How to read the snow report

How Much Snow is Enough to Ski?

Have you ever been confused about how much snow is enough to ski? Is there an ideal amount that you should look for?

It can be confusing. If you check the weather reports, they will detail the temperatures and precipitation. But that doesn’t tell you a whole lot about what you need to know.

On the other hand, if you go online to a few different ski resorts, they’ll tell you phrases like fresh powder, cumulative snowfall, runs opens, lifts running, and base amounts.

But unless you’re skilled at reading those snow reports, that might mean nothing to you.

All you want to know is if you decide to pack up and head out to the mountains today, will you have a great day skiing? Or will your lift pass be wasted because of patchy grass and rocks and only a few of the lower runs open?

How can you know if there is enough snow to ski?

We want to help clear the air. We’ve laid out all the important information. We’ll teach you how to read snow reports. Tell you what sort of numbers to look for, and even if no snow has fallen, how to determine if skiing will be fantastic or a complete bust.

We want to educate you on words like “cumulative snowfall”, “artificially packed runs”, and “off-piste conditions”. After this article, you won’t have to feel like a complete amateur when you ask if there’s enough snow to ski.

Choosing Your Ski Destination

As of writing this article, we’ve pulled up a few different ski resorts around the world to find out what conditions they currently have.

Canada – Whistler

  • 44cm of snow in the last 7 days, 0cm in the last 24 hours
  • High of 0C today
  • Base of 146cm, Cumulative 401cm
  • 14/37 lifts and 81/200 trails open.

United States – Aspen

  • 10cm of snow in the last 7 days, 0cm in the last 24 hours
  • High of -6C today
  • Base of 64cm, Cumulative unknown
  • 8/43 lifts open, 22/337 trails open

France – La Plagne

  • 5cm of fresh snow
  • High of -4C today
  • Base of 85cm
  • 0 lifts open, 0 runs open

Austria – Westendorf

  • 15cm in last 7 days, 15cm in last 24 hours
  • High of -2C today
  • Base of 104cm, no cumulative
  • 0 lifts/runs open

These reports differ greatly. One report in Whistler has an incredible cumulative snowfall of 401cm, but 60% of their trails are closed. Another in Austria has a massive 15cm dump of snow in one day, but you can’t go because it’s still closed.

The first thing you need to know about getting an accurate reading on your snow reports is understanding what type of terrain you’re going to ski on.

Resorts in the Canadian Rockies are pretty, well, rocky. Hence the name. You need tons of snow in some places, with back bowls and higher elevations requiring much more snow than the lower runs. In some cases, runs might not even open until incredibly late in the season. 3-4m bases are not uncommon, and usually required to open 100% of the hill.

But if you’re going to ski somewhere with more plains and grassy fields, 10cm is more than enough to open a run and enjoy it. You won’t get high numbers for base depth, but you won’t need it for a good day.

It’s not enough to simply find that magic number.

Whether 10cm, 15cm, 60cm of snow. Figure out where you’d like to be skiing, and you should have a good indication of what they call “enough”.

On and Off-Piste Ski Runs

Part of the problem of trying to figure out if there’s enough snow is what type of piste, or skiing trail, you are planning on skiing.

Are you headed to the familiar on-piste trails of a groomed resort run? They can generally pack down the snow pretty well and therefore keep a lot of the freshly fallen snow from blowing or melting away. A fresh 5cm dump overnight will be heaven for you and the gang the next day.

How much snow is enough to ski

But if you’re an experienced skier, off-piste runs require much more snow. We covered the basics of off-piste skiing recently, and it’s worth noting that the best off-piste runs are in waist-deep powder or more.

For a good day of off-piste skiing, you need a solid base of at least a couple meters of snow, as well as a fresh dump of powder in the last few days. Off-piste runs are hard to groom and maintain. That’s why you need much more snow than you would be used to.

Weather Conditions on a Ski Holiday

As we highlighted before, the weather conditions for each resort can vary wildly. Snow isn’t the only factor in determining if there’s enough snow to ski.

Currently, the weather at Whistler is lovely. Blue sky days with a fresh 3 degree high. It’s not too cold and a lovely day to ski. On the other hand, that warm weather can melt the snow easily, and refreeze it overnight to form hard, crusty ice patches.

No fun.

Pay attention to the long term forecast to figure out if that fresh powder is likely to last, or if it’s going to become a slush patch by the end of the day.

Wind and extreme cold can also ruin your day. Sure, you might have dressed warmly for the weather, but a blowing wind drives away the snow and doesn’t allow it to settle on the ground. The same goes for extreme cold weather. Snow can’t bond well in cold weather and blows around too easily to pack well on the mountain.

How to Read Snow Reports

We’ll admit that reading snow reports aren’t for the novice skiers. It can be complicated and confusing your first time glancing at one, but it’s worth it.

Why not just ignore the reports and listen to the experts? Why should you take the time to understand a snow report?

Here’s an example.

Let’s say you are spending a weekend in the mountains with your friends or family. You wake up that morning and the day is grey and drizzling rain. Probably you might be tempted to call it off, but you take a look at the snow report.

When you see that the freezing level is 1650m. That’s good news!

