It’s Just One of Those Winters

by Mark Lahtinen
January 24, 2024

There was supposed to be about 3 to 5 inches of snow on the way when I last wrote about two weeks ago. We got nada here in Maple Grove and a trace on the east side of the Metro area.

Here we are over half way through calendar winter and we’ve officially had 7.3 inches of snow so far. We’re over 4 feet behind last year at this time…granted that was one of 3 ninety plus inch winters on record.

So far this winter…well it wasn’t really winter yet… we’ve had one day, Halloween, with 2 inches of snow on the ground and I’m not counting that as a ski day since it was just one day and very early at that. The average natural snow ski days are about 70 – 10 weeks - for a winter.

What gives?

Every once in awhile we get a very low snow winter. Since annual snow records began in 1884-85 we’ve had 6 winters with under 20 inches of snow with 4 of those since daily snow depth records began in 1899-1900. There have been 19 winters since 1884-85 with less than 26 inches of snow which is about one half of the average annual snowfall.

The four winters mentioned above with less than 20 inches of snow are 1930-31 with a whopping 14.2 inches (anyone still around that remembers that one?), 1986-87 with 17.4 inches (miles and miles on Lake of the Isles as I recall), 1967-68 with 17.5 inches (skiing in high school then…no roller skis…must’ve ran a lot of stairs in the building) and 1958-59 with 19.1 inches (the late ‘50s had 3 dry winters in a row…1956-57 through ’58-’59 and all had less than 20 ski days…no man-made snow for XC then).

The natural snow ski days for the above winters were: 1930-31 at 13, 1986-87 also 13, 1967-68 at 35 and 1958-59 at 9 (worst on record).

There was a picture in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in the winter of 1958-59 showing 2 skiers training for the 1960 Olympic Trials in Squaw Valley by a snow fence ridge by Bde-maka-ska Lake. The skiers were Karl Bohlin, Minnesota high school XC champion in 1957, who made the 1960 and 1964 Olympic ski teams, and Leroy Martinson, former Bloomington High School ski coach, who just missed in Nordic Combined.

The seventeen winters (with daily snow depth records) with less than one half the annual snowfall had an average of 21.9 inches of snow and averaged 27 ski days (range from 9 in ’58-’59 to 65 -almost average - in 1924-25). The average start date for the natural snow in these winters was about January 9 which was 2 weeks ago.

A couple of the seventeen winters mentioned above, 2011-12 and 2004-05, have happened since snow making began at Elm Creek. The winter of 2011-12 had 22.3 inches of snow and 21 ski days. My skiing log for that winter had 99 ski days so there were 78 more with the man-made snow. In 2004-05 there was 25.5 inches of snow and 30 ski days and my log had 109 so there were 79 more again with the benefit of man-made snow.

In the winter of 1980-81 we had 21.1 inches of snow and 15 ski days. We had temps in the 60s in February and lost all the snow. I remember roller skiing around Isles then. The Birkie was changed for the elites and those that traveled to several laps around the Telemark downhill in 60 degree weather and melt water flowing. Then there was a 6 inch plus snowfall and the Birkie was held two weeks later in early March. I don’t know if they could do that now with the much larger crowds.

We just had the warmest December on record and we may be bound for a warm calendar winter despite the recent cold snap as we now have highs in the 30s with possibly 40s and 50s next week and an outlook that is trending warm. The warmest 20 calendar winters averaged 39.2 inches of snow and 47 ski days.

I’m just summarizing what has happened in the past. We could still get a blast of snow and cold but from what I hear through the media it doesn’t sound promising. It’s looking like it will be too warm to make snow for the next week plus. I just hope that too much doesn’t melt before the Loppet World Cup. Some past years of World Cup races from Europe have been on ribbons of snow when they didn’t have enough of the real stuff. Keep your fingers crossed.

About the author...

Mark Lahtinen has been skiing since the late ‘60s woodies, 3-pins bindings, bamboo poles, and skied in tracks at Wirth at best. Starting about 15 years ago, Mark thought he could figure out winter snows -- too unpredictable, but he tries. Mark has some big spreadsheets and once in awhile can find some interesting data. Mark says: "I’m not a weatherman nor a climatologist nor do I play one on TV."