Weather And Snow Conditions That Affect How You Ride

snow conditions, weather conditions, snowboarding, snowboardIQ

There are many different weather and snow conditions that will affect and change how you have to ride.

It is important to develop knowledge around why and when different conditions take place. You can learn how to continually adapt your riding style to suit the conditions and still get enjoyment no matter what the environment is. Use your Snowboard IQ and the 5 How To’s of Snowboarding to effectively conquer Mother Nature!

W&R Tip

  • Ride in a variety of weather and snow conditions and focus on the feelings each one offers. Explore and analyse how it changes the way you interact with the snow.
  • Do you have to move more or less? Do you have to be more aggressive or subtle? Is it easy to get an edge in the snow for grip or is it hard?
  • Can you see where you are going and be proactive with your movements? Or are you blind in a white out and have to be loose, reactionary and passive in the lower body?

Weather And Snow Conditions

Snow Conditions

The snow conditions are influenced by a variety of factors such as how warm it is, how direct the sun is, when it last snowed, how much it last snowed, how cold it is etc…

You may encounter many different snow conditions in the one run. The snow at the top of the mountain may be very different to the snow you ride at the bottom.

Soft GroomedAfter grooming machines have flattened and compacted the snow after a recent fall, the slopes will look like corduroy material. This type will be soft and you will be able to hold a solid edge, giving lots of control. At W&R we call this superhero snow as it gives confidence and endless grip.

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Hardpack – If no snow has recently fallen, grooming machines will still work with the snow to improve its condition. It can be firm and even a little icy underneath. If you are hard on edge and travelling at speed, you may lose grip and slide out unexpectedly.

Ice – Lack of snow and cold weather can lead to the slopes getting icy. Busy slopes can also become icy due to the volume of skiers and snowboarders going over the same area compacting and scraping the snow away. This leaves a hard layer exposed underneath. Ice can make it hard to hold onto an edge. Be careful in this condition not to push it too hard as the edge can’t dig into the snow. Try to ride in icy conditions with relaxed ankles and a minimal edge angle to achieve riding on a flatter base. This gives you a wider base of support and keeps your centre of mass on top of the board, rather than trying balance on a knife edge. Use smooth subtle movements to aid balance and stability.

Embrace All Snow Conditions, It Will Make You A Superior Snowboarder

Powder – Over 10cms of soft, fluffy, light snow that has freshly fallen. Can bog your board down quickly if you don’t keep your speed up. Difficult to spin as the soft snow is hard to set an edge in to take off from. Powder can be heavy and wet if there is a lot of moisture in the snow, commonly, found at coastal resorts.

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Champagne Powder  – Commonly found out west in BC and Colorado, this is dry powder snow with a low moisture content.

Crud – Powder snow that has been cut up and trampled, leaving it choppy and bumpy underfoot. Can be tough and tiring on the legs.

Slush – The snow will melt during the day if its sunny and warm, then freeze at night as the temperature drops. It will leave an icy layer in the morning. If this process repeats many times the structure of the snow starts to disintegrate. Ice lumps or “death cookies” will start to develop. When it is warm it can be hard to turn because the snow is heavy and sticky. These conditions usually occur towards the end of the season at spring time.

Sticky – If there is a lot of moisture in the snow, a vacuum will be created by the water between the board and the snow causing it to stick. The snow will mould to the base of the board making it difficult for air to pass underneath and the board to actually slide. Can be extremely frustrating to ride in.

Dust on Crust – A light dusting of snow that covers a hard icy layer underneath. Can cause a number of falls due to the fact you think you have grip in the fresh snow then all of a sudden you will hit a hard patch below.

Weather Conditions

Mother nature can throw a variety of weather your way. On a mountain, conditions can change in an instant. There can even be multiple conditions occurring at once. You may have bright sunshine in the alpine above the tree line. Then when you head down the slopes you ride into clouds where it is a white-out. Always be prepared and never underestimate mother nature!

Blue Bird – Easily the best visibility conditions to ride in, you can see for miles to take in the stunning views where ever you are.  There will be little clouds with the sun shining. This doesn’t mean it is going to be warm though especially in the beginning and middle of winter. Towards spring time with warm temperatures this type of weather condition can easily lead to slushy conditions. You can see the definition in the snow, picking out bumps, dips and changes in the slopes with ease.

snow conditions, weather conditions, snowboarding

  • On sunny days it’s easy to torch your face and get a bad case of sunburn. Due to the sun reflecting off the white snow it intensifies the exposure. With your face being the only bare part of your body be sure to lather up with some suntan lotion.

White Out – Low lying cloud can create challenging visibility conditions. In severe white-outs, while on the lift you may not even see the chair in front. It will make it extremely tough to navigate the slopes as you can’t see more than a few feet in front. This condition can cause vertigo, as there is no visible markers or definition to the snow. You won’t know if you are moving or stationary. Stay close to the tree line to get some depth perception. Lots of moisture in the air can make the snow wet and sticky.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Layer Appropriately For The Weather.

Blizzard – Heavy snow and strong winds make for hazardous conditions on the mountain. Visibility can be extremely low making it hard to see definition in the snow. Moguls, bumps and dips may catch you out because you can’t see them before you are on top of them. The high moisture content in the air / snow along with the wind can chill you to the bone. Make sure you layer appropriately or heat will escape quickly from your body. The intensity of a blizzard can vary. If its mellow you can still enjoy the mountain by heading for the trees and tree line because of the increased visibility. The trees help to separate the cloud and fog. In more extreme conditions it is sometimes better just to stay indoors with a coffee until it passes.

snow conditions, weather conditions, snowboarding

Flat Light Occurs when light comes through a thick blanket of clouds, leaving no shadows on the white snow. You will not be able to judge gradient well or see definition to pick out bumps or dips in the terrain. Head for the trees as they give you markers and reference points. This creates more definition on the snow. Oakley Prizm lenses are amazing to try to combat this condition. Try to ride loose in the lower body. Consequently, if you are stiff its easy to get bucked around when you come across unexpected obstacles. Confidence can plummet in this condition, as its hard to judge speed and distance, especially when jumping in freestyle.

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Fraser Johnston

Founder & Trainer at Watch & Ride
CASI Lvl 3 | Evaluator Lvl 2 | Park Evaluator. After coaching and evaluating "instructor training programs" for several seasons, I fell in love with the science of snowboarding. I believe there is no better way to spend a day, than using your body for sport outside in nature! It is always such a joy to guide and watch people reach their potential on the snow, as well as surpass milestones of what they thought was possible.The goal for Watch & Ride is to create fun and simple Virtual Snowboard Lessons that are available to everyone and conveniently accessible. My wish is to grow the sport and evolve the way people learn to snowboard, ensuring they have fun, stay safe and get the best possible experience on the mountain.

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