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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How to Make the Best of Poor Ski and Snowboard Conditions

It's a sad reality that unless you live on a mountain, you are going to have to deal with poor conditions from time to time.

Over the last 15 years, being from the northwest, I have had to learn to make the best of poor conditions. Northwest winters are either very good, or very bad. This year is shaping up to be the latter as two of our three primary resorts just had their opening days and the third with less than five inches of snow, is yet to open. Bad conditions are bad for everyone, including the organization that is operating the mountain.


There are many type of “poor conditions”, and conditions like minimal coverage and wind you really cannot do anything about them other than sit in the lodge, look good in your newest jacket, and talk about powder days from last year. But I have advice on combating the following 3 specific bad conditions:
  1. Ice/hardpack 
  2. Rain 
  3. Poor Visibility.

Ice and hardpack happen when there is precipitation and temperature drops rapidly, or when preexisting snow melts (due to temperature change) then temperatures drop again. This causes for very little control and painful crashes when you are on the slopes. Riding on ice is also extremely tiring on your body. You must constantly adjust you angles, speeds, and edges while working your way down the mountain.

The best two things you can do to combat ice: (1) Be sure your edges are sharp, and (2) ride in the afternoon.  Dull edges don't dig in and hold a line in the ice very well so be sure they are sharp if you know you will be riding ice. If its possible, ride in the afternoon. The only real fix to ice is more snow, and unless your mountain is getting dumped on, riding in the afternoon is your best bet. After the area has reached its highest temperature for the day you can only hope it's been above freezing so that some of the ice and hardpack has melted or softened. No one likes riding in slushy conditions but we all know it is better than ice.


Rain rain go away come again… you know how the song goes. no one likes the rain but it does mean there is moisture in the air and at the right temperature rain turns into snow, so I guess it's not all bad.

If you have to ride in rainy conditions being prepared is the biggest thing you can do to combat it. Be sure you have packed your extra waterproof gear, and extra socks, gloves, goggles, and base layer clothing. the fact of the matter is, if you ride in the rain, you will get wet, so be prepared. Extra gloves are absolutely key. If your hands are wet and cold you are not happy. if you think there is  chance of rain, pack accordingly. Second tip for riding in the rain, be sure your board or skis are freshly waxed. Rain tends to slow the snow down.

Poor Visibility

Poor Visibility is hard, its not fun, its dangerous, and is flat out frustrating. There are two things you can do for poor visibility days and I suggest you do both. 

ski lens color chart snowboardFirst, get yourself a set of lens for night. Having a nighttime lens is hugely important. Whether you choose to go with clear, yellow, or purple (typical night time favorites) is up to you. Night lenses are made to allow more light pass through them making it easier to see. Look at the image on the right, The higher the Visual Light Transmission percentage, the more light allowed through the lens. This chart came from VonZipper and each company will have different percentages but the fact is, night/blizzard lenses allow greater visibility. 

The second thing you can do to try to combat poor visibility is to change your elevation. Go higher up the mountain or stay closer to the base. More often than not, you can find better visibility at a different elevation.

If you find yourself facing poor conditions be sure to follow these tips and you can still get yourself an enjoyable day on the slopes. Get used to poor conditions and these tips will allow you to get extra days on the hill without having to worry about long lift lines.