Historically, January is a "dryer" month for Mount Washington with lower precipitation and blue skies being the norm for the first month of the year. And until the third week of January, with the last big snowfalls happening over three weeks ago, it's easy to get lost in the haze of bluebird skies and influx of Vitamin D that has graced the mountain. Along with the temperature inversion that the Comox Valley experienced over the last little while, spring like conditions embraced the mountain and carving skis popped up left, right and centre. With all of the sun sticking around in January, it was easy to forget that just a month ago we were experiencing some of the best snow conditions that we have seen in a long while.
It's easy to see how a month can change everything, especially on a mountain. While visitors and mountain staff were getting used to skiing in their tee-shirts and bringing out the shades, a little over 30 days ago it was a completely different picture: powder skiing day after day after day. While it wasn't the spectacular 100 cm dumps of heavier snow that we are used to seeing at Mount Washington, it was a welcome change of pace: constant, dry, and cold. Almost every morning, we woke up to a fresh blanket of the white stuff and for patrol, this meant constant maintenance of the boundary lines and avalanche control to ensure the resort was in tip-top shape for the public. Every department on the mountain was playing keep-up with the snow, and while being a ton of work to keep things going, it was always a welcome sight to see it constantly.
If you jump back another thirty days prior to that ridiculous first month, it was another different picture with Mount Washington looking like a ghost of it's self. Even during the later periods of November, right prior to the opening of the mountain, there were still bare patches and the snow depth wasn't as spectacular as what we've come to expect around here. And then, with almost everything around here, out of nowhere came a plethora of snow that was dumped right on our doorstep, helping to pull forward the opening day and fill in the mountain.
Going forward, when February is finally in full swing, what's to say what conditions will be like? Thirty days from then, what will March bring? Looking back historically, March is usually a stark contrast to that of January, a snow bearing month that combined with longer days makes for some of the best skiing of the year. However, we can't for sure predict that it will happen like that and for all we know, maybe February will be the time for spectacular skiing. With such uncertainty behind the foreseeable future, how can we figure out what things are going to be like in the long term when the weather can change from hour to hour?
Unfortunately, weather and snow forecasts cannot be set in stone and even the most "accurate" forecasts, even in the short term, will change. How many times have you checked out the five day snow forecast and notice that the mountain is expecting very little snow and the freezing level is going to go through the roof, just to check later that day and find an unexpected dump of forty centimetres of snow with a cold front greeting us around the corner? How many times has a high pressure system pushed through and basked the mountain in a sun-filled bluebird afternoon after days of clouds and poor visibility?
If there's one constant here at Mount Washington, there will always be snow just around the corner. So for now, I will look back and enjoy the sunny January weather we had, where you could hit the groomed runs in the morning and shred "spring" corn in the afternoon. It's always just a matter of biding the time before the next big snowfall, and with it, the next big powder turns. Until then, the carving skis stay waxed and sharpened at the ready and the powder skis are on stand-by.