How to Read Ski Reports

Being able to read ski reports can help make your skiing experiences more enjoyable. Ski reports can tell you the current ski conditions and whether it's worth your time to head to the mountains.

To begin, look at the indicated base depth of the snow at the mountain you're planning to ski at. This number tells you how deep the snow is packed and gives you an idea of the quality of the snow. The larger the number, the better the ski conditions. A small number may mean that you'll encounter obstacles such as rocks or patches of bare ground on the trails.

Next look for the snow conditions on the ski report. This will describe the type of snow on the slopes and whether it is man-made or not. This is a great way to determine the quality of skiing at that mountain. Here are some terms you may see on a ski report:

  • Powder - Fresh, loose snow that hasn't yet been compacted.
  • Packed Powder - Powder that has been packed down by skiers or grooming machines.
  • Hard Pack - Firmly packed snow. This is difficult to stick a pole into.
  • Loose Granular - When powder or packed powder thaws, refreezes and re-crystalizes. 
  • Frozen Granular - When old snow freezes together after rain or warm temperatures. Usually  becomes Loose Granular after grooming.
  • Wet Packed Snow - Previously packed snow that becomes wet (usually after rain).
  • Wet Granular - Granular snow (loose or frozen) which has become wet.  Usually easy to ski on.
  • Wet Snow - Wet and heavy powder, generally due to thawing or rain.
  • Windblown Snow - When wind blows snow into drifts, leaving a firmly packed base snow.
  • Variable Conditions - A range of surfaces across the mountain.
  • Corn - Large, loose granules which freeze together at night and loosen during the day.
  • Icy - When trails becomes hard because of frozen rain, ground water seeping up into the snow  and freezing, or snow saturated with water from rain or melting and freezing quickly.  Unlike  Frozen Granular, you cannot put a pole in ice.  Also, ice is translucent.

Next you should look at how much snow has fallen in the past 24 and 48 hours (or seven days). The amount of snow that has fallen in the past 24 hours will tell you whether the majority of the snow on the mountain is natural or man-made. A lot of skiers prefer fresh snow because it forms snowflakes, meaning skiing is sharper. Man-made snow forms crystals, which tend to get icy more quickly. The snow that has fallen in the past forty-eight hours to seven days will let you know what the weather has been like recently, and therefore what you can expect.

Check how many of the resort trails and lifts are open. When conditions are good and a resort expects to be busy, they'll have a lot of trails open. When conditions aren't good, a resort will close less than optimal trails to save money.

The weather section can help you decide how to dress. While you should always dress in layers when skiing, the temperatures at the mountain may affect just how many layers you put on.

You may also want to see what the wind is like at the mountain. Besides affecting the snow and possibly the trails, on windy days you may want to make sure your face is covered; otherwise, it can get very cold!

Interpreting a ski report becomes easier the more you do it. Once you're experienced, you'll be able to make good decisions about whether to ski.

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