It’s the million dollar question.
“What’s the snow like?”
Do you play the risky game of ‘ski-holiday-chicken’, hoping for a last minute ski deal in a resort with an amazing snow? Do you book early to get your preferred resort? Either way, from the moment you book until the moment you arrive in the mountains, it can be a tense time. One filled with constantly checking the snow depths of your chosen resorts. Hoping for those perfect conditions when it comes to your turn to hit the mountain.
What’s the minimum Snow Base for skiing?
Well, it all depends on what’s underneath the snow. In parts of Austria, where pistes are generally on grassland pastures, it’s possible to ski on as little as 5-10cm of snow. In rockier places like the Canadian Rockies however, more is needed to cover the uneven ground below.
It also depends on what kind of base is to be found, so is there is a hard packed layer of snow formed already, or is this is the first snow of the season? In the case of the latter, when the first snow falls it must be quickly compacted by the mountain company to prevent the wind from carrying it off the mountain, and from the sun melting it (which happens more quickly when snow is not compacted). This is the reason why un-pisted runs often need a deeper snow depth for good and long lasting conditions than a pisted slope.
Later on in the season, a big snowfall will go a lot further as it is falling on to existing snow. So, if you see reports of 20-30cm of snow falling onto an existing base, you know that it is a good sign and time to get packing!
It’s also important to consider how snow depths will build up over the season, so even if there has been little snowfall in recent weeks, all is not lost. Cumulative snow depths are deepest during the springtime, with stockpiles of snow being enough to provide good conditions until late into the spring in many cases.
SNOW MAKING AND GROOMING
For a snow guarantee in less favourable conditions, most ski resorts invest heavily in a snow making programmes, with some lower altitude resorts (like those in parts of Austria) having 100% of their runs covered by snow cannons. Later in the season this will dramatically extend the skiing possibilities, with the snow cannons working in the freezing night-time temperatures to create fresh snow. This is then distributed on top of the season-long accumulated base to create good conditions right through the springtime.
Natural snowfall can be preserved in other ways. Resorts will stockpile and bury natural snowfall to protect it from melting, and will actively compact on-piste snow as much as possible.
Modern piste bashers are designed to create optimal conditions on the piste, even injecting compressed air into the compacted snow to prevent the snow from becoming too icy and creating that beautiful corduroy we all enjoy!
TOO MUCH SNOW?
Yes, it is possible.
Too much snow in a resort can be an issue in certain weather conditions, as it significantly increases the avalanche risk. In the 2011/12 season, World Cup racing in Courchevel was cancelled; it was not possible to prepare the course due to persistent snowfall. Additionally, several resorts across the Alps were cut off due to avalanches blocking road and rail routes, causing travel disruption to thousands of skiers’ journeys.
Find out where the best snow is using the Crystal Ski Snow Reports