Three ski areas in western Montana were unexpectedly forced to close Monday due to extreme cold and wind. Snowbowl outside of Missoula, Discovery Ski Area near Philipsburg and Blacktail Mountain near Lakeside all announced they were shut down for safety reasons, and all three will be closed Tuesday, as well.
The National Weather Service’s monitoring station at Point 6 near Snowbowl was recording temperatures of around minus-10 degrees all morning Monday, with sustained winds in the 30 mph range. However, with gusts up to 56 mph, that meant windchills of minus-43 degrees.
“It’s just too cold to be up on the mountain,” Snowbowl owner Brad Morris said in a recorded message on the ski hotline.
Arla Rosso at Blacktail Mountain said that the managers decided it was a safety issue.
“These cold temperatures are unsafe for skiers,” she said.
The frigid blast that hit Missoula on Monday is only expected to get worse on Tuesday, although winds shouldn’t be any higher.
“We have a forecast of minus-7 degrees for (early Tuesday morning) in Missoula,” said NWS meteorologist Jeff Kitsmiller. “We are still forecasting wind, with a windchill of somewhere around minus-20 degrees. The high on Tuesday should make it up all the way to about 1 degree. It’s going to get colder but not necessarily windier.”
The lowest recorded high temperature for Jan. 3 in Missoula was 3 degrees set in 1959. That night, it got down to minus-8 degrees.
Kitsmiller said the length of time this bone-chilling front is expected to last might be unprecedented for Missoula.
“The amount of time it will be cold will probably be close to a record,” he said. “It just hasn’t happened in a little while. This time of year, it’s not uncommon to have highs below zero, but this will be one of the longer stretches of being cold that we’ve had in a while.”
Kitsmiller said there is a low-pressure trough of air that is centered over Seattle right now.
“Because of that low, there is high pressure over on the east side of the (continental) divide,” he explained. “And all this cold air is rushing through all the mountains and gaps, which is why we’re getting wind and cold.”
Kitsmiller said it’s possible that one of the days towards the end of the week will be even colder than Tuesday.
“We do see a warmer weather system for the weekend, and it does look like it would probably bring snow,” he said. “We are still uncertain on the very end of the week. There is still a lot of question about that. We have a few models showing it warming up.”
Not all ski areas were closed on Monday. Lost Trail Ski Area south of Darby, Lookout Ski Area west of Superior and Whitefish Mountain Resort were all open.