For the masses of East Coast skiers and snowboarders who were hoping to spend weekends at U.S. resorts like Killington and Stowe last year, ski season is long overdue. (Thanks, El Niño!) Those mountains—and the rest of the Northeast—saw seasonal snow totals so low, they made previous “bad years” look like blizzardy bonanzas.
Even in the Alps, warm weather and lower-than-average snowfall have made premier resorts unusually reliant on artificial snow over the last few seasons.
This year, take the weather into your own hands. You may not be able to make it snow on command, but there are strategies (and professionals) you can employ to ensure your ski vacation isn’t ruined by poor conditions.
Hire a Professional Snow Forecaster to Help Plan Your Trip
Robert Bolognesi, a meteorologist employed by Chamonix and other Swiss ski regions, has spent 30 years putting his Ph.D. in snow forecasting (yes, you read that right) to good use. In his professional life, he consults local ski patrols on avalanche risks and advises the mayor of Chamonix on road closures and other weather-related concerns. His algorithm for predicting snowstorms offers unparalleled detail and accuracy, pinpointing exactly how much snow will fall and when avalanches will be triggered. (If he’s off, it’s by centimeters or minutes—not more.)
Now travelers can benefit from his forecasts, too.
Bolognesi works with backwoods ski specialist Swiss Ski Safari to make sure each guest gets the most from their vacation, weather-wise, by consulting on all trip itineraries, so even if guests don't interact with him directly, he's weighing in on their plans (at no extra charge). The partnership is the result of a decadelong friendship between Bolognesi and the tour outfitter's managing director Danielle Stynes, who often crossed paths with Bolognesi while leading guests through the Swiss backwoods.
Those behind-the-scenes consultations begin the minute that guests start planning their trips. Together, Bolognesi and Stynes look at historic weather patterns and long-view predictions to determine which activities will be viable and where. Then, as guests’ departure dates approach, Stynes and Bolognesi evaluate and reevaluate their plans to reflect up-to-the-minute weather patterns.
“There’s nobody like him,” said Stynes of Bolognesi. “He can tell me to head out with the heli-skiers at 8:30 a.m. instead of 9 a.m., where to go to avoid patches of frozen rain, and when to depart an area in order to avoid dangerous pockets of accumulation,” she said. “This is a guy who has consulted for the Sochi Olympics, for the Institute of Snow and Avalanche Research, and for tons of Swiss destinations. I won’t have any idea how to replace him when he decides to retire!”Consider Spur-of-the-Moment Trips
If you don’t have the Open Snow app on your phone, download it now—it’s free for both iOS and Android. It tracks snow conditions and forecasts for resorts all around the world, and will alert you if any nearby resort gets more than, say, six inches of fresh snow. The “snow threshold” and mountains for these alerts are fully customizable.
Granted, these forecasts aren't created by a snow forecasting Ph.D., so while accurate, they're instead based on local snowfall and mountain reports—public information that's centralized in a convenient place.
For traditional alpine skiers, the key stats on Open Snow, like base depth and fresh snowfall, are valuable but limited indicators of the mountain conditions, as terrain can vary widely from one slope to the next. And this means hyperlocal specifics, which are particularly important for backwoods skiers (who can run into avalanche risks), are not part of the equation.
That said, Open Snow helps skiers get a side-by-side comparison of the conditions at multiple nearby mountains—particularly useful for last-minute trips. The “Powder Finder” feature sorts mountains based on how much fresh snow has recently fallen—and how much is expected to come down over the next seven days.
The only mitigating factor? Poor snowfall across your entire preferred region. Only Jack Frost can correct for that.
Make This Year’s Odds Work in Your Favor
Speaking of regions that are deprived of snow, wouldn’t it be nice to avoid those?
Tons of meteorological organizations publish long-view predictions for the winter season well before the first snowfall, and while they can differ greatly, finding the common ground between them can offer hopeful skiers some reassurance.
This year, that’s easier than normal, as most meteorologists are predicting a strong ski season in the Northwestern and Northeastern U.S. On board with those general predictions are the Farmers’ Almanac (which many meteorologists write off as being too unscientific in its methods), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and OnTheSnow.com.
All three organizations are predicting larger-than-average snowfalls in Montana, Idaho, and Washington state, while Farmers’ Almanac and OnTheSnow are also counting Vermont and Maine among the winners.
OnTheSnow is the most detailed in its forecast, predicting which specific mountains might benefit most. The winners, according to their long-view forecast? Mt. Hood, Whistler, Big Sky, and Jackson Hole, which are all slated to get 120 percent of their average annual snowfall. Killington, Sugarbush, and Jay Peak, all in Vermont, are expected to get 105 percent of their average annual totals. (These predictions are most reliable for the U.S. market, as the majority of public-facing organizations publishing long-view forecasts are focusing on North America.)The Backup Backup Plan
If you're still stymied by a dearth of snow despite all your best intentions, don't give up hope. Some destinations, like Norway and Arctic Canada, are covered in snow practically year-round, so try booking your next trip somewhere with fireproof certainty.
And if that's not realistic for you, buy flexible lift tickets from Liftopia.com. They come with a small premium, but afford you the opportunity to change your ski dates for any reason—bad weather included.