Category Archives: Weather

What Kind of Winter Are We Going to Have?

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Someone asked me last weekend if I knew what kind of weather we were going to have this winter at Crystal. It’s timely because I was just thinking about how nifty it would be if I could predict the weather. Well, let’s be real here. I want to do more than predict weather. Any weather forecaster could do that. I want to control the weather.

While I haven’t yet mastered weather control, I have found some historical data that might be interesting to you skiers and riders obsessing/fretting/anxious about the season to come.

NOAA is predicting a very strong El Niño for the 2015-16 winter season. It’s easy to worry over this, especially since El Niño’s tend to mean dryer and warmer conditions in the PNW. But we’ve only been through two very strong El Niños in the past hundred years or so and those years weren’t so bad at Crystal.

In 1982-83 was a very strong El Niño event. Crystal reported about average snowfall that season. This was back when the weather plot was behind the Alpine Inn, where the tree canopy may have interfered. We had an active avalanche cycle in 82-83, with a slide that started in Kempers breaking timber all the way down to Highway 410.

1997-98 might be a little easier for locals to remember at Crystal. It was the daddy of all El Niños (which, by the way is spanish for “the niño”). It was the year of Chris Farley’s infamous skit on SNL.

During that season, Crystal ended up with about average snowfall. According to Tony Crocker at bestsnow.net, we were actually ahead. He has a pretty cool month-by-month analysis that you might want to check out. In a nutshell, we started strong at Crystal, had some spring-like conditions in mid-March, then ended in April with enough snow to get to about average depths.

El Niños tend to be pretty unpredictable. There are other factors besides ENSO at play as well. The folks at Atmospheric and Environmental Research consider the snowpack in Siberia in October as a good indication of the severity of winter in North America.

And then there’s the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which you may have heard is predicting a severe winter in many parts of N. America. The OFA uses a secret formula for long-term weather prediction that they keep hidden in a black box. So you know it’s got to be accurate.

The Old Farmer's Almanac predicts a good winter for PNW skiers and riders.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a good winter for PNW skiers and riders. Which is nice.

One last consideration is the winter in Chile. There’s a “totally scientific” belief at Crystal that the Chilean winters are a prediction of the upcoming winter in the Cascades. The Andes are buried in snow right now. So we’ve got that going for us, too.

So what kind of winter are we going to have at Crystal? One thing I know for sure is that we will have weather, and plenty of it.

Top 10 Ways to Get Through a Low Snow Season

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Here we are in the second week of March and the ski season hasn’t really started yet. Sure, it’s Snowmageddon on the East Coast, but that doesn’t help us out here. In fact, we really don’t want to know about the seven feet of snow that fell in Boston in 25 minutes. Believe me. Instead, we have our own ways of coping with a low snow season. Here’s my top ten.

1. Stop Looking at the Forecast. This one might seem counterintuitive. I’m usually a fanatical keen follower of the weather forecast. I’ve even shared my tips on how to be there for a powder day. Days, weeks and probably months of my life have been spent squinting at the forecast models, hoping to predict when the next snow storm will hit Crystal Mountain. But the persistent high pressure is getting monotonous. It’s starting to feel like a bully–pushing all of our would-be snow into God-knows-where. Not looking at the forecast can be liberating. Besides, what with all the amateur forecast/winter enthusiasts out there, it would be impossible not to hear about a storm brewing. So give the forecast models a rest. You’ll feel better.

Looking for Winter in Big Sky, Montana

Looking for Winter in Big Sky, Montana

2. Avoid Jaded Locals. This one might be easier said than done, especially if you live at a ski area. You might even be the jaded local mumbling into his beer about the bullshit, crappy lack of snow. If this sounds like you, skip down to number five. If it’s not you, avoid this guy like rain. He will only bring you down.

3. Pray to Ullr. When it comes to snow, I believe wholeheartedly in putting your mental powers to good use. I’ve been wearing (and rubbing and praying to) my Ullr pendant for months now. Obviously, I’m not doing it right. Maybe if enough of us start praying to the Norse God of Skiing, we’ll make some headway together. Here’s a great source for a beautiful Ullr medallion.

Find your happy place

Find your happy place

4. Earn Your Turns. Not to be Captain Obvious here, but when you spend most of your day hiking, and only a short time skiing, you don’t need as much snow to have fun. Plus, the upper bowls and ridges in the Cascades actually have plenty of snow, you just have to hike up to get to it.

