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How Much Snow Do Ski Resorts Need?

How Much Snow Do Ski Resorts Need

Are you looking forward to skiing this season? You might be constantly monitoring the snowfall to work out whether your favorite resort has enough snow for skiing. 

The thing is, ski resorts don’t necessarily need to receive a heavy snowfall to have good skiing conditions that skiers and snowboarders can enjoy. 

Some ski areas only need a thin layer of snow on their slope to open their ski runs, while others have to wait for more snowfall. 

Similarly, some ski areas don’t have to wait for heavy snowfall to open their runs as they can make artificial snow and start operations early in the season.

The snow conditions differ in different resorts, and those with good snow that stays longer on the slopes tend to have longer ski seasons. 

It’s important to keep in mind that many factors can influence how long snow can last in a ski area, including the resort’s elevation and mountain orientation. 

Ski resorts located in areas that are well-sheltered from weather elements that can cause snow to melt faster also have the best-extended ski seasons. 

If you are wondering how much snow resorts need for skiers and snowboarders to have fun on their trails, you’ve come to the right page. 

Here, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about the best snow amounts and conditions for skiing. Continue reading to discover more!

How Much Snow Does a Ski Resort Need to Open?

How Much Snow Does a Ski Resort Need to Open

The amount of snow needed in a ski resort depends on the conditions of its terrain. If the trails have more rocks and less grass or shrubs, the resort will need large amounts of snow to cover the rocks before it can open. 

This is usually common in high-elevation ski areas or mountains used to feed livestock. 

It’s also the case with most ski resorts in France and Switzerland, which is why they need at least 40 inches of fresh snow to open. 

On the other hand, low-altitude resorts tend to have more shrubs and extensive grass cover, so they need less snow. 

For example, most Austrian ski resorts can open and run smoothly with a snow cover of only 15cm. 

Having more grass cover on the mountain provides a softer and even ground for the snow to sit properly on the surface and be skiable. 

After all, you can ski on the grass with special skis (though it’s not recommended for new skiers), but it’s impossible to glide on rocky pistes. 

Nonetheless, it’s essential to keep in mind that a ski resort may have different types of slopes. Some areas may be covered with rocks, while others may have a good grass cover. 

This means that a resort can still open with less snowfall if there are some runs that have enough snow to be skiable. As the snowfall continues, more and more ski runs become skiable and open to skiers. 

It’s common for ski areas to open their flat grassy trails first and reserve the higher runs until they receive enough snowfall. 

When snowfall is insufficient as the ski season progresses, a ski resort may be forced to rely heavily on snow cannons to make snow and open their higher ski runs. 

You’ll also notice that towards the end of the ski season, many resorts close some of their runs as the temperature rises. 

This is because the snow starts to melt, exposing rocks, which can damage skis and make the skiing conditions unsafe for skiers. 

What Time of the Year Has the Best Snowfall for Skiing?

What Time of the Year Has the Best Snowfall for Skiing

Across North America, January receives the best snowfall for skiing, followed by December and February.

Even so, you may find that some resorts that receive early season have great deep powder snow with a good snow base in late December. 

If you want a safe bet for the best snow with a good base and the right texture for skiing, January and February have the most awesome conditions. 

The temperatures are pretty low in January, giving the best snow, while February strikes a good balance between good snow and sun, so you won’t freeze on the mountain.

For skiers planning to visit high altitude resorts, the best month is February. During this time of the year, chances of finding closed runs due to less snowfall are minimal. 

If all you want is great snow and don’t mind huge crowds, mid-season is definitely your best time. 

But if cheap tickets, affordable accommodation, and fewer crowds are your priorities, you can go earlier or later in the ski season to have the best experience. 

How It Feels Like to Ski on a Small Snow Base

How It Feels Like to Ski on a Small Snow Base

Skiing on a small snow base is actually the same as skiing on a large snow base in most aspects. The type of snow and how compact it is can make a bigger difference than the snow underneath you. 

One of the most essential things to look for in snow bases is the types of pistes. If you are going to ski on a piste with gravel or rocks beneath the snow, you’ll need to ensure that the snow base is large enough. 

You should look out for any discolored spots on the snow as they indicate that there are rocks or even fallen trees beneath the snow surface. 

There may be small stones that can damage your skis when riding on such surfaces. 

While you can wax minor scratches and restore your skis, repairing deeper gashes can be impossible because some scars are permanent. 

You should also steer clear of the edges of groomed runs or going off-piste if the terrain does not have enough snow. Otherwise, you might end up damaging your skis. 

What Do Ski Resorts Do When There is Less Snowfall?

What Do Ski Resorts Do When There is Less Snowfall

When less snow falls on the slopes than expected, resorts may not be able to start their operations. 

Luckily, many resorts now have snow cannons that can produce more snow when the mountain receives inadequate snowfall. 

The snowmaking machines are powerful and even able to produce enough snow throughout the season. 

