Alta hits 500 inches of snow as battle for best ski season in history continues

Milestone arrives earlier than ever, but snowpack has less moisture than in 1981-82.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A field of skiers makes some turns at Alta Ski Area on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. The resort hit 500 inches of snowfall for the season on Feb. 14, the earliest it has ever reached that milestone.

The revered 500-inch February has arrived at Alta Ski Area, and it’s early — historically early.

The ski-only playground at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon has a reputation for collecting the most snow in Utah and some of the most in North America each season with an average of 540 inches. In the best seasons it hits 500 inches of snow — more than most resorts will ever see in an entire season — by mid-February.

This year, Alta hit that milestone earlier than ever before thanks to Tuesday’s sweet 5-inch skiff.

“No other winters have we surpassed 500 [inches] on Valentine’s Day,” Alta spokesperson Andria Huskinson wrote in a text. “In 1982 we had 497 [inches] on Valentine’s Day.”

Alta got another inch of snow Wednesday, giving it 502 for the season, its most to date.

The 2022-23 season’s reign will soon be usurped, though. In 1981-82, which is generally heralded as the snowiest ski season in the Wasatch Mountains, Alta got another storm Feb. 16-17 that put it at more than 502 inches. With no storm in sight through this weekend, this season is expected to fall back into second place.

Another storm is expected for Presidents Day, however, which could again shift the standings. OpenSnow.com has forecast up to 44 new inches of snowfall between Monday and Wednesday at Alta. If the storm is an overachiever, Alta will have surpassed its annual average snowfall with more than two months left in the season.

Other resorts need just one or two more storms to tickle the 500-inch mark. Brighton, at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, reports receiving 498 inches of snow this season as of Thursday. Snowbird reports 470 inches, while Solitude is sitting at 431. Park City Mountain Resort comes in at 336 inches to date. Ogden-area resorts Snowbasin and Powder Mountain say they have seen 284 and 270 inches, respectively, while Beaver Mountain near Logan has gotten 246 inches.

Last month, Alta also set a record for the most early-season snowfall.

Despite the back-and-forth when it comes to total snowfall to date, though, the 1981-82 still has a strong hold on the top spot in terms of water content, at least at Alta. Huskinson said that season’s snow up to this point contained 6.5 more inches of water than this season’s.

Again, though, a few wet storms in March — the month Alta typically receives the most snow — could change all that.

“We’ll have to see,” Huskinson said, “how the remainder of winter goes.”