While tornado chasers get the publicity, powder chasing has become a new gig for many die hard obsessive weather warriors like me who strive to grab the deepest days of the season, even if it takes playing hookey from work. My strategy? Grab the powder while fresh and arrive the evening before the storm or in some cases storm ski, drive eight hours, and catch the same dumpage again in another state. Last season I was blessed with a two-foot dump at Crystal Mountain, flew to Snowbird for the same storm with goals of the powder trifecta by driving to Colorado and catching the same storm on day three. Conditions were so good in the Wasatch that I ended up staying a few days.
The secrets to finding the deepest snow include staying close to the weather forecasts at least seven days in advance, and utilizing a new breed of powder specific websites such as www.powderchasers.com (Western States), www.skiwashington.com (Larry Shick’s powder alert for the Northwest), and www.coloradopowderforcast.com (Colorado specific). Look for the storms that bring several days of snow and a series of dumps making a long distance trip well worth the money spent.
The issue with long distance travel is that you might end up getting skunked as storms can often split, present strong winds shutting down lifts, so when booking flights choose carriers like Southwest that do not impose change fees and allow you to use your tickets at later dates with no penalty. I often make last minute decisions just prior to jumping on a flight.
If you get lucky and it is going to dump over a weekend pay attention to last minute weekend web fares which are offered on Delta, United, Frontier, and American. They’re usually posted on their websites on Monday/Tuesday of that upcoming weekend and much cheaper than normal rates. Frequent flyer miles are also a great way to powder plan, as they can be put back into your account with a small penalty.
If you live in snow country, pay attention to snow sites that can provide you real time accumulations such as a new breed of snow cameras that have popped up at some resorts such as Snowbird http://www.snowbird.com/snowcam.html and Crested Butte http://www.skicb.com/cbmr/info/mountain/powcam.aspx as well as various snow data sites provided from The USDA, where forecasters gather real time information on snowfall http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/. These sites allow me to make last minute decisions on where to start driving for the next morning. Most of the National Weather Service homepages in the West have links to specific snow forecasts, and real time snow data (Utah has specific snow category) http://www.weather.gov/.
The best secrets of powder chasing:
1) Make friends with night auditors at hotels that you can call at specific resorts for real time conditions.
2) Commit to getting up very early and picking your resort at a moment’s notice based on new powder reports or current weather.
3) Plan ahead and arrive just ahead of the storm.
4) Keep a duffle packed with all of your gear so you can grab and go at a moment’s notice.
Beware of mountain ski reports that report 24 hour snow keeping you in the dark on overnight totals. Many areas such as Crystal, Steamboat, Aspen, Loveland, Snowbird, Alta, and Jackson have updates on their snow phones and website during the day so you know how much snow fell overnight.