Editor’s Note: We updated and reposted this blog, originally written in October 2020, as we head into our third consecutive La Niña weather pattern, a rare triple-dip (which hasn’t happened since 2000).

I’ve got a slew of time-tested (read: ridiculously superstitious) methods for bringing on a good winter. Trust me. Among them (I won’t let you in on all my secrets) are flushing ice cubes down the toilet, sleeping with my pajamas inside out and screaming snow into the freezer on a daily basis.

A man in snow gear, stood next to a snow-laden Inuksuk raises his arms to the evening sky as the snow falls in Whistler.
Bring on the white stuff. PHOTO MIKE CRANE

The latter tends to startle my roommates, which is an added bonus on top of the reassurance that I’m fulfilling my duties of stirring up the winter stoke.

And this year, it seems like my methods have paid off (to my roommates – you can thank me later). Much to my excitement, the words La Niña have recently been spoken by meteorologists and appeared in weather and news headlines, which can only mean one thing – snow is coming.  

A skier tackles deep powder in the trees on Whistler's slopes.
When it’s deep in Whistler, it’s DEEP. PHOTO VINCE EMOND

According to the latest report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), there is a 60 per cent chance La Niña will continue into winter 2022/23. Adding to my already premature anticipation, when I got this news, I was over-the-top excited. But why am I jumping out of my seat for a weather phenomenon which translates to the little girl? Let me explain.

What is La Niña?

La Niña is a weather pattern that is characterised by colder than normal waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which has an effect on the weather all over the world.

The phenomenon was given its catchy name by Peruvian sailors who, in the late 1800s, noticed an unusually warm ocean, dubbing it El Niño. This translates to the little boy in Spanish and denotes the Christ Child because it happened right around Christmas. Naturally, when they observed colder than average ocean temperatures, they dubbed it La Niña, which means the little girl

Both of these weather patterns are caused by variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific and are opposite phases of the broader El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, with La Niña referred to as the cold phase and El Niño the warm phase. When La Niña occurs, strong trade winds push warm surface water to the west, causing deeper, colder water to come to the surface in the east, displacing the jet stream northward. 

This has different effects on the weather depending on where you are in the world, but for western Canada, La Niña means increased precipitation and colder temperatures, and up here in Whistler that means snow. 

How Much Snow Are We Talking?

While a La Niña winter isn’t an absolute guarantee (this is Mother Nature after all), there are plenty of signs that point to a good winter when she comes around.

In the 1973/74 season, when La Niña came through, Whistler Blackcomb set their snow base record of 504 centimetres (198 inches / 16.5 feet), which still holds to this day. More recently, we’ve seen La Nina years in 2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12, 2016/17, 2017/18, 2020/21 and 2021/22. The top five snowiest months of the year in the past 10 years have all occurred in La Niña years.

Top 5 Snowiest Months in the Past 10 Years

  1. January 2020: 477 cm
  2. March 2012: 405 cm
  3. January 2018: 379 cm
  4. December 2018: 373 cm
  5. November 2017: 366 cm

Over the past ten years, Whistler Blackcomb has received an average of 10.8 metres (35.5 feet) of snow a year.

Family Skiing in Whistler
Embrace your inner child when it dumps, it’s easy—just have fun. PHOTO MIKE CRANE

When Will the Snow Come?

Once again, the science isn’t exact, but there are a few trends I’ve noticed over the past years that can point us in the right direction for predicting when it’s going to be extra snowy.

Looking at the last three La Niña events in Whistler, January has been the snowiest month, which corresponds with the top average of the last ten years overall. If you’re looking for second place in the last ten years, it’s March with December taking third.

Two skiers look out across the snowy mountains in Whistler.
La Nina’s are typically bookended by epic months in November and March, which makes for a long ski season. PHOTO GUY FATTAL

Whistler Blackcomb’s official Opening Day is slated for November 24, 2022 and we can’t wait to get out there. Follow us @GoWhistler for announcements and use #onlyinwhistler to share your opening day stoke with us!

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Author

Born and raised in Burlington, Vermont, Ben always had his eyes on the bigger mountains out west. When an opportunity to study in Vancouver became reality, he packed up his car and never looked back. Listening perhaps too closely to the old adage “Do what you love”, Ben spent his University years studying Geography and skipping perhaps too many classes to enjoy Whistler, completely consumed by the mountains. Today, things haven’t changed one bit, as he spends his time either in the mountains, on the coast, or writing about the people and places that inspire him.