Even so, most mountains allow more snow to fall on the slope to create a good base before adding snow for their major runs. 

Since the average ski season lasts for 100 days in many ski areas in the US, each mountain must do whatever it can to remain open and stay in business. 

So, they opt to invest in snowmaking machines that come in handy when less snow falls in the resort. It’s very rare for ski areas to fail to open in a season due to a lack of snow. 

Depending on how much snow a resort receives, they can spend anywhere from $500 000 to $3.5 million per season to make fresh powder for their runs.

How Do Snow Cannons Work?

How Do Snow Cannons Work

Over the last few years, many ski areas have been relying on snowmaking machines to stay open for uninterrupted and longer seasons. 

With the high demand for snow cannons, manufacturers have introduced advanced equipment for making snow, and the latest one can convert more than 110 liters of water into snow within a minute. 

The machines need dry and cold conditions to produce the best snow at a reasonable speed, depending on how much moisture is in the air. If too much moisture is in the air, the snow production process becomes slower. 

When it’s too cold outside, the compressed air and cold water can quickly freeze in the pipes and cause damage to the metal. 

You might also wonder whether the machine-made snow is similar to the natural snow falling on the slopes in the winter. 

Well, the thing is that machine-made snow is a bit different from natural snowflakes since it’s made from water and compressed air, while the natural one uses vapor. 

How Long Does Fresh Snow Last on the Slope?

How Long Does Fresh Snow Last on the Slope

The thicker the snow base, the longer it lasts on the mountain. Snow bases over 6 inches can take longer to melt or evaporate and disappear from the terrain. 

Shaded areas on the terrain, like the valleys, have the longest-lasting snow since they tend to be colder with less direct heat from the sun. 

If a ski resort has a trail that traverses through a valley, they open it earlier than other runs since it has the best first snow that doesn’t melt quickly. 

With that said, ski areas that receive too much snow may not be any better than resorts with less but long-lasting snow. 

In this case, location is critical. Ski areas located at higher elevations have colder temperatures and better shade.

The shaded part is usually the North mountainside in the Northern Hemisphere and the South side in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Since there are usually a few thaws during the season as the snow melts and refreezes with rain and sunny days, resorts have to groom their runs regularly to maintain ideal skiing conditions.

Generally, the first snow that falls in the winter forms a good base for new snow throughout the season.

Can A Ski Resort Have Excess Snow?

Can A Ski Resort Have Excess Snow

Yes, when there is too much snow falling on the mountain, a ski resort can have excess snow that can be dangerous for skiers and snowboarders. 

Heavy winter snowstorms cause resorts to close their lifts due to high accident risks. While skiers follow a trail in a resort, they may not be able to see clearly in a whiteout, increasing the risk of collisions and accidents. 

Having too much snow on the mountain also increases the risk of avalanches. So, resorts invest in snowplows to groom the snowy terrain and prevent accidents resulting from avalanches. 

During competitions, excess snow on the slope can ruin the race conditions and slow skiers down. 

Powder days provide the best skiing conditions as skiers get to ride on light powdery snow that sits on a decent deep base. Such snow conditions offer stability and excellent balance even on steep terrain. 

Why Do Most Ski Areas Close When There’s Still Snow on the Slopes?

Why Do Most Ski Areas Close When There’s Still Snow on the Slopes

Most resorts tend to close on a fixed date regardless of the amount of snow left on the slopes. 

While the mountain may still be having enough snow for skiers to hit the slopes, the resort has to close for economic reasons. 

Only a few people plan ski holidays in the summer, so it doesn’t make sense for resorts to stay open when chances of making losses are high. 

Apart from fewer customers, there are other hidden costs that a resort has to incur when operating during late spring and summer. 

They have to pay the ski patrol, maintain the runs, and ensure that everything in the resort is well-organized for skiers to have a great experience on the mountains. 

Since some workers choose to leave soon as the ski season is over, ski areas may be forced to hire new employees if they choose to extend their season. 

So, instead of incurring extra costs or giving skiers a bad skiing experience, most mountains close on their fixed date no matter how much snow is left. 

How Much Snow Do You Need for Cross-Country Skiing?

How Much Snow Do You Need for Cross-Country Skiing

The amount of snow you need to cross-country ski depends on the terrain of the trail you intend to follow. 

If your coveted trail is grass-covered, you may not need much snow to ride smoothly down the mountain. 

However, rockier terrains need more than six inches of snow to become skiable. Otherwise, skiing on rocky terrain like the Canadian Rockies with a thin layer of snow exposes you to the risk of injuries and damage to your skis. 

How To Read Snow Reports Before Hitting the Slopes

How To Read Snow Reports Before Hitting the Slopes

If you are looking forward to hitting the slopes, you may want to learn how to read the snow reports. 

Snow reports are important as they allow you to know whether it’s safe to go or if the slopes have ideal conditions. 

For beginners, reading snow reports may seem complicated but experienced skiers know exactly what to check and pick out the vital information. 

