Next up on our Backcountry 101 is following the snow. We all know that backcountry skiing can be dangerous so it’s a good idea to keep tabs on the weather to keep on top of what the snowpack is doing.
Weather and snow stability are closely linked. As you gain more experience you’ll find it’s possible to roughly predict snow conditions just by checking the weather forecast. We like to check the wx forecasts for our go to areas daily, even if we’re not skiing. This means we’re not going to encounter too many surprises when we do make time to head into the backcountry.
Our go to weather forecast site is spotwx. It allows you to select any place on the map and has a number of weather models with varying claimed accuracy. It’s important to look at all of these models and take an average. Over time you’ll start to see how one model may overestimate precipitation, whilst another might be a little out on temperatures. Play it safe and go for the average. Mountain Forecast is another handy tool that attempts to predict weather by elevation, with some success. We find the precipitation amounts to be wildly over the top with this model. Another resource is yr.no as well as the Avalanche Canada weather forecast page for a grand overview of what’s happening in Canada.
If you do make it out for the day, be sure you’re making observations on whether the weather is in line with the forecasts. Parks Canada and Kananaskis both have remote monitoring stations with real time data feeds scattered throughout the parks.
So once we’ve looked at the weather we can look at snow. Obviously the first step is to check the avalanche forecast. Remember that this forecast is for a huge area and is based on limited field observations, so don’t take it as gospel. Add the information you learn here to your weather observations to build a better picture of what’s happening. Specific snowpack problems are discussed here, and guess what, they’re mostly weather related.
Other resources like Facebook pages can be great sources of info, but like any non professional organisation the advice given should be taken with a grain of salt. There’s plenty of experienced folks on these forums and plenty more who are less so. The Kananaskis Country Public Safety team produce a weekly snowpack discussion video which is well worth watching even if you tend not to recreate in the area as they explain the metamorphosis of the snowpack. The Mountain Conditions Reports contain observations from guides during their days out, but they are updated infrequently.
Written by Kieran Crimeen