Today was a day that I loved when I was working in the US. The Christmas crowds would be heading back home and we would have the mountains to ourselves again for the precious 6 week window until the President’s Day weekend. There would be just enough work to keep us going, and supervisors were more than glad to grant time off for road trips as it meant fewer mouths to feed.
I tend to think of today as ‘Day 1′ of the season for powder. Any good conditions in November and early December fall into the ‘good luck’ basket, and are generally enjoyed by opportunistic locals. The crowds between Christmas and New Year are horrendous in most resorts and should be avoided if schedules permit. All the snowfalls prior to today should be viewed as ‘base builders’ rather than missed opportunities, and by now on average most resort should be close to fully operational.
But are they?
A quick glance at the main regions of the Northern Hemisphere gives this summary:
Hokkaido, Japan: Excellent
Honshu, Japan: On Average for this time of year
Western Alps: Excellent
Eastern Alps: Average for this time of year
British Columbia: Excellent
Pacific Northwest: Excellent
California: Significantly below Average (Borderline disastrous)
Colorado: Well Below Average
Utah: Well below Average
(North America stats can be found on Tony Crocker’s site here)
I’ve been speaking to friends in the Western US states who have been mentioning that the skiing is like Australia. Unofficial Networks even had a blog post from Snowbird where they described some rain as welcome as it softened up the ice! Meanwhile friends in Chamonix are lamenting that there is too much snow and they can’t ski due to the avalanche danger. Niseko had one of the better Decembers on record.
So what does this all mean?
One of the central tenets of The Powder Bible is that snowfall is variable. Even though certain areas have good records they are not immune to periods of prolonged high pressure and low snowfalls. One good friend of mine (and proofreader of The Powder Bible) has cancelled her trip to California and Utah & is thinking about doing Japan later in February.
It sounds like a drastic move, but she hasn’t been lucky (though I disagree with the concept of luck when it comes to snowfall ) in her last few trips and doesn’t want to prolong her misery.
I have some more friends (and Powder Bible purchasers) who have to confirm some pre-booked accommodation in Tahoe in a few days for a trip later in February. They are definitely sweating on the decision – a lot can happen in 6 weeks, but California is so far behind the 8-ball that it will need a hell of a lot of snow between now and then to even the ledger and things look pretty poor right now when they need to decide to part with the cash.
It has been interesting talking to them about the decisions they have made and the decisions they face. Just as I wrote in The Powder Bible, sunk costs play a big factor in to trip planning, even when the writing is on the wall. I prefer to avoid this by leaving plans until the last minute, as prebooking, even in an area with a snowy average has the potential to backfire.
Who has made trip plans that are being threatened by poor snow conditions? Who is making plans now based on what is out there? Will you try to salvage a bad decision or cut your losses? Or have you been one of the lucky ones gorging on the pow?
Let us know in the comments below.