Why? Because if your resort is above that elevation, all that rain will be fresh, lovely, ready-to-ski powder, freshly falling over wide open runs.

You don’t want to miss out on a day like that.

Reading freezing points is your first hurdle. That usually isn’t a hard and fast rule, because snow can still fall 200-300m below the freezing line. But that should give you a good indication of the type of precipitation on the mountain.

Mountain range snowfall

Also, pay attention to the freezing levels over time. Is that level rising or falling? Storms are usually preceded by a warm front, but that warm front will saturate the air with precipitation.

What does that mean to you? Rain will turn to snow, and wet snow on the ground will turn to powder.

Perfect.

Snow Report Glossary

You’ll come across a few terms in your snow reports as well. Understanding what they mean will help your decision to ski or not today.

BaseThis is (unless otherwise specified) an average taken of the whole mountain. It might be thicker base up top with a thinner base down below. Ski resort staff will take constant measurements and the base can change dramatically after a week of snowfall.

CumulativeThis number is the complete snowfall during that year’s ski season. This number can be deceiving. Remember when Whistler had a cumulative snowfall of over 4m? That sounds good but because of all that warmer weather, the snow hasn’t stayed. It’s melted away in the warmer days.

FreshSome resorts report on daily, hourly, or just say “fresh” snow. It’s usually the snow that has most recently fallen. Take this number into account with the temperature to get an accurate idea of that day’s snow depth. 25cm overnight followed by a warm day will not be fun. 5cm with freezing temperatures will be an incredible run.

Hard PackYou can get a report of the hard pack, or the depth of the snow that’s been packed down. It’s not going anywhere and even a shallow depth of hard pack is awesome for skiing, especially if freshly groomed.

How Much Snow is Too Much Snow?

All this talk of feet of snow sounds great, but is there a risk that you can you get too much snow?

Absolutely.

If a mountain resort can’t handle the snow it’s getting, or it can’t pack it down, they might close certain runs. Deep powder can freeze and form treacherous conditions in the wrong weather patterns. The resort is always facing the risk of avalanches, even on groomed runs.

Beginner skiers also can’t handle too much powder as it requires a skill level to ski those types of conditions.

While 50cm of snow overnight might sound like an absolute dream, it can quickly turn into a nightmare on the hill.

Enough snow to ski

The Best Snow Reporting Apps and Websites

To help you better understand your particular report, we’ve compiled a list of excellent resources. Check out these sites and apps to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information on your resort.

On The Snow

This site is one of the premier destinations for snow reporting on your resorts. Hundreds of resorts collate their information on this site, and it’s an up-to-date report on your current condition around the world.

We also love that they created an app companion for when you’re on the go.

Liftopia

This free app is more than just a snow report. It also gives you detailed weather conditions.

But the best part is that you can get up-to-date information on specific runs. If you are particularly excited about a certain run to open up, use this app to get the latest information so you can be first out making tracks on that powder.

Snow-Forecast

This is another great online site, giving you access to snow reports all over the world. Simply enter in the country, and it will supply you with a list of resorts to choose from.

They boast of over 3100 resorts on that site, making it a one-stop-shop for your snow report details.

REI Snow Report

But we can’t ignore what has turned out to be one of the most popular snow report apps. Preload your favourite snow runs, and you can simply swipe across to get that snow detail, as its happening. Never miss out on those perfect skiing days again.

While it’s not simple at first, figuring out how much snow you need to ski is worthwhile. It keeps you one step ahead of the crowd, and you should be able to read the conditions and get the perfect day all to yourself.

Extending the Ski Season

Long after the last snowfall, you can still find great skiing. It all has to do with that resort’s level of care and preparation during the year.

Artificial Snow

Many resorts use snow cannons or snow machines to keep runs going. A snow cannon run will feel almost like powder, and it will last well into the spring. They run the snow cannons through the night, taking advantage of the below freezing temperatures, and the water mist is turned into fresh powder for the next day’s run.

Some resorts can stockpile or bury fresh snow to save for later in the season. They take that snow, push it through the snow machine, and like magic, it’s another fresh powder day when it hasn’t snowed in weeks.

Packing Snow

The length of the season also has to do with how well the resort packs their snow.

Have you ever seen those massive snow Caterpillars running up and down the runs? They love that corduroy pattern that we all love so much.

Those machines are used, among other things, to pack down fresh snow. Packed snow won’t blow away in a stiff wind, and it won’t melt as easily on a warm day.

If the resort takes their time and carefully packs the snow after each snowfall, you can still expect great runs later in the season.

Ski fall snowfall

We hope you’ve found this guide to understanding how much snow is enough to ski useful and we hope you’ll be able to put this into practice soon!

Remember to keep checking the reports and to stay safe and have fun on the slopes.

One thought to “How Much Snow is Enough to Ski?”

  1. I like that you mention how the right amount of snow is important to ensure it’s properly packed down, especially for beginner skiers. Your advice to check online for snow reports by looking at apps and websites that provide accurate and up-to-date information would be a great way to see if you have the right conditions to ski. If you’re planning a trip, it would probably be a good idea to monitor the reports for several days beforehand in order to make sure there’s enough for what you want to do.

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