Early Season In Vail: What To Expect

Oct. 31, 2015

Eary Season Conditions at Vail

Curious what it’s like to visit Vail in November through mid-December?

Here’s a taste: events abound, there are more affordable lodging options, quieter slopes and a friendly, slower-paced vibe in town. Snow conditions can vary quite a bit from season to season, so we caught up with meteorologist Joel Gratz to get his take on the long-range forecast. 

If you haven’t heard of Joel Gratz yet, it was only a matter of time. A skier who channeled his passion for finding the best snow into the highly regarded Opensnow.com, Joel is respected for his honest, straight forward, and technically astute snow forecasts. We asked Joel to give us his El Niño predictions back in August, and while forecasting snowfall any more than two weeks in advance is a speculation-based game, we asked him for his insights into what the weather models and historical El Niño snowfall data tell him about what this early season might look like.

Vail: “What is El Niño and why does it matter?”

Gratz: “Now in late August, the water temperature in the central Pacific Ocean is well above average. This condition is called El Niño, and there is unanimous consensus among forecasters that El Niño will persist through the winter. In fact, it may be one of the strongest El Niños that we’ve seen since 1950. This matters because the temperature of the Pacific Ocean has somewhat predictable effects on weather patterns around the world. By looking at these changing weather patterns during past El Niño events, we can come up with relatively reliable insights into what might happen during this upcoming winter. With El Niño projected to be very strong for this upcoming winter, I looked at the two other cases of very strong El Niño since 1950. These occurred during the winters of 1982-1983 and 1997-1998.”

Vail: “So what does this potentially mean for this winter?”

“During both of those winters, one thing that jumped out at me was the snowfall during the month of November, which for Vail was above average during both El Niño events. With strong November snow, the amount of snow on the ground on December 1st was right on the average in 1997 and was 153% of average in 1982. What does this math mean for the upcoming early ski season? Based on past strong El Niño winters, there is a good probability that the amount of snow on the ground in early December will be at least average, and perhaps even better than average. That has me hopeful of good early-season terrain openings.”

Now that we know a bit about the forecast, let’s take a look back at the early season conditions during the last three years. We cannot guarantee that history will repeat itself, but we do hope that these videos will get you excited for the snow that will fall in a few short months.

Early Season: The Last 3 Years

Early season 2014

Opening Weekend Nov. 21-22, 2014: We had a fantastic opening weekend last year with tons of terrain and fresh snow. Watch the video above for a taste!

The great early season continued with regular snowfall. The mountain tends to open from the western portion of the Front Side eastward, and by Nov. 24 we already had Highline Express Lift (#10). The Back Bowls began opening by Thanksgiving and Blue Sky Basin by December 4 – a very early opening for this well-loved area of the mountain.

Christmas Eve in VailA quick video postcard from Vail’s Blue Sky Basin this morning – Happy Holidays! #VailSnow

Posted by Vail on Wednesday, December 24, 2014

By the end of December, Vail had accumulated 13′ of snow. Christmas week was especially good, with many people calling it the best conditions they’d ever experienced for the holidays.


Early season 2013

Opening Weekend Nov. 22-23, 2013: Lots of November snowfall made for a great opening weekend 2 years ago with both gondolas running for opening day and terrain openings throughout the weekend.

December 4th, 2013: The good early season conditions continued with this early December powder day.

December 6, 2013: 2 days later we saw the opening of Highline Express Lift (#10) – one of the rare times in the season that you’ll see the iconic bump run, Highline, sans moguls.


Early season 2012

This season got off to a slower start in terms of snow and open terrain, but guests were still having a great time in the first weeks of the season.

November 29th-30th, 2012: Vail local, Robbie, went out to see how our guests have been enjoying their time on Vail Mountain. From Londoners to CU Boulder students to locals and visitors from Connecticut and Minnesota, this is what they had to say about their first turns of the 2012/2013 season at Vail.

December 9th, 2012: Vail Mountain received 9 inches of snow overnight making for a light, fluffy powder day.

December 18th, 2012: 27″ of snow made for a great two weeks of early season skiing and riding.