Ski Weather - How to Avoid the Worst of It
By Trevor Paetkau
Three days of sleet pellets bouncing off boilerplate and a wet wind that renders Goretex useless... herein lies no joy. And worse yet, if you're holed up at the Chateau Whistler shelling out hundreds a night, you're doubly irate and ready to give the whole ski industry a swift kick in its over-priced, padded rear-end.
So, what's the lesson? Stay away from the Chateau Whistler? Well... apart from the obvious; let me state the obvious. Whistler's poorly kept secret is that, regardless of the time of year, skiers stand a better than average chance of encountering gray clouds, snow like cement and an evil penetrating dampness. Likewise, no-one should be surprised when their mid January Laurentian ski sojourn turns into an exercise in frost-bite avoidance.
The following advice is designed to slap you with what should be obvious, but because of our skier's ever optimistic hearts, is almost always ignored. So listen up.
Visit the coastal ranges. As of November 14, 2005 Mount Baker had a 7 foot base. A little wet maybe, but who cares about a dose of Sierra Cement when thanksgiving is still two weeks away. Avoid the east... Tremblant's mountain-cams showed absolutely zero (nada) snow for the same date in spite of their promises of an early opening.
December / Christmas Season -
It's god awful dank and dark in the coastal ranges this time of year, and the joy of just being in the mountains again has worn off. By Christmas, the snow pack in the Rockies should have filled in and its a whole lot drier at 10,000 feet than it is at 3,500. Any interior range is your best bet. Keep avoiding the east, the snow guns will be blasting you in the face, and its bound to be gray, icy and frigid.
January / February -
Has anyone truly, honestly liked skiing in the middle of winter. There is no sun, the east and interior ranges are frigid, the coastal ranges are dark and gloomy. That said, if you're going to ski (and who isn't?) take your pick between light or temperature... Southern Colorado, the Monashees, and Eastern Rockies have more hours of sun per day than elsewhere, the coastal ranges are warmer, and the east is... well, the east is still afflicted with bullet proof snow and windswept runs.
You're in business everywhere... this is the time of year skiing is at its best almost everywhere... In the east, the sun will actually bless you with some warmth, the snow pack is at its most filled in (you can finally ski those vaunted glades the marketing guys keep throwing at you in their brochures), and the days have stretched out to light your way home from the bar. The Rockies still have light dry powder and will be as filled in as they're going to get. As for the Coastal Ranges, if you get a good week you'll be in heaven... top to bottom skiing, massive snow pack, and as much sun as you can expect anytime of year.
Late March -
It's a shame, but on many Eastern mountains the snow pack has deteriorated to the degree that anything interesting is either so bony a rider is risking life and limb, or its simply closed. There is lots of light however, and the sun is still putting in an extra effort without degrading the surface too much. The Rockies and Coastal ranges are still in top form.
Tuckerman, Tuckerman, Tuckerman... here's where eastern riders get to shove it in the face of all those Western hotshots... there are core lines here that have more history than any other on the continent, and by April enough snow has blown over the top of Mount Washington to fill in what's going to get filled in, and the ski-out is still open... you haven't paid you're dues until you've paid them there.
That said, anyplace still open with a patio, cold beer and a slush puddle will do the trick... spring afternoons at the bottom of a ski-hill, any ski-hill, are what adolescent memories are made of.
Late Spring / Summer -
Back to the coastal range, my friends... core skiers will still recall the year Mount Baker was open until the July 4th long weekend. Blackcomb Glacier and Mount Hood offer lift serviced skiing throughout the summer.
And that's that... mountain sports are, by their nature, dependent upon the weather; a great day can be had on any mountain at anytime of the year and likewise; a horrible day can hit any mountain anytime... no matter what decision is made, it's still serendipity that rules. Get outside.
About The Author
In addition to his lifelong interest in the outdoors recreation community, Trevor Paetkau is the proprietor of Moraine Adventure Books, www.morainebookservices.com, an independent source of Adventure Travel and Outdoor Recreation books, articles and resources.