Thousands of skiers around the country are gearing up for their local mountain’s opening day. Some have already set out to rip their first blissful turns in Colorado, Utah, and a number of other states with resorts sporting earlier starts. For others who slap skins on their skis and packs on their backs, only the local weather forecasts constrain their seasons. But how do you decide when the time is right? Which early-season storm warrants dusting off your avy gear and venturing out onto some barely covered meadows? And once the middle of the season rolls around, how do you pick a day and location that satisfies both the hunger for face shots and the need for self-preservation? It all starts with weather forecasts, and in today’s information age it’s pretty easy to find more weather predictions than you could possibly look at.
As a former ski racer turned ski mountaineer, I spend a lot of time each winter paying attention to the weather. For the past couple of years, I have patrolled for Cascade Backcountry Ski Patrol (CBSP), a volunteer ski patrol covering regions of the Washington Cascades, while responding to winter backcountry accidents as a member of the King County Ski Patrol Rescue Team (SPART). After moving to Berkeley this summer to start a graduate school program, I’m planning to spend this winter exploring the Sierras and continuing to patrol through the Tahoe Backcountry Ski Patrol (TBSP). All of this lends to a rather extensive studying of forecasts, and with that in mind, I’d like to share a handful of the lessons I’ve learned through my own personal experiences.