Category Archives: Weather

Real-time Weather Data for Crystal

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Now that many of you have downloaded the new 3D trail map for your favorite mountain (Crystal, of course!), it’s time to take your insider-info up a notch.

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Forrest found his bluebird day on Exterminator Ridge

Gone are the days when you have to go to the NWAC site to decipher the telemetry data for Crystal. Now you can see exactly what’s going on here in real-time. Thanks to former patroller, budding forecaster and all-together genius Chris Morin, we now have an easy to use, read and obsess over weather data site.

Below is a screenshot from crystalweather.com taken 12/23/2015. The upper left green square shows the new snow since 9am that morning. The square on the right shows the new snow from the previous 24 hours. The blue squares are temps at three locations on the mountain. The color of these squares turns red when we are above freezing. The black squares are our snow totals on the ground. Notice here that we hit 100″ in Green Valley. The snowpack has since settled to 79″, but the temps have remained cold.

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But there’s more!

Below is a screenshot from the Combined Tables found in the main menu of the site during the same time period. This is in 5 minute intervals, but you can view in 1 minute intervals up to yearly intervals. To see more, just continue to scroll down and the data appears for as long as we have digitized records.

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mountain tabular data

Notice the wind in the gray column. The first number is average winds, the next is gusts (denoted with a G) and the last is the wind direction. The numbers on the right are the SWE (snow water equivalent) aka precipitation during that interval, denoted P, and also the accumulated, denoted PA.

Now when you want (need) to check the current weather at Crystal, it’s literally at your fingertips. The simple design works well in both mobile and desktop. As an added bonus the home screen also shows the four webcams at Crystal. I especially like to obsessively check the snow stake cam at the bottom of Chair 6. Even though that stake is out in the open, and can be aggressively effected by wind, it’s nice to watch the snow pile up.

Just saying.

Much More Snow in the Forecast

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My what a difference a couple of weeks makes. In late November we had begun to joke that perhaps our ski area had permanently shrunk to Green Valley. The snow had gotten thin near the bottom of the chair and our laughs were taking on a more grimaced nuance. Dry, chalky snow could still be found under the gondy line, and the warm inversion above the cold foggy city felt great.

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Green Valley November 20, 2015

But let’s be real. What we really want is snow. Not only do we want a solid base on the ground, we also need frequent top-offs. But if anyone had told me on November 30th what the next two weeks had in store, I would have laughed them off as crazy.

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Flakes the size of 10-year-olds fell on December 1st

December slammed into the Pacific Northwest like a drunken Santa on the world’s stormiest sleigh. A week into the month the four horseman of the apocalypse were standing by to wash us all down the mountain in a biblical storm. The gale of December 8th was so violent the fiber optic line, along with the power lines that feed Greenwater and Crystal, washed into the river. We had no outside communication for two days (which, if you ask me, was actually kind of nice).

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Miles breaking trail up the Throne in early December

The net result of that storm created great coverage up high, and quickly the snow started falling at the base too. Now, two weeks into the month we are open wall to wall. There’s over 53″ on the stake in Green Valley, which is above normal, and the forecast is calling for more snow.

Southback Dec 13

Southback filling in December 13, 2015

Much more snow.

72Hour Snow total

By next Tuesday we could have 30-40 more inches of snow

Cliff Mass is calling it “mountains of snow.” With three big snow-producing storms lined up in the Pacific, the forecast is calling for several feet of fresh snow over the next five days.

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This is what I’m talking about

It’s been years since the words feet and forecast have shared a sentence. Let that one sink in for a moment.

November and December are often our stormiest months, so this shouldn’t come as a complete shock. Perhaps its the weak winters of late that produce what I can only describe as a feeling of disbelief and awe. Part of me hesitates to even talk about the forecast lest I jinx it somehow.

When the forecasters are talking about mountains of snow, I think we can trust that, at the very least, we are going to have a very white Christmas.

Snow in the Forecast

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After over a week of high pressure and inversion at Crystal Mountain, we finally have some snow in the forecast. While it has certainly been nice at the top of Crystal this week with calm winds, sunny skies and warm weather, I, for one, am ready for some frozen precipitation.

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Noaa Forecast for the summit of Crystal

Looks like our first shot of real snow could come Tuesday night, with up to 10 inches at the top. We should also get snow at the base too, although not as much as up high. Wednesday is looking like a 12 hour warm up, with rain in the afternoon turning back to snow by Thursday morning.

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72 Hour Snowfall Forecast ending 4am Saturday

By next weekend, all ski areas should have a net increase of at least a foot of new snow. Here at Crystal that translates into more open terrain. I’d love to see Rex and Forest Queen start spinning soon. And of course, Chair 6 and Northway will be next. Let’s all start our snow dances now!

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.