How to Be There When it Dumps


Powder Day!

You’ve all been there. It’s still 30 minutes before first chair and the line is already snaking back to the ticket kiosks. Thin snowflakes drift lazily from the sky. The big dump happened yesterday, while you sat at your office desk obsessively checking and re-checking the resort’s website, watching the snow pile up. The day started with 3 inches of new–not enough to call in sick. By the time you checked from your desk, another 2 inches had fallen. You briefly wondered if it was too late to make it up there. Unfortunately, you just rode the elevator with your boss and never mentioned the growing nausea a quick dash from the office would require.


You checked the telemetry every hour yesterday as it accumulated quickly. 6 inches. 8 inches. 12 inches by the end of the day. The weather serviced called for 6 more inches overnight.

No worries, you told yourself, as you splashed water on your face to simulate breaking out in a feverish sweat, complaining to your co-workers that maybe, “it was something you ate.” Tomorrow would be THE DAY.

Apparently, you weren’t the only one with that same plan.

Now, as you stand with a growing crowd, listening to the ski patrol bombs reverberate across the valley, planning your route from base chair to mid-mountain to summit chair to first lap to waiting in line for the sidecountry to open to sessioning your favorite stash to lapping the trees to last chair, you start to feel uneasy.

As if maybe you already missed it. That’s when the bearded guy standing in line next to you casually says it.

“You should have been here yesterday.”

Several patches of duct-tape cover his down jacket and the cuffs of his ski pants. His ski poles are circa 1980 Kermas, rubbed down to silver. His hat has a hole in it. His skis, however, are brand new mid-fat K2s.

He sees you looking. “Glad I didn’t have these yesterday.” He smiles. “Glad I had my Pontoons. It was that good.”

You look away and grind your teeth.

Local dude doesn’t take the hint. “Man, yesterday was THE DAY. It just kept dumping. I mean, it was sick. I had to just bury my mouth in my collar so I wouldn’t choke, you know what I mean?”

You refuse to speak.

“Have you ever had one of those days man? I almost didn’t even come out today, because I know it’s going to be crowded, like EVERYONE is going to be here today. But I figured there might be a few stashes left. Besides,” he shrugs. “I’m up here everyday anyways.”

You nod. Finally the chair starts spinning and the line moves up. Sitting on the chair a few minutes later, you count the loaded chairs in front of you. You’re the 11th chair. Not bad, you tell yourself. It has stopped snowing and a patch of blue sky darts across the sky. You sigh, knowing you should have been here yesterday.

But how?

Here’s a few tips:

  • Watch the forecast. If the storm is supposed to come in Tuesday night, consider taking Tuesday off from work. Often storms come in faster than projected; and in the frontcountry, you have to be there during a raging storm to ski powder within the ski area boundary anymore.
  • Learn to predict weather yourself. I watch the UW models, which are getting more and more accurate every year. The NWS website also has some cool tools in the left hand sidebar to predict the depth of storms. The new dual-pol radar will start giving us very accurate predictions of imminent precipitation amounts.
  • Know someone. Get to know a local, preferably someone willing to call you at 5am with the latest snowfall amounts.
  • Take off work. When in doubt, come up. You’ll never have THE DAY watching it from your desktop in the city.

3 responses »

  1. First of all– GREAT shot of the dog getting after it! Good advice from braveskimom; that’s how I’ve been able to sustain my days. . . by patrolling!
    It’s funny– I was just talking about this topic a couple of weeks ago. I was telling someone how I turn into a “meteorologist” in the winter time. I am constantly looking at radar models from various sources– including the ones Kim mentioned. I quite often use NOAA; however, they tend to be conservative with their snowfall totals (which could be good or bad). Our patrol use to carry a NOAA frequency on our radios which I found to be the most accurate in predicting weather and snowfall totals (more accurate than NOAA’s website).
    I’ve always felt a tinge of guilt when weekenders show up on Saturday or Sunday in the top shack wondering how the conditions were during the week; ( last season the majority of the “money” days were:Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays– my days off– coincidentally!) more often than not I chose to downplay the conditions and downplay the euphoric sensations I had experienced in the pow pow– for fear that I’d be THAT guy– the guy who’s boasting about the multiple face shots they just had on their last run. . . you know that guy: the rubber-inner. It’s kind of like how a liftie perhaps feels on a powder day when I’m doing multiple laps while she/he is “stuck” bumping chairs. Liftie: How’s the skiing/riding? Me: It’s not bad (as I’m covered head-to-toe in powder and trying my hardest to contain my euphoria).
    So when I hear people talking about how epic the conditions were on a certain day– I likely experienced them firsthand myself; but always try to keep the euphoria in check. . . the anti-rubber-inner. Thank you NSP, thank you Ullr and thank you Mother Nature!

    • Another great word from you: rubber-inner. There is a measure of humility and caution that’s appropriate when you’re getting face shots and someone else is bumping chairs. But all too often that affected coolness gets too ingrained for some patrollers. I’ve seen many who forget how great their job is, because they downplay it to everyone else. Instead I like to keep the stoke going (even if I don’t let it flame up around lifties). I have mixed feelings about lift operators–they’re operating the most important piece of equipment at the ski area, but it requires the least amount of skill. To be good at it takes a special kind of person. You have to enjoy people, and you need to live vicariously through them. But, like you said, rubbing it in is probably bad karma!

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