I like to be positive. Wind at its best is like the wind at Big Sky. The wind creates its own climactic conditions lifting and positioning snow across the mountain. Certain areas like chutes and gullies can be replenished nightly with fresh snow. This makes those in the know able to ski powder long after a storm has passed.
However, I grew up skiing the lava dome known as Mammoth Mountain. The resort is situated in a kind of storm alley that seems to suck in any whether flowing off the Pacific ocean between Eureka and Los Angeles. Mammoth’s base starta at around 8,000 feet, its peak topping out above 11,000. The mountaintop is a giant bowl above the tree line. When storms hit Mammoth, they almost always bring high winds, especially to these exposed peaks.
Wind Speeds That Close Ski Lifts and Gondolas
Warning – I’m nerding out here.
There are no official requirements to close ski lifts and gondolas when winds reach a certain speed. It’s a case by case determination made by resort management, usually, heavily influenced by ski patrol. Variables examined include wind speed, wind gusts, the direction of the wind, the effect of the wind on getting on and off the chair, and the possibility of the storm getting worse.
Generally, when winds start blowing close to 40 mile per hour, resort management will seriously consider closing down lifts and gondolas.
The table below exhibits how increasing wind speeds place greater and greater force against impacted objects.
|Ft Per Min||Ft Per Sec||Force (lbs) Per Sq Ft||Description|
From Kidder-Parker, Architects and Builders Handbook.
At 50 miles an hour, winds place 10 pounds of force per square foot against objects. This isn’t a lot of force, but if what its pressing against is attached to a wire, the force can gave a more dramatic effect.
Why Do Skiers and Snowboarder’s Care About Winds
Winds close ski lifts and gondolas. Often the closures impact the most advanced resort terrain. The signature terrain that expert skiers target. If you show up to a resort when its experiencing high winds there’s a good chance the resort will close its expert terrain. This means you’ve just blown a GNASA day. If your days are fixed, you can lose a resort or the ability to ski that resorts signature terrain.
What Other Problems Do High Winds Cause
Winds not only cause the shut down of lifts and gondolas, they blow snow. Blowing snow deposits in lots of places: some good, some bad. I started this post with the good things blowing winds can do like deposit soft snow in gullies and chutes.
The bad things high winds can do:
- Create lips on ridge lines
- Destabilize snowpacks
- Create crusts on top layers of snow
- Create zastrugi – wind-sculpted snow
- Blow dust and debris onto slopes
- Create poor visibility
- Close lifts, creating long lines at open lifts
Expert Tips To Limit Problem With High Winds
High winds can bring a quick halt, or dramatically impair, a GNASA. On my GNASA I was in Lake Tahoe during a warm, windy storm. I was targeting Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. The storm brought some snow, but mostly wind. Here’s what happened. At Squaw, most of the mountain was closed. This included the Tram, the Funitel, the Backside and most of the Frontside. A gift at Squaw is the KT-22 Express chair which generally operates at relatively high winds. KT-22 accesses some of Squaw’s best terrain and many of their signature runs. It was open. This was good. But I was at Squaw on a Saturday and so were 5,000 or so skier’s from San Francisco. The wait time for KT-22 was over 90 minutes.
Glade (Tree) Skiing
It’s almost always less windy in the trees. Skiing the glades during windy storms is one way to enjoy challenging terrain when the steep open slopes are closed or inaccessible.
Create Trip Flex Time
This simply means having time on the front and back of your planned dates at the targeted ski resort. This allows you check the upcoming weather and arrive early, later, or stay longer to avoid windy weather.
Plan Trips In Geographic Areas With Multiple Resorts
This isnt always easy, but it’s a way to spend bad weather days at ski resorts that are better situated to operate in the storm. Examples include Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee. These mountains are about 45 miles from each other and often are affected very differently in big storms. Much of Jackson Hole’s signature terrain is above treeline or in open bowls that get hammered by the wind. Grand Targhee has better protected gladed areas at higher elevations. Lake Tahoe areas are also often impacted differently by storms. Heavenly Valley and Squaw often get hit differently. Mt Rose Ski area’s base elevation is 2,000 feet higher than Squaw’s and Heavenly Valley’s.