June 18, 2024
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I spent my first full ski season at Alta, Utah, ready tables and snowboarding the deepest snow of my life. I arrived late in January, however by working breakfasts and dinners I managed to clock 80 days on snow snowboarding between my shifts. In a twist of irony, the deep powder snow was so good that it wasn’t till I left Alta that I spotted I’d by no means actually realized methods to ski.

Shifting to Mammoth Lakes, California turned out to be an train in studying to make use of my edges. The following three years produced pitiable snowfall totals and a number of the strangest floor circumstances I’ve ever encountered. I skied knife-hard planar snow, buffeted agency by the wind. When it switched instructions, the gales created a wildly uneven wave texture referred to as sastrugi that’s terribly troublesome to navigate. Rains and freeze-thaw cycles created unusual frozen nodules on the floor that we referred to as hen heads.

The crucible of shitty circumstances solid me right into a a lot better skier, and I developed a taxonomy of snow textures each unusual and stylish. Years within the Sierra ready me for this second: Publishing the definitive rating of snow circumstances for skiers and riders in every single place. I can’t be taking any questions right now.

Blower Powder Reigns Supreme

Stunning completely nobody, sitting atop the throne of skiable circumstances is that candy, low-density powder. It’s referred to as “blower” as a result of whenever you decide it up in your palms and blow it like a dandelion, it scatters into the crystalline ether. Snowboarding actual chilly smoke is the closest we now have to oblivion, within the Buddhist sense of the phrase. As they are saying on TikTok: No ideas. Simply vibes.

Wind Buff: A Shock Runner-Up

Many skiers could also be unfamiliar with this runner up, however Mammoth is understood for this recycled powder that coats our faces and chutes with an ultra-fine magical carpet. When the wind picks up snow on the windward sides of mountains and tumbles it by means of the air, the crystals break aside, leading to snow far finer than powder flakes. When the wind-tossed grains of snow decide on the leeward sides, they kind a skinny layer atop the snow floor that you would be able to carve on steep terrain as if it had been groomed. The perfect half? The extra folks ski it, the higher it sometimes will get.

ranking snow conditions skiing
Wind flagging off the Dana Plateau and filling the chutes with wind buff. (Picture: Jake Stern)

Corn: The Crown Jewel of Spring Snowboarding

Spring within the Sierra is all about chasing the corn cycle—an elusive window when the solar and air heat the agency morning ice and softens it to an ideal texture. Arrive too early, and also you’ll have to sit down and wait, or courageous the agency snow. Arrive too late, and the solar cooks the floor into isothermic slop. However whenever you nail the timing, the rock-solid snow softens into crystals that look very very like kernels of corn. When the corn is excellent over a agency base, you may rip Tremendous-G turns down massive backcountry faces with outstanding consistency. It’s one of many biggest emotions I do know, and it was arduous to not put on the very high on this rating on ski circumstances.

Chalk: Synonymous with Stability and Confidence

Uncommon the place I reside, chalk is the results of constant chilly temperatures with out precipitation mixed with gentle winds that dry out and soften leftover snow. The perfect a part of snowboarding chalk is the power you may generate by pressuring it with a ski at a excessive edge angle. You possibly can rail very quick activates chalk due to its simple and constant nature, and it sticks round so long as the climate does. In California that may be a really very long time.

Slush: Powder You Can Ski in a T-Shirt

We are able to experience chairlifts into July at Mammoth, and just lately, even August. The low solar angles and better temperatures create perfect circumstances excessive on the mountain. Whereas the decrease elevations go to hell, the higher reaches flip right into a playground of soppy snow. A lot of die-hard skiers will inform you that the very best a part of their season is weaving by means of slushy moguls in Hawaiian shirts and bikinis within the spring.

ranking snow conditions skiing
Slushy snowboarding within the Independence Couloir, California (Picture: William Gayle)

Sierra Cement: We Ski It As a result of We Have It, Not As a result of We Love It

In a mountain vary not removed from the Pacific, our snow hardly ever is available in as Wasatch blower. Our snow-water ratio (a determinant of how moist, and due to this fact heavy, the snowpack is) is often about half of the Rockies, if not even decrease. All that is to say that when Mammoth will get ten ft of snow, it is available in so dense that our skis solely sink down into the highest six inches. This sort of snow could be troublesome to push round and is extra more likely to knock you off steadiness. It’s typically a supply of the dreaded shin bang—an overuse harm attributable to the entrance of your decrease leg slamming into your boots, and exacerbated by uneven snow. It’s not the very best, however hell, it’s contemporary snow.

Sastrugi: When the Going Will get Bizarre, the Bizarre Go Professional

It must be evident by now that we’ve skipped a couple of snow circumstances for concision, however fret not! See the underside of the article for the exhaustive record. Entering into circumstances which might be objectively dangerous, we now have sastrugi. This snow texture kinds when wind route shifts forwards and backwards throughout the snow, creating stunning and weird wave-like patterns which might be harking back to seafloor sand. Delicate sastrugi isn’t the worst, as a result of your skis or board often crush the crests of the ridge. However when the temperatures shift and sastrugi ossifies, it may be a terrifying agency and uneven floor to navigate—particularly in steep terrain.

Breakable Crust: The Skier’s Entice Door

A great good friend and nice skier as soon as advised me that breakable crust is a direct menace to his well being and security. Within the rating of snow circumstances, it’s worse than sastrugi mainly as a result of it’s misleading. A slope of breakable crust typically seems to be like clean powder earlier than you drop into it. However when you do, the agency pores and skin of wind-affected snow on high offers approach like a entice door to a softer layer, and locks your ski and board suggestions beneath the floor. I’ve by no means fallen extra occasions on a single backcountry run than on a face of pure breakable crust.

Discovering breakable crust on the Mammoth Crest. (Picture: Jake Stern)

Hen Heads and Coral Reef: The Worst. The Satan.

God make it easier to when you determine to ski in these circumstances. In severe terrain, they’ve killed nice skiers. Often called “dying cookies” or “hen heads,” these floor circumstances happen when slush will get pushed round by skis or by wind after which freezes in place in a single day. The Messner Couloir on Denali is notorious for these terrifying formations when heat fog freezes on the snow floor and creates hen heads out of rime ice. The perfect technique for snowboarding the reef is just this: Don’t.

Mount Hood ranking snow conditions skiing
Refrozen hen heads beneath the Hogsback on Mount Hood. (Picture: Jake Stern)

The Definitive Rating of Snow Situations:

  1. Blower Powder
  2. Wind buff
  3. Corn
  4. Chalk
  5. Slush
  6. Heavy Powder
  7. Delicate Western Corduroy
  8. Hardpack/Windboard
  9. East Coast Corduroy
  10. Ice
  11. Delicate Sastrugi
  12. Bulletproof Sastrugi
  13. Breakable Crust
  14. Frozen Hen Heads/Coral Reef

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