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

As the cold snap left town, a long-duration storm system took its place just in time for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Weekend. The storm ushered in plenty of snow and wind, offering great storm skiing and wind-buffed snow, but also throwing a bit of a monkey wrench in holiday ski plans.

January 10th: Megan Dingman finds a spot to hide from the wind and snow | Photo: Chloe Jimenez

January 10th: Megan Dingman finds a spot to hide from the wind and snow | Photo: Chloe Jimenez

January 11th: New Hampshire native Nicole Cordingley is just stoked to be here | Photo: Chloe Jimenez

January 11th: New Hampshire native Nicole Cordingley is just stoked to be here | Photo: Chloe Jimenez

January 11th: Colorado native Piper Kunst knows to find shelter from the storm in the trees | Photo: Chloe Jimenez

January 11th: Colorado native Piper Kunst knows to find shelter from the storm in the trees | Photo: Chloe Jimenez

Following a few days of powder and wind buff, Interlodge went into effect in the early hours of Sunday morning as Alta Ski Patrol and the Utah Department of Transportation Avalanche crews went to work mitigating a rapidly increasing avalanche hazard. As the storm raged on, the decision was made to keep Highway 210 and Alta Ski Area closed for the day. Interlodge remained in place for the night and into the MLK Holiday.

January 12th: Town of Alta employee Connor Worth clears snow in a snowstorm | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

January 12th: Town of Alta employee Connor Worth clears snow in a snowstorm | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

Around 10am on Monday, January 15th—after a long morning of extensive avalanche mitigation and digging out—Highway 210 opened, a 34-hour Interlodge order lifted, the lifts started spinning and we enjoyed a beautiful day of fresh snow and sunshine.

January 15th: Tahoe native Ross Tester may have gone a little stir crazy during the 34-hour Interlodge | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

January 15th: Tahoe-raised Ross Tester may have gone a little stir-crazy during the 34-hour Interlodge | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

MLK Storm Fun Fact: While we have become accustomed to some wild weather at Alta, the 85-inch MLK Weekend storm of 2024 was a unique event in our recent history. Storm totals at the Collins Study Plot are calculated every 12 hours—at 4am and 4pm daily. If the study plot fails to record snowfall in a 12-hour period, the storm total resets to zero. As was the case during the 85-inch MLK Weekend storm, snow continued to accumulate consistently from Tuesday, January 9th through Monday, January 15th. The 85-inch storm total was bigger than any single storm total during last season’s 903-inch winter. In fact, we have to look back to January 2017 to find a bigger single storm, when 88.5 inches of snow fell between January 19th and 26th. This year’s MLK Weekend storm was the second-snowiest single storm in the past 20 years. Shout out to Alta Ski Patrol for working through this weeklong storm…and for keeping such great snowfall data over the years.

January 15th: Alta employees extract their vehicles before the next storm | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

January 15th: Alta employees extract their vehicles between storms | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

The break in the weather was short-lived. Alta Ski Area, residents, visitors and employees in the town of Alta had just 36 hours to ski some powder and dig out their vehicles before another storm dropped 11.5 inches of snow.

January 18th: Jenna Henry and Anna Tadesco surf a party wave | Photo: Chloe Jimenez

January 18th: Jenna Henry and Anna Tadesco surf a party wave | Photo: Chloe Jimenez

Another weekend storm delivered nine inches of powder followed shortly after by the final storm cycle of January, dropping another 4.5 inches of dense snow. A weeklong stretch of high pressure at the end of January allowed Alta Ski Patrol to open additional terrain as we turn our attention to the February forecast.

January 26th: Three-time Olympian Brita Sigourney enjoying retirement at Alta | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

January 26th: Three-time Olympian Brita Sigourney enjoying retirement at Alta | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

January 29th: Connor Pelletier enjoyed the first wall-to-wall Devil's Castle opening of the season | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

January 29th: Connor Pelletier catches first wall-to-wall Devil's Castle opening of the season | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

Alta Ski Area received 140.5 inches of snow for the month—149% of Alta's 43-year average January snowfall of 94.4 inches. While nearly 50% above average for the month, January 2024 fell short of Alta's January snowfall record of 186 inches—set way back in...last season.

To view the entire collection of images from this season, check out Alta's Photo of the Day gallery.

State of the Snowpack

As of January 31st, Alta Ski Area has received 294.5 inches of season-to-date snowfall—once again the most snowfall in the lower 48 states. The 294.5 inches of snowfall is slightly more than half of Alta’s 43-year average annual snowfall of 546 inches.

Digging a little deeper into Alta's snowfall history, our season-to-date snowfall is currently at 104% of our average October through January snowfall over the past 43 seasons (282.97”).

2023–24 Snowfall By-the-Numbers

Season-to-date snowfall from October through January 31st over the past 10 seasons:

  1. 2014–15: 193.5” | Season total: 323.5”
  2. 2015–16: 267.5” | Season total: 438.5”
  3. 2016–17: 312.5” | Season total: 596.5”
  4. 2017–18: 143” | Season total: 388”
  5. 2018–19: 272” | Season total: 626”
  6. 2019–20: 347.5” | Season total: 542”
  7. 2020–21: 200.5” | Season total: 486.5”
  8. 2021–22: 261.5” | Season total: 445.5”
  9. 2022–23: 472” | Season total: 903”
  10. 2023–24: 294.5” | Season total: ???

9-Year Average snowfall through January 31st: 274 inches
9-Year Average seasonal snowfall: 588 inches
9-Year Average rest-of-season snowfall: 314 inches

This Not So Dry January helped us recover from a December dry spell and we are enjoying our fourth-snowiest start to the season in the past decade. Looking at the past decade of snowfall through the end of Januar, we have avoided the sub-200-inch starts of some really dry seasons. and while we are well behind last season’s 472 inches by January 31st, the season is shaping to be a less-historic, yet solid nonetheless, season of Alta powder skiing.

We are 68 days into the 2023–24 ski season and have enjoyed a slightly above-average, season to this point—and an average Alta season is still pretty dang good. With 81 days of skiing ahead of us, we'll keep praying for snow and continue to enjoy whatever Mother Nature throws our way.

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