As fall temperatures drop and layers of clothes pile on, the promise of winter looms over the skiing community of Bozeman. Luckily, this year’s early predictions  hold some hope for the coming winter season across Montana.

Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center and the Farmer’s Almanac predict above average snowfall and below average temperatures for the entire northwestern U.S. between January and March due to the high probability of La Niña, a cold weather pattern caused by ocean temperature variations, which will occur this winter. Montana in particular has the highest chance of any western state for increased snowfall. 

Despite the excitement of these predictions, both publications should be read with a grain of salt. The weather is always subject to change, so even a prediction made three months in advance may not turn out exactly as hoped.  The NOAA prediction is based on verifiable scientific and technological information, whereas the Farmer’s Almanac claims its predictions are based on “sunspot activity, tidal action of the Moon, the position of the planets and a variety of other factors.” The almanac refuses to release their process for calculating the likelihood of future weather; thus, their findings are unverifiable. 

NOAA breaks down their prediction based on the probability of above or below average weather. The early season appears most promising for the northwestern corner of Montana, with a 60% chance of above-average snow accumulation. The prime months of January, February and March hold a high likelihood of snowfall for the entire state as well.

Unfortunately, waking up to 10 fresh inches may not be the exciting experience it once was, as we are now in the face of COVID-19. Bridger Bowl is currently establishing a reservation system to reduce crowding in lift lines and has already released social distancing and mask guidelines. Big Sky has only confirmed regulations for social distancing, masks and contactless payment methods.

While the excitement of a great season to come may be a relief amidst the chaos of 2020, the dangers of the pandemic are still a great risk. Bridger Bowl stated in a letter outlining the changes for the 2020-2021 season that, “Bridger Bowl is working hard to create the safest environment for skiing and riding for our guests, our community and our employees… The wild card variables thrown at all of us over the past six months have emphasized the need for outdoor activities in all our lives…” If the season is not handled responsibly, the great conditions could turn into fuel for the fire of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That being said, what could make a better face mask than a pow-beard? And who could complain about keeping their tracks six feet from the rest of the crowd or avoiding long lift lines? If anything, a good season only promises that there will always be another storm around the corner—there’s no rush to crowd the slopes.

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