Right now we are in Utah and the mountain is on wind hold. At the same time it is dumping snow and the forecast calls for another 17 inches on top of the 14 we just got over the last 24 hours. The riding is looking great for the next few days but weather, especially mountain weather, is highly variable and can change drastically inside a matter of minutes. For the avid snowboarder it is essential to have access to the best winter weather resources so you know where to go to find the best snow and weather, and you can plan what gear and apparel to bring for the conditions.
The most obvious thing to do is to keep a bookmark folder on your browser with a list of websites that have the ability to accurately forecast not just precipitation and temperature, but also visibility, wind, wind direction, wind chill and avalanche danger. There are a number weather sites like the weather channel’s weather.com that are good for general weather conditions in populated areas. But weather.com is not a reliable resource for mountain conditions. Often their models do not reflect what is happening in the higher elevations where some of us like to ride and play. The same goes for accu-weather.com, which goes into a little more detail than the weather channel but is still geared towards general weather conditions for the masses. The same can be said for local television and radio news stations that do not have the necessary technology to accurately track and forecast mountain weather.
So what winter weather resources are available for riders looking to nail down conditions on their favorite mountain? Well, for one, the actual ski area where you are heading should have the best information on current conditions. They can tell you on Facebook or Twitter about lifts on wind hold, lightning, avalanche danger and the amount of precipitation that has, and is, falling as well as whether it is rain, sleet or snow. They should also tell you what condition the access road is in, and if you need special gear, i.e. chains, 4WD, snow tires, etc. Most ski area’s Twitter and Facebook pages are updated frequently throughout the day, especially during times of inclement weather. If you want to get the most accurate and timely information on what current conditions are like at your favorite hill then “Like” their Facebook and “Follow” their Twitter pages.
There are also a number of apps for your smartphone that also have websites and are great for on-the-go general data. One of them, Snocountry gives regularly updated information on snowfall accumulations, base depth, surface snow (powder, hard pack, ice, etc), trails open, lifts open and an interactive trail map. The website also gives general information on each ski area’s short term forecast and webcam modules for viewing actual conditions on the mountain at select camera posts. Even though Snocountry does not give detailed weather forecasting, it does provide timely and up-to-date conditions at just about every ski area in the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. On The Snow is another winter sports resource and provides very similar information.
In my personal experience, one of the most accurate winter weather resources is the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) pronounced “no-ah”. NOAA is the United States government’s leading meteorological body. It has the best technology at its disposable and draws on the expertise of highly trained climatologists around the world. The website (www.noaa.gov) can be confusing at first to navigate and overly data-rich to the new user. On the upside, there are no annoying advertisements continually impeding access to the information you are looking for and the site is very fast. To find weather in the area you are interested in you can enter it in the upper right corner of the front page the city/town, state closest to the mountain you are thinking about going to. An interactive map will show just below the daily pictograph forecast. When you click on it you can then grab and move to the area where the ski area mountain is and click. Click again and a green box will appear indicating the forecast for that specific area. Granted you need to find your mountain as it may not be labeled but usually this is not very difficult.
NOAA provides very accurate results with more information than you need or understand. But this is not a bad thing since accuracy is what everyone is looking for. You have access to a number of radar and satellite maps as well as precipitation and wind models. NOAA is usually your best bet for getting current and forecast weather information.
It is always wise to check what conditions will be like at the mountain you intend to ride. It will save you a lot hassle and pain knowing that your mountain is not on lock-down during bad weather and your dressed properly for the conditions. Plus, who wants to be stuck with their jib stick on a powder day when your pow rocket is waiting to slay it!
Update: just checked Powder Mountain’s Facebook page. Cars are sliding off the access into the gully due to all the snow. The police have shut the road down. Now, that saves us a lot of grief.