Courtesy of Graham Kraft
Lindsay Johnson skis early November snow near town.

This past month was the snowiest November Haines has seen in roughly a decade, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Haines townsite weather station had measured 50.9 inches by Nov. 29, roughly twice the average for November since the station began collecting data in 2000, and the most since November 2011 when the station recorded 126.3 inches.

The heavy November snowfall, coupled with colder temperatures that locked the snow in place, offered earlier opportunities for outdoor winter recreation in the Chilkat Valley than in recent years-2016, 2018 and 2019 were all well below average for November. At 2.7 inches, 2019 had the lowest November snowfall on record.

“We are about a month ahead of schedule,” snowmachiner Robbie Harris said. “The snow is deep, probably four-plus feet at tree line on Flower Mountain. We’re out there every chance we get.”

Backcountry skiers and splitboarders have also been taking advantage of the early snowfall.

“We are able to ski from the road close to town much earlier than past seasons. This is certainly the snowiest, skiing-est November since we moved here in 2012,” Fairweather Ski Works co-owner Lindsay Johnson said. “(It) makes the loss of the pass for early season outings more bearable.”

The pass, on the Canadian side of the border, is a popular destination for winter recreationists in Haines beginning in the fall when the snowpack closer to town may not be deep enough for skiing and snowmachining. The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to nonessential travel since March, a closure that is likely to extend into the new year.

“Judging by the all the ski tracks at some of the local spots, we’re not the only ones who have snuck in a few turns already this season,” Johnson’s husband and Fairweather Ski Works co-owner Graham Kraft said.

The heavy snowfall has also meant a boost in sales for local outdoor retailers.

“In our business, in good snow years, the ski and winter outdoor recreation equipment always does better,” Alaska Backcountry Outfitter owner Dan Egolf said.

The early snow is one of a number of factors Fairweather owners credit with an increase in sales.

“We have seen increased demand this fall, partially due to the early snowfall, but also it seems more people are looking for outdoor activities to keep them occupied during the pandemic. And to top it off, there’s this government cheese floating around that some people are itching to spend,” Kraft said.

Warm weather in recent days has caused some of the snow close to town to melt, putting a pause on winter recreation. Egolf said based on his experience, a temporary thaw this time of year is normal.

NOAA predicted “near normal temperatures and precipitation” for Haines this winter.

Other communities in the Northern Panhandle also received above-average snowfall this November. Skagway received almost four times as much snow in November compared to the average for the month. Southeast communities farther down the Panhandle have received less snow due to warmer temperatures, according to NOAA’s Juneau weather forecast office.