5. Don’t be a Debbie Downer. We all know about the lack of snow. You don’t have to remind us.

6. Be Grateful for What You Have. If you haven’t been sleeping under a rock for the past decade, you probably know that gratitude is the fast track to happiness. So get out there and make some turns on the meager snow in the mountains and sing Hallelujah from the ridge tops. Either that or cue the opening scene from the Sound of Music.

7. Start a New Project. I’ll admit it. I’ve been neglecting this blog lately. Without fresh snow to talk about, it’s hard to maintain my enthusiasm (see Number 2). But I have a good excuse. I’ve been working on a novel. Every morning I look out the window at the sky. Nothing says I’ll just stay in and write 2,000 words today like drizzle on old snow.

8. Find a New Sport. Maybe this is the 43 pound tabby cat in the room. I’m not saying you should stop sliding on snow. But maybe this is the season to try a different variety. If you’re a skier, give snowboarding a try. Or snow skating (a snowy version of skateboarding, and it’s pretty sweet, and very difficult). Or mountain climbing. Or speed riding. Or skydiving. Reinvigorate those dopamine receptors by pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.

9. Burn Your Skis. When in doubt, you can always have a raging bonfire, a keg of beer and burn some boards. Just don’t breathe any those nasty toxins.

Not a bad little spot to get away from it all. Nendaz, Switzerland.

Not a bad little spot to get away from it all. Nendaz, Switzerland.

10. Go In Search of Winter. Tried and true, this escape-hatch technique is a personal favorite. Hop on a plane, load up the camper/Subaru/Tacoma, or hitch up the trailer. It’s time to call upon those long-lost friends with a couch near some snowy hills.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Ski Woodies

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Don’t worry dear readers. I know it’s a low snow season. I’m perfectly and painfully aware of the meager snow depths in the mountains. I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. Instead, I wanted to share with you how some of us at Crystal are managing. According to John, when the going gets to tough, the tough get woodies. (I mean wooden skis of course, get your mind out of the gutter.)

Nothing a good boot fitter can't handle

Nothing a good boot fitter can’t handle

Last week a customer offered a pair of beautiful wooden skis in exchange for a lift ticket. John took one look at those skis and said, “you got a deal.” Fortunately for John, he just happened to also have some leather boots that fit into said wooden skis. After a quick hot wax in the shop, John went straight up the gondola. Just because those skis had been sitting above someone’s mantle for the past fifty years didn’t mean he needed to start out slow. What could go wrong?

Old meets new on the Mount Rainier Gondola

Old meets new on the Mount Rainier Gondola

John dropped right into Green Valley and made it look easy. While those woodies track well, they sure don’t like to turn. Although, it may have been the leather boots. John says he wants to take the woodies for another spin today. So you might see him out there once it softens up.

On another note, the forecast is holding some promise in the coming week. Our best day for snow looks like Monday, With low snow levels, we should pick up a few inches of snow. It stays cold through Tuesday, so we can make snow near the base area. If you’re just not feeling the low snow this season, and you’re a Crystal pass holder, you can go ski at any of the other resorts for free. Check it out here.

Snowman Film: When heli-blasting goes wrong

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I’m hoping my mother never sees this movie. It looks brilliant and fascinating and on-the-edge-of-your-seat exhilarating. As a heli-blaster myself, the trailer for this film captures that mixture of awe and horror that roils inside while watching a big avalanche pull away and wreak havoc on a mountain side.

Kevin Fologin is an avalanche forecaster and consultant in B.C.’s rugged Coast Range, where he regularly drops explosives from helicopters to start avalanches.  One day, one of these missions goes horribly wrong. Check out the trailer below.

In the first segment of this film to drop on Salomon FreeskiTV Kevin describes the ironic fascination of purposely creating avalanches. Most of us try to avoid avalanches. Snow safety consultants like Kevin (and ski patrollers across the world) hunt them.

Our job isn’t necessarily to prevent avalanches, but rather to create them. Once a slope has avalanched, the cartridge in the barrel has been spent. My favorite part of the first segment of the film below is during the big avalanche footage. Just listen to Kevin’s voice on the radio. “Go, go, go. Look at that thing go,” he says just as the toe of the avalanche launches over a beautiful slope toward the valley bottom. He lets out a laugh while the camera follows the cascading mass pushing harder and harder over the terrain. It’s a great piece of camera work and it resonated deeply for me.

