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Maximize Your Skiing: How to Find the Best Snow on the Mountain, Year-Round

Published on 06/15/2023 · 6 min readLearn the secrets to finding the best snow on the mountain from Ski Expert, Thomas Harari
Thomas Harari, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Thomas Harari

Photo by Ben Koorengevel

As a skier who skis the same resort at least a few times a week, I’ve learned how to find the best snow for skiing every day, regardless of the mountain's reported ski conditions. Sadly, not every day can be a powder day, and there’s much more to finding good snow than finding untracked powder. How do you find good snow when there is no fresh snow to be found? With a basic understanding of the movement of the sun and Earth and how things like slope angle, slope direction, and time of day affect the snow, you can start to make informed decisions and be strategic in your run choice to find good snow and have the best ski day possible every day, even when conditions aren't ideal. There's likely plenty of good snow out there!

Disclaimer: This is specific to skiing within a ski resort, not in the backcountry. The same strategies can be used when backcountry skiing, but avalanche danger must also be taken into account. The snow conditions described below are most specific to an intermountain snowpack.

Factors to Keep in Mind

The Earth’s Direction of Rotation

The Earth rotates counterclockwise when viewed from the North Pole. This means that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, which in turn means that east-facing slopes get more morning sun, and west-facing slopes get more afternoon sun. Afternoon sun is typically warmer, as the warmest part of the day is usually in the afternoon.

North-Facing Slopes

Because of the curvature of the earth, a north-facing slope in North America will not get much sun during the winter months. Check out the below diagram. That red slope will not actually see the sun at all, while the black one will have pretty direct sun all day.

Graphic by Thomas Harari

The further north the mountain is, the less sun that slope will get. This means a north-facing slope at a ski area in Alaska will get far less sun at the same time of the year than a north-facing slope at a ski area in Utah. Conversely, a south-facing slope in Alaska will get more sun than a south-facing slope in Utah.

How the Sun Affects the Snow

When the snow is still in powder form, even if it’s skied out or packed, the sun will cause some melting, even if the air temperature if pretty low, causing it to later refreeze and become icy. If the snow has already been refrozen once, the sun will soften the snow and make for better skiing.

Slope Steepness and Elevation

The steeper the north-facing slope, the less sun it will get, but a steeper south-facing slope will get extra sun. This means that the most shaded slopes of all time will be north-facing and as steep as possible.

Slope Steepness and Elevation

The steeper the north-facing slope, the less sun it will get, but a steeper south-facing slope will get extra sun. This means that the most shaded slopes of all time will be north-facing and as steep as possible.

The higher you are in elevation, the colder it gets. This means that snow will stay frozen at high elevations longer than at the base of the mountain. At some resorts with fewer vertical feet of skiing, this is not really noticeable. At resorts with 2,000+ feet of skiing, this can be a game changer!

Temperature Swings

The temperature is always going to fluctuate in the mountains, but you will want to watch the temperature specifically since the last snow to see if it has thawed or refrozen.

For the most part, there are two different scenarios: 1. Cold Temperatures: It’s stayed cold or relatively close to freezing with not much direct sun. There has been no new snowfall and the mountain is firm or icy. Look to north- or east-facing slopes where there has been little sun to see if there is still soft snow that hasn’t seen the sun yet! If it warms up above freezing, check out some of the southerly aspects to see if the extra sun they are getting causes them to soften. 2. Warm Temperatures: It’s been spring skiing in soft, slushy snow. Each morning the mountain is rock solid, but the warm weather and sunny days warm it up. In the morning, check out south-facing slopes that have been getting sun as they will soften sooner than others. If you find that these slopes get too soft and turn to slush or "corn snow" by mid-morning or afternoon, transition to more north-facing slopes where there is less sun to warm up the snow.

The Wind

Wind can carry snow from one area on the mountain to another. On windy days you may find some trails to be especially icy. Follow the wind from these areas to see if you can find where all of this snow is blowing to. If the snow has stayed cold and dry, these windblown pockets can feel like skiing fresh powder (and even refill themselves in between runs), even if there hasn't been fresh snowfall! If the snow is wetter, these pockets may be very challenging to ski and sometimes are the consistency of wet sand (not so fun).

This is a photo of one of the iciest and windiest days I have ever skied at Bridger Bowl, but the wind was blowing north and dumping snow into this pocket along these trees. It made for a solid 8 inches of smooth pow skiing and was buffed smooth again for each run. Untracked again and again! Photo by Tommy Kulus

Example Scenarios

Scenario 1: Cold and Dry with No New Snow

It hasn’t snowed in a while and has been in the tens for a week! Things are super firm. Check out those northerly and easterly aspects slopes to see if there is softer snow left, and see if there is anywhere the wind has deposited it!

Scenario 2: Spring Skiing

Check the overnight temps. Did it refreeze last night? If it did, ski some southerly aspects first thing as they will soften the quickest and therefore be the best snow for skiing early in the day. If it gets warmer and too soft and slow, move over to some north-facing slopes. If it didn’t refreeze, things will already be soft in the morning. It’s likely that some of the south-facing slopes will become slushy, wet snow too quickly, but north-facing slopes will remain a bit more firm. It’s unlikely any windblown snow will ski well in these conditions.

Scenario 3: Dust on Crust

You got new snow overnight, but previous days have created some serious ice underneath! If it has been warm recently, head to the south-facing slopes where the snow underneath may not be as frozen. If it’s been cold, try and find the most shaded north-facing snow possible. Hopefully, the old snow underneath didn’t melt and then refreeze!

Photo by Tommy Kulus

The snow changes every single day, and even throughout the day, so sometimes part of the game is chasing that best snow for skiing! Ever wonder how some people can ski three to five days a week at the same resort? This is what keeps us entertained!

Want to learn more or chat gear? Reach out to a Ski Expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice and recommendations.

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