The Snow Gauge

Running the rule over the ski & snowboard industry since 1995

Six places you have to ride this spring

Posted by on Mar 9, 2017

Mammoth

Spring was smiled upon in Mammoth and seen as an opportunity to actually get out of the house …

The countdown to the season’s end in the northern hemisphere is on.

Some places have a month left, some even two. There’s even one that has four months left. That’s right, FOUR months!

So where to go? Some places have definitely fared better than others but there really is something for everyone to see out the spring.

Best season/snow

Mammoth Mountain

The numbers coming out of Mammoth Mountain just blow my mind. They’ve had 520 inches of snow at 9000 feet and the current base at the peak is almost 30 feet or around 9 metre of snow. Bearing in mind it is still early in March so it is unlikely to have even peaked yet. Another number I like there is 4 – July 4 that is. That is now the earliest closing date for one of California’s finest.It’s a big mountain (3500 acres) with big terrain and while there’s not the 101 alternative activities here like a number of other US resorts if you’re coming for the riding (there’s also great park and ‘pipe facilities) you won’t miss out.

Mammoth

Mammoth … signs are, ahem, good for a terrific spring.

Best all-round region

Lake Tahoe

Take your pick of any of the Tahoe resorts to be honest as they are all copping it in what will go down as a season of legend (the best in 22 years). If I was looking at a destination region this spring the area would certainly be it. If you’re an Epic Pass holder you could do a lot worse than the Heavenly-Northstar-Kirkwood triumvirate, with the former two extending their seasons until April 23 (Kirkwood remains at April 16). Heavenly ticks the family box (and has amazing views), Northstar does solid groomers and has a great park while Kirkwood has some ball-tearing terrain. Elsewhere Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows is the next big pick having had 600″ + of snow and a season that’ll run well into May. There’s a grab bag of other little resorts worth a visit such at Mt Rose on the Nevada side, Sierra at Tahoe and Sugar Bowl.

Heavenly

Heavenly: The views go ok.

Best big mountain

Jackson Hole

“The relentless, active winter will continue for the forseable future …” So said the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration but a day or so ago of areas such as Jackson Hole which have now tipped 500″ and are looking at a 600″ season. Jackson is putting some numbers on Colorado and even Utah in 2016/2017 and you are hardly going to getting a better spring to sample its undeniable wares. Slated close seems to be April 9 but you’d have to think there’s still a chance to extend given the conditions. And what of Jackson? Super terrain (you need to cross off Corbett’s Colouir from your bucket list, don’t you), sensational snow and while sometimes criticised for lift queues and rider traffic, expect it to thin out in spring. Get there.

Best Canadian

Revelstoke

Whistler is always the obvious candidate in BC, and its solid season (300″+), great facilities and closing date (Blackcomb is May 22) keep it on the list. But for mine if you want to get away from the madding crowds, it might pay to get into the interior to get your stoke on. With a base approaching 10 metres it should end up being an above average season here – and this my friends is a well above average mountain. With the biggest vert in North America 1713m (5620ft) , some serious touring terrain and a slated closing date of April 16 it is worth your consideration. Within three hours drive of another classic and later opening spring destination in Lake Louise, (closing: May 7) this would make a great late-season big mountain combo too.

Revelstoke: Big mountain, big spring ahead.

Best culture

Furano

Japan can be a tricky one in spring. Places like Nozawa Onsen in Honshu have had a great season (around a four metre base currently) and should stand up until April. But things can soften very quickly on the main island at this time so it’s advised not to leave it too late. On balance I would probably look to Hokkaido and specifically