How can avalanches be so awesome and so horrible all at once? There’s something truly humbling about watching one of these large slides devastate the landscape. And yet there’s also something addictive about causing one. Usually we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. With explosives, we can push the avalanches to happen when we want them to.

It’s a recipe for hubris. Perhaps that’s what makes this movie so intriguing–it explores that fine line through the aftermath of a devastating accident.

Kevin Fogolin hunting avalanches by helicopter

Kevin Fogolin hunting avalanches by helicopter

The film debuted last weekend at the 2014 Whistler Film Festival, winning “Best Mountain Culture Film.” According to the film’s website the film was very well received, and the audience responded with a standing ovation.

I’m looking forward to seeing more. Just don’t tell my mom.

It’s Hard to Be Patient When You’re Waiting for the Ski Season to Start

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A Prelude to Winter

Waiting for snow is hard. It’s especially difficult at the beginning of the season. November can be a bit like Christmas–either full of good tidings and warm family moments or wrought with awkward gyrations brought on by that one crazy family member that chooses to literally rain on your snowy parade.

Better make up the hide-a-bed, because it looks like that rainy relative is swooping into town tonight. But I digress. Let’s first take a look at the bright side.

Smiles from Reid Pitman

Smiles from Reid Pitman on Sunday

 

Conditions Update

Yesterday morning A Lot at Crystal was nearly half full with eager skiers and riders who skinned to the top to take part in the snow. It was a little heavy–those with fat skis and snowboards had the biggest smiles on their faces–and a little wind-effected. The ridge at the top of Green Valley was scoured down to the rocks. The valley itself was filled with two to three feet of cream cheese topped by a few inches of confectioner’s sugar. In other words, the conditions were classic PNW snow and perfect base-building material.

It’s times like these when I wish we didn’t have such a thing as a weather forecast. Because if you’ve taken a close look at it lately, you’ll understand why Crystal isn’t open yet. It’s because of the forecast.

Because Rain

The Forecast looks like a rain sandwich

The Forecast looks like a rain sandwich

Here’s a snippet from the text forecast:

LOTS OF PRECIPITATION LATER TODAY THROUGH TUESDAY NIGHT OR WEDNESDAY WITH THE SNOW LEVEL MAINLY 6500 TO 7500 FT….WE CAN SAY WITH CONFIDENCE THAT 3 TO 6 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION WILL FALL ALONG THE WEST SLOPES OF THE CASCADES DURING THE 48 HOUR PERIOD FROM MIDDAY TODAY THROUGH MIDDAY WEDNESDAY.

You know what, NOAA forecasters? No one wants your bad news. Why do you have to go and rain on our parade? Here we were having visions of snowy sugar plums dancing in our heads and you go and give us this?? Why couldn’t you have just kept this one to yourselves for a change?

Crystal’s Modus Operandi

Crystal Mountain is usually pretty aggressive getting the slopes open. We understand the pent-up demand and bursting enthusiasm this time of year, and we are willing to roll the dice on a forecast. Most ski areas wait until their snowpack is a sure thing before opening. We are one of the few areas willing to skate on thin ice, so to speak.

So why isn’t Crystal opening today? We have to wait and see about this rain. While it’s difficult to wait on snow this time of year, I’m hear to tell you. It’s even harder waiting on the rain.

Tiana, Stacy and Brianna getting deep in Green Valley

Tiana, Stacy and Brianna getting deep in Green Valley Sunday

John wrote up an update on the website about his thought process. It’s a little window into his mindset, and a good dose of his mountain voice. It’s worth a read. In short, we are bashing down the snow with our cats, hoping to retain as much as we can through this big melt. If we don’t lose it all, and if Mt. Rainier blocks some of that rain (which it very often does), we could still open by the weekend. To quote John, “it’s day to day.”

While we wait to see what this next round of storms will bring, here’s a really cool video of snowflakes forming.

Super Scientific Recipe for an Early Ski Season

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“Early” is a relative word. In our household, we divide ski seasons along a very defined line. If we open before Thanksgiving weekend, it’s an early start. After–even by a single day–and it’s a late start. Either you ski/ride on this long weekend, or you don’t. I’m still holding out for an early season. But the clock is ticking.

