With snow in the forecast for much of the Western United States, now is a great time to brush up on what is going on with your local snowpack and watch how the storm affects your local mountains. You don’t want to be caught off guard with knowledge that is already available to you, you just need to know where to look.
Your Local Avalanche Center
Start by checking out the most recent observations with your local avalanche center. You may see key words being thrown around like: facets, surface hoar or a problematic layer. Take note of where they are finding these problems and how deep in the snowpack they are. In some areas, specifically maritime or coastal mountains, they tend to go away fairly quickly, but for other areas, continental mountainous regions, they tend to stick around for a little while. Check back with your local avalanche center a day or 2 after the storm to see if conditions have been improving or if a persistent weak layer is going to stick around for awhile. If a persistent layer is sticking around, its best to stick to controlled in bounds skiing or low angle slopes away from drainages and runouts until conditions improve.
Knowing how snow is falling on your local mountains is almost as important as the existing snowpack it is falling on. Things to take note of during the storm:
- Is the storm coming in cold and ending warm (this is an upside down storm and can be problematic for backcountry skiing)
- Is the storm coming in with heavy winds and what direction is the wind blowing from (wind loading on leeward slopes)
- Is it coming in calm and cold (This is a great way for surface hoar to get buried and preserved into the snowpack)
Remember the conditions in town will differ greatly from the conditions on the mountain. The best way to find this information is to check your local avalanche center. They usually put out updates of conditions and weather forecasts for a few different elevations.
Other good resources:
- Your local ski resort – they usually have snow totals for the day, 48 hours and by the week. Also, temps on the top and bottom.
- Open Snow has been pretty solid over the past few years. They also have an avalanche forecast map for the USA.
- Snow Forecast for incoming snow over the next few days and freezing temps.
- Wunderground for the current weather radar
Remember its still very early season conditions in most places. Hazards are not limited to avalanches. There are a lot of hidden rocks, trees, stumps, logs, bushes, alders and creeks that can be lurking in the backcountry. Take it safe and easy, you have a whole season ahead of you.