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Coastal ski hills anxiously watch the weather as El Nino approaches

Ice-sailing in Whistler (credit: Wikimedia Commons).

VANCOUVER — Ski resort operators in British Columbia hope mounds of snow this winter will blanket the bad memories of last year's dismal season, but with a strong El Nino system due to hit the province, those hopes may melt away.

Most forecasters agree El Nino will bring warmer coastal temperatures, but opinions vary about what that means for snowfall on coastal and Interior mountains.

The director of the Mount Washington Resort on Vancouver Island said hopes are pinned on three decades of weather data collected on the hill.

"Years there were El Ninos were the years that we seem to get the most amount of snow," Don Sharpe said. "Sometimes an El Nino year would bring a little bit less, but for the most part, it seems to be bringing the snowfall that we want."

But Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald said balmy temperatures are associated with the incoming weather system.

"With these higher-than-normal temperatures expected throughout the winter and into next spring, unfortunately a higher proportion of the total snowfall will fall as rain," he said. "The average freezing level will be a little bit higher, by the tune of about two- to 400 metres, meaning that, for the North Shore mountains, not the greatest news."

"Places like Whistler that benefit from more vertical won't fare too badly, but definitely not as much snow in the village," MacDonald said.

Whistler Mountain, at 2,181 metres, and Mount Washington, at 1,917 metres, could stay above the freezing level, but Vancouver's North Shore hills are all below 1,500 metres.

Accuweather forecaster Brett Anderson said January and February should be drier, with less snow than usual in the Rockies and into Alberta, but he also said disruptions from El Nino could bring heavy snowfalls around Christmas.

"We do think the bulk of our precipitation will come early in the winter and therefore we think snowfall to start the season will be close to normal, especially in the coastal range," Anderson said.

That fits with predictions from Mount Washington, where Sharpe is looking forward to a strong season.

"The temperatures are right, and the feeling in the air is the way it should be." (CTV, Global, CHNL).

The Canadian Press

Story updated at 13:47 ET.

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