Early turns on Lucky Shot last season opening

Early turns on Lucky Shot last season opening

It’s getting to be that time of year when “talking about the weather” is about the most real conversation in our house. As my husband likes to say, “everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Maybe it’s high time we did something about it. That’s where I need your help. If you all follow this little recipe, we might just have hope.

My weather forecasting is a little like a cocktail recipe:

  • One part GFS model (preferably the extended model, because who wants to rely on the more accurate short-term forecast when you can dream about the cold storms lining up more than a week out?)
  • Two parts superstition
  • Three parts wishful thinking

Superstition

First, let’s talk about the superstition. Just Google up, “how to make it snow,” and you’ll find heaps of information. This is something you can all do right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here.

The most common tips you’ll find include wearing your pajamas inside out/backward as well as flushing ice cubes down the toilet.

My husband says he’s not going to shave until we open. I’m not sure where he got that one, but I don’t want to monkey with his superstition. I’d hate to convince him this half-beard has to go only to see a blocking high set up off the coast. I just hope he gets to shave soon. His mother in law might also prefer him to shave before Thanksgiving so our family photos aren’t marred by “the guy with half a beard.”

My favorite snow superstition, however, is the legend of Heikki Lunta. Heikki is the Finnish god of snow, but really came into his own in the 1970’s in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A local radio host, David Riutta created the “Heikki Lunta Song”, which asked the god for snow in time for an upcoming snowmobile race. The snow fell so hard and for so long, Riutta created a separate track titled, “Heikki Lunta Go Away.” Below is the original.

Wishful Thinking

There’s a lot of wishful thinking that goes into snow rituals. Sleeping with a frozen spoon under your pillow is supposed to make you dream of snow, which in turn awakens the snow gods. Others recommend stacking pennies on your windowsill. Each penny translates to an inch of snow that will fall overnight.

I’ve been watching plenty of ski movies the past few weeks, and those are a very potent form of wishful thinking. Speaking of which, Warren Miller’s No Turning Back plays this weekend in Seattle. There’s nothing like watching a little ski porn on a big screen in a packed stadium to max out on wishful thinking. I’m pretty sure several hundred friends hoping for snow simultaneously will bring a few cold storms our way. It’s practically guaranteed actually, when you really think about it. So, if you do nothing else, go to this ski movie, sit in the stadium and wish really hard that you will soon be schussing through the deep stuff.

The Forecast

Then there’s this little thing called “the weather forecast.” Some people believe in it, others are skeptics. Disciples claim that meteorologists use “scientific models” to forecast the weather. They can even look far into the future to predict the weather. I prefer these extended forecasts. I figure that if you don’t like the weather, you can just look far enough ahead until you see something you like.

Then you fixate on that.

Fixating on a cold storm ten days off is my specialty.

The UW Atmospheric Sciences models are optimized for our terrain. If you’re a forecast disciple, you should really bookmark this page. Here’s a screenshot of their 24 Hour snow forecast for 4pm Sunday night. Looks like we are in the 10″ range at Crystal, while Baker is sitting pretty in the 16-20″ range (lucky bastards).

24 Hour totals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever the case may be, we will all be skiing and riding soon. That’s especially true if we all ban together and start doing something about this weather. So, if you don’t have something else going on tonight, could you please wear those pajamas inside out and backward?

Thanks.

I’m a Sucker for a Snowstorm

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Not a bad lunch spot.

Not a bad lunch spot.

I’m like a moth to the flame. When it snows, I can’t help myself. I have to go towards those flakes like my life depends on it.

I woke this morning to a fresh snowfall. This time I debated on whether or not to bring my skis. From my apartment at the base of Crystal, the peaks looked pretty salt and peppery this morning, pretty chocolate-chippy (to quote Tom Winter). So I decided not to bring my skis.

Maybe I made the wrong decision, because I could have made about ten legitimate turns today. They’d have been hop turns, trying-to-stay-light-on-my-feet turns, praying that I didn’t hook a tip under something awful and immovable. But I brought my camera instead. Which was nice since the sun was out. With all that fresh snow (a compacted 7-9″ inches at the top of Green Valley) it was legit bluebird.