Skiers like their moisture in a solid form: snow. Remember science class when you tested gasses and liquids? You might have filled a mason jar with water, shook it to create gaseous bubbles and then put the jar in a freezer to turn the water to ice. It snows when the temperature is cold enough to freeze water. If its warmer than 32 degrees you get rain.
There are conditions, like very low humidity or warm layers of air near the ground that allow snow to hit the ground when temperatures are above freezing. Skiers like snow in any form, but don’t like rain.
Why Do Skiers and Snowboarder’s Care About Rain
Rain wreaks havoc on snow. It rains when it’s warm, and warm weather melts snow. Rain on snow creates slush. Wet snow frozen at night can create layers of crust or ice. Even light rain added to high-density snow, like that found in the Sierras, can create very heavy snow called Sierra Cement. Occasionally rain can even out a poorly formed snowpack. But mostly rain sucks.
There are times and locations when rain is common. In the Spring, temperatures rise. Resorts with low base elevations get lots of Spring rain. Canadian resorts like Revelstoke, Tremblant, Kicking Horse, and Fernie have base elevations below 4,000 feet. You’ll often see the snowline, in the trees, at around 6,000 feet during Spring storms. You can ski powder at the top, hard pack in the middle and icy messes at the bottom.
Other Problems Rain Causes
The bad things rain can do:
- Makes slopes hard to groom, leads to uneven groomed areas
- Destabilize snowpacks
- Create crusts on top layers of snow
- Soaks jackets that are not 100% waterproof
Expert Tips To Limit Problems With Rain
On my GNASA I went to Canada in late March. Snowlines were often around 6,000 feet. The bottom portion of a resort often skied terribly with powder skiing at the top. I found the largest gap at Kicking Horse. The bottom portion of the mountain was hard pack and ice, the middle heavy snow, and the top was powder. This was a spectacular difference. You wanted your powder skis for the top and your carvers for the bottom. At Fernie, the issue was low elevation rain and how soaked you got. Unless your jacket and pants were 100% waterproof, you got drenched. Soaked to the point of having to stop and wring out your clothes.
Always Bring a Waterproof Jacket or Hard Shell
A hardshell jacket is a must to survive the rain. It can be your outer layer of an integrated and insulated ski jacket or a separate shell used for rainy days. I recommend a separate shell. It’s lighter and when it’s raining, it’s not that cold.
This has new meaning in many Western states. For our purposes, I refer to skiing at the higher elevations of a mountain where rain is less likely, and conditions stay good.
Don’t Ski Lower Elevations
Revelstoke Mountain Resort has 5,600 feet of vertical skiing. Its base elevation is 1,680 feet. One World Trade Center in Manhattan is higher. When I was at Revelstoke, the snowline was around 4,500 feet level. The resort did a great job of keeping the top to bottom run, Last Spike open. It’s over 9 miles and seems like a can’t miss run. Miss it.
The top part is fine but think about skiing 4 miles on crappy, hard pack and icy slopes from mid-mountain to the bottom. It tires you out and wears you down. If skiing is great up top, stay up top. This seems obvious, but when your on an adventure, there’s a tendency to want to ski top to bottom runs. When conditions below suck, unless your young and in fighting shape, don’t do it.