Deciphering a ski report
December 20, 2010 1:34 PM   Subscribe

I am new at skiing this year. I have access to a ski resort by Truckee in California. I have been skiing mostly the green trails but some of the easiest blue trails as well. I have trouble figuring out what the snow weather report means to decide what might be acceptable to me as a new skier. Can you please help me decipher the following snow report?

A big Sierra storm has already dropped over 48" of fresh snow with more on the way.

Temperature: 22°F

Wind: 2-6 with higher gusts

Current Base: 82" - 95"

New Snow: 12" - 18"

Storm Snowfall: 50" - 66"
posted by Tom Blees to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You might get some snow blown in your face, but it looks like really nice soft conditions.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:43 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you know what temperature and windspeed means :)

the base is "how deep is it when I stick a pole into the snow". this is usually a midlevel on the mountain measurement, and sometimes seems to be "in the deepest snowdrift".

new snow is how much fell in the last 24 hours

storm total is how much has fallen since the current system came through.
posted by H. Roark at 1:47 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

well... basically that sounds like a pretty solid ski day to me, here's why:

Depending on how recent the 48" of snow was, the majority of that will still be on the ground- that's 4ft of snow. If it was over a week ago, what was the weather recently? dry and cold? sunny? humid/rainy? these will let you know how much of it is left and what kind of texture it the base is. (ie if it was dry, cold and sunny for the past week, the snow has been slightly softening up during the day, and then re-freezing at night, but won't really be disspearing). However, that's really not too relevant to your interests.

The wind is also not particularly relevant; that's a mildly breezy day (again assuming it's mph)

What you care about:
Current Base: (how much snow is between you and the ground). this snow is hardpack, on the green trails it'll be groomed into courderoy (the little ridges) that's fun to ski through. 82" inches is a pretty solid base (that's 6+ft of snow between you and that rock).

New snow: (how much freshies have fallen overnight) 12-18" is about perfect for the beginner-intermediate skier (ok it's awesome for everyone). It's enough snow to make it feel like you are skiing on a cloud, but not enough for your knees to hate you after one run. The texture of the snow is important as well. Is it Heavy? (more work, will get compacted into rough mess quickly). Is it light and fluffy? (heaven to ski through on your first run, but may get scraped to the side by the end of the day)

Storm snow: What is going to hit you while you're out there skiing. What's also important is how long the snow will last. If it's a light snow lasting 2-3 days, it makes everything pretty and it's fun to ski through. 2-day Blizzard? stay inside. The 50-60" inches in the report? well, I'd go skiing, but I'd be staying in bounds, and make sure that I have a shovel in the car as well as some snacks just in case the storm took a turn for the worse.
posted by larthegreat at 1:48 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're a new skier, snow weather reports are less useful to you than grooming reports.

As a generalization, fresher snow is better, because it means fewer patches of ice.

If you have your own skis and/or maintain your own skis, you might get a little more info out of this - temperature tells you what kind of wax you should use (there are different waxes for diff. temperatures). If you're a hardcore techie and own your own skis, you might minutely adjust the bevel of your edge - softer snow needs less of a hard (i.e., acutely-angled) ski edge to turn on.

For your purposes, though, as a new skier, you want to know not how much fresh snowfall the resort in general got, but which trails on the resort have been groomed most recently. Then ski those. Fresh tracks in powder is nice, but not in knee-deep powder if you haven't yet mastered turning and stopping on groomed runs.

Also, since fresh powder is sought after, I imagine some resorts exaggerate the powder snowfall (or pick the "best" of a range of numbers). At my local resort, they tell you approximate temps and new snowfall at the top, middle, and base of the mountain - obviously there will be more snow at, say, 12k feet than at 9k.

The temps and wind are also good in telling you how to dress for the day. Ideally you should have about six different layers that you can swap in and out to prepare you for anything between 45 and sunny (just the turtleneck) and -10 and windy (everything you own, and bring some hand warmers).

Have fun! With these conditions you have a great day of skiing ahead of you.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 1:49 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a new skier myself, I try to avoid going out unless there's at least some fresh snow or powdery snow. It's a lot harder to stop on hardpack, and it hurts more when you fall. My (much more experienced) fiancé likes hardpack because it's faster.
posted by charmcityblues at 1:51 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

gah. misread part of the question.

The storm has been snowing 48" worth already, it's got another 2-6 inches to go before things clear out.

GO OUT THERE AND SKI IT. It'll be magical and wonderful and possibly crowded as everyone else realizes they also want to be out there.
posted by larthegreat at 1:52 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's got another 2-16 inches of snow before it stops for a day or two and then probably starts again this coming weekend.

Go out and ski, dude.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:58 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my experience, the wind isn't as big a factor on the green slopes because they're often down lower, which is usually more sheltered. When it's 15F and the wind is 20mph and you're at the very top it's too cold and windy to enjoy it. Add snow blocking your visibility (and colder = foggy goggles, if you use goggles) and it's no fun at all.

Speaking for myself, I'm skipping this week because every school is out and everyone's going up in big groups. If you go, I'd suggest getting there right as the figurative bells rings, because it takes awhile for the slopes to fill up. I also have a fear of getting trapped on the pass, so I don't go when there's a storm, especially since I usually go up by myself, but maybe that's not an issue if you live on the Nevada side.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:01 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

yes, this is a 5 year storm at least. great skiing
in general for california skiing, you are interested in the snow level and the wind. The snow level is roughly the elevation that snow turns to rain. If that is above the base of your ski resort, you will get rained on. Whenever there is a winter storm warning, it will mention the snow level.

Always check the wind--high wind shuts stuff down and makes you sad.
posted by alkupe at 7:00 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll perhaps provide the other side of the argument. Fresh snow is fantastic but too much fresh snow can cause great problems to those who don't know how to ski in that kind of stuff. 3 to 4 inches on top of hard packed, groomed snow is awesome and sometimes referred to as "Hero Powder" since it tends to make everyone feel like a super start. Replace that 3 with 12 inches and an unfamiliar powder skiier will often report difficulties in turning and floating on the snow. This is especially true if you slow down quite a bit when you encounter a new sensation when skiing.

More importantly for you at this stage (skis greens and some blues) is to study the grooming report to see what terrain will definitely be available to you. If enough groomed runs are available to you to have then go for it. If you are up to it, try to get there early and try a short lap in deep snow and see how it treats you. Once you figure it out it is incredible but the learning can be very frustrating since it almost is a new skill set although (just like learning how to ski in moguls, trees or very steep terrain is also new skillsets). Fortunately for you, falling in the deep snow can feel like heaven so try to keep a good attitude about it.
posted by mmascolino at 6:47 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

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