When Will It Snow? Weather Information for Backcountry Skiers
Do you want to know when, where, and how much it will snow? Backcountry skiers and riders tend to be obsessive about the weather - for good reason. Our enjoyment and safety on a tour can sometimes depend almost entirely on the weather.
We have so many questions.
We want to know if it will be sunny or overcast during our tour and if the wind will be gusty or calm. We want to know - obviously - where is the best snow? We want to know the freezing level from last night and if it rained at the trailhead. We want to know if the storm will arrive in the morning or the afternoon.
Wondering about weather while enjoying an iconic ski tour in British Columbia. Jerry Isaak photo.
We have so many questions. Where can we find answers?
My primary mountain weather information sources tend to change depending on where I am in the world. When I’m searching for information about weather in the mountains of western Canada I start with the Mountain Weather Forecast, produced by the Meteorological Service of Canada and hosted online by Avalanche Canada.
If you want to up your weather game in the mountains - start here.
After reading the relevant avalanche forecast for my region I use the Mountain Weather Forecast to access up-to-date weather synopses. This product also provides an extended forecast (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3-4, and Day 5-7), along with information on hourly precipitation, 12hr total precipitation, temperatures, winds, surface maps, and 500 mbar & precipitable water.
If your eyes start to glaze over when reading about surface maps and 500 mbar, or if the weather map image (above) is intimidating to you - you’re not alone - and Avalanche Canada has your back. One of the most useful features on the site is a series of video tutorials, presented by expert meteorologists and designed to help lay people understand the information that is made available on the website. In addition to the tutorials, another really useful feature of the site that I frequently use is the Weather Glossary, a searchable list of terms (with accompanying graphics) that are used in the Mountain Weather Forecast.
If you have questions about snow and weather, check out the Mountain Weather Forecast and upgrade your backcountry skiing knowledge from the comfort of your home.
Do your homework well enough and it could lead to first tracks...
Jerry Isaak is an Associate Teaching Professor and the program lead for ski touring in the Adventure Studies Department at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia. He is an AMGA certified Ski Guide and has guided backcountry ski adventures in Iceland, Kyrgyzstan, Japan, and throughout the United States and western Canada.