Not every dump is the same. Sometimes it's a bit warmer (or colder), sometimes a lot of snow comes down (or sometimes not that much), sometimes there's a lot of wind (and sometimes no wind). Anyway, you'll get the point. This can be the difference between a disappointing dump or a epic dump. So what does a perfect dump look like? It meets the following characteristics:
If you've ever been to Fernie you'll probably know when the '20 cm rule is in effect'. Shops keep their doors shut and all the locals are riding pow on the mountain. It's a matter of priorities, right? From 20-25 cm the snow feels bottomless and in mostly you can no longer feel the old layer. Keep in mind that I'm talking about 20 cm of untracked snow.
There's a big difference in how you experience the fresh snow when it falls on top of a hard layer. You could call it 'dust on crust', but if feels like knees get hits all the time. This mostly happens when the days before the dump were a bit too warm. In resorts where every face is tracked out after every dump the layers aren't really soft as well. You'll have to go deeper into the backcountry to find a soft layer at the bottom. I personally prefer dumps of at least 25 centimeters. In that way I minimize the chance of hitting one of those older layers.
If there is 25 cm of dry powder coming down, you will still feel the hard bottom layer. Dry powder has little cohesion and you can easily sink through it. The result is that you'll still feel the old layer. There can be too much air in the snow, but that often does not take that long. Snow sets itself over time. So what is too light at first can be perfect after a few hours.
The best storms are cold on hot. What I mean by this is that storms come in with a warm front. The temperature is higher, the air is more humid and the snow a bit heavier. The perfect situation occurs when the storm brings a cold front right after a warm front. Cold and dry powder on a layer that's a bit heavier but really soft. Quite the opposite is warm on cold. This happened a lot during winter 2015-2016. Once the cold front arrived it was immediately foloowed by a warm front from the (south)west. The temperature rose, just like the snow line. The cold and fluffy powder became heavy thanks to the moisture and this resulted in challenging conditions.
Wind is the builder of avalanches. Wind transports snow, destroys the snow crystals and creates an unstable top layer, especially above the tree line. This wind-drifted snow can be so dangerous that a perfect dump can turn into a nightmare. This becomes a serious problem with wind speeds of 5 Bft and higher. Please note: the wind can be strong at the peaks, but there could be no wind at all in the trees (1400 meters lower on the mountain). With some knowledge of the terrain, avalanches and the local wind you can sometimes still find the great powder in the trees.
No matter how good the snow is, nothing is as annoying as standing in line for hours and going into the backcountry with hundreds at a time. Powder panic results in dangerous situations because we stop thinking, and it also ensures that powder will be tracked out fast. A dump during the weekend may sound perfect, but I prefer a dump during the week simply because there aren't any crowds. An alternative is a small (family) ski area. Not a lot of people, less powder panic and the powder is just as good. The terrain may sometimes be less challenging, but that compensates for the quality and quantity of the powder.
When setting up the new wePowder we have done everything we can to help you as good as possible. Hereby some tips for your 5 step plan to the perfect powder alert:
Step 1: For the 20 cm rule first check our snow maps and start looking for resorts that expect at least 20-25 cm in 24-48 hours.
Step 2: check the layer where the snow falls on top of by using the ski area pages on wepowder. Check out Nassfeld as an example below. This page shows the webcams, nearby weather stations and the local avalanche forecast. You'll get an impression of the latest snowfall, the thickness of the snow cover, the temperature and the wind. Give it a go, it might be a small struggle at first, but you'll get better by using it!
Step 3: Is it a cold on warm dump? In other words, is warm air followed by cold air? The best way to find it out id to have a look at the data of a village near the ski area. You can see the data of Sonnenalpe Nassfeld below. It looks like there's a good dump coming up. It snow at first and it is still relatively warm, but then the temperature drops, it will keep on snowing and it will remain cold. Cold on warm!
Step 4: What about the wind ? I also have a look at the data from Sonnenalpe Nassfeld. Particularly on the lower parts of the mountain, the wind is not that strong according to the forecast. But if the wind turns out worse than expected, I can see on the map of the ski resort of Nassfeld that there are plenty of possibilities in the trees (use the satellite function). If you're a wePowder Pro member you can also have a look at the other characteristics of the terrain. What about the slope angle and the aspect? Sounds like a go.
Step 5: When is the snow coming down? During the weekend or during the week? When it comes down during the weekend, I'll start looking for a small ski resort. Nassfeld is not that crowded during the weekends, so I should be okay, but just to be sure I'll also check a couple of different resorts nearby.
With over 800 ski areas and 1300 resorts, there is always an area that offers the perfect mix of snow, soft bottom layer, temperature, wind, crowds and challenging terrain.
If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!