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In Alaska, last year's deluge of snow just a memory

Alex DeMarban
Courtesy Alyeska Resort

Skiing in Southcentral Alaska may suck right now, but Alaskans who were buried by last year's record-breaking snowfall 12 months ago aren't complaining about the slow start to this year's snow season. That's the view of Chris Burling, a National Weather Service meteorologist who says Alaskans should expect several more days of "cold-and-clear" conditions, thanks to a high-pressure system over the Bering Sea.

"It's been going on for a week or 10 days, and it looks like it will persist at least until the middle of next week," Burling said on Friday.

Most people calling for weather updates are OK with that, Burling said. "Generally, people seem pretty pleased when I tell them it will be another week without snow."

Go figure. Snow records were shattered across the state last year, collapsing buildings, sinking boats and wreaking all kinds of other winter havoc. Anchorage tallied up a record 11 feet, 2.5 inches before the spring melt. But that was nothing compared to Prince William Sound. More than 36 feet buried Valdez, and Cordova was declared a snow disaster that needed National Guard help to dig out. It got pounded with 26 feet.

By Nov. 23 last year, Anchorage was already blanketed with nearly two-and-a-half feet of snow. This year, we're at 6.7 inches, thanks to high-pressure systems that have kept storms well to the south of the Alaska mainland, Burling said.

Dry as it may be, no records are in sight. The least snowfall recorded to this point in year was 0.9 inches in 1986. And the dreary winter of 2002 experienced just 2.1 inches by this time.

Jessica Pezak, director of marketing at Alyeska Resort, Alaska’s biggest ski area about 35 miles south of Anchorage, said the dry start to winter has forced the resort to operate its snow-making guns around the clock, a task helped by consistently cold temperatures.

Alyeska opened Wednesday, with ski runs only open to mid-mountain. The resort measures 17 inches of snow at midway, with 11 inches at the base. For cross-country skiers, Alyeska’s new 5K Nordic Loop around the base of the mountain is open. 

"It actually looks like winter here in Girdwood," Pezak said. "Of course, we're looking forward to getting natural snow, but we're grateful for the low temperatures."

Snow lovers have hope, however. December is usually Anchorage's snowiest month, with an average 17 inches during the month over the last three decades.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com