Sometimes the snow reports may not be useful when going to ski in a resort because ski areas usually control their snow condition reports. This is usually because they focus more on marketing their runs. 

But if you want to gauge the slope conditions before going out, here are a few things to check when reading the snow reports. 

#1. Recent Snowfall

Every snow report will talk about the recent snowfall, which they usually give in specific periods. For example, a snow report may indicate that snow has fallen for the last 24 or 36 hours. 

If the recent snowfall reads 24 hours, you will probably find fresh powder snow on the slopes.

Apart from knowing about the recent snowfall, it’s also essential to check the amount of snow that has fallen. This should be done with caution as the reports that ski resorts give can be a bit confusing. 

#2. Base Depths

The base depth is usually critical when finding out whether it’s safe to hit the slopes. Most resorts will indicate the snow depth in their pistes. 

But you must know that there is no specific standard for snow depths since different slopes need a different amount of snow to be skiable. 

As mentioned earlier, ski pistes covered with grass don’t necessarily need huge snow depths to be skiable. But those covered with rocks need more snow to be considered skiable. 

#3. Temperatures

Before you head out to the mountain, you should check the predicted temperatures for the day. This will give you reliable information about the outdoor conditions, so you know what to wear and pack. 

If the temperature is lower than what you expected, you should add more layers to your ski clothing and pack some more warm items for your safety. 

Even so, temperatures below -10 degrees Fahrenheit may not be ideal for skiing as you might freeze while out there. 

Skiing at such a temperature will give you an unpleasant experience or even leave you sick. When it goes below -20 degrees Fahrenheit, you should simply stay inside. 

#4. Wind Speeds

It’s also important to know about wind speeds as they have a significant influence on ski lift safety. 

If the wind is more than 35 MPH, the lifts may not be safe to ride, and depending on the wind’s direction, it may bring a lift to a stop. 

When riding a ski lift in strong winds, the chairs tend to swing, which might be a bit scary. So, if you don’t want to have a terrifying experience, don’t take a lift when there is a chance of high winds. 

Strong winds can also affect you when skiing downhill. Based on its direction, it can limit your speed or cause you to fall due to uncontrolled movements and lack of balance. 

#5. Snow Type and Grooming

It’s always a good idea to check the type of snow your resort has to know whether it’s ideal for your skiing style. 

There are various types of snow that you can find on pistes, including powder snow, packed powder or corn snow, machine groomed, wet, and frozen granular.

And the good thing is that most ski resorts will let you know about the snow type on their snow report. 

Powder or deep light snow-packed powder and machine-groomed snow are usually the best snow types for many skiers, while wet and frozen granular can be a bit dangerous to ski on. 

You also want to check grooming on the snow report to know whether your ski resort has raked the icy snow, especially if it has rained after a snowfall.

FAQs

FAQs

Q: How Much Snow Do You Need for Skiing?

A: The amount of snow you need depends on the type of terrain you want to ride. Some grounds require less snow, while others need much snow to be skiable. 

If what’s underneath the snow is a grassy pasture, then you don’t need a lot of snow to ski on such surfaces. Grassy or clear grounds make a flat and reliable base, so you can safely ski with a thin layer of snow. 

On the other hand, rocky grounds with unpredictable objects need a massive snow cover. In such terrains, you shouldn’t attempt to ski until the snow base is at least six or seven inches. 

Q: How Often Do Ski Resorts Make Snow?

A: Ski resorts usually make snow when there is less snowfall than skiers need to hit the slopes. 

If a resort receives less snow than expected, it has to rely on artificial snow from snowmaking machines. They make the snow and spread it over the first snow to make good runs for skiers to enjoy. 

Q: What is the Base Depth for Skiing?

A: 20 inches. The average base depth for skiing in most resorts is 20 inches and is considered safe for slopes with grass or clear surface underneath. 

Rockier resorts need to wait for more snowfall or make artificial snow to cover the embedding rocks. The base depth in rockier terrain is usually 40 inches or more to ensure that all boulders are well-covered.

The average annual snowfall in most US ski resorts ranges from 300 to 650 inches, and they are able to provide excellent conditions for skiers. 

Q: What is Ideal Skiing Weather?

A: 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit is considered the best for skiing as the weather is not too cold or hot. But for most skiers, colder is usually the better. 

Cold weather improves the skiing conditions on runs made of artificial snow. But it shouldn’t go below -20 degrees Fahrenheit as it would be an unpleasant and horrible experience for skiers. 
Temperatures above 40 degrees may not be ideal for skiing as the snow melts, resulting in ice and slush, which can be dangerous for skiers. 

Bottom Line 

Bottom Line 

Depending on the terrain or what’s underneath, ski resorts don’t need a lot of snow to open. Many ski areas open with only 20 inches of base depth, while others have to wait for more snowfall or use snow cannons. 

If you want to visit a high-altitude resort or rocky mountain to ski, you should ensure that the slope has at least 40 inches to avoid damaging your skis or falling on boulders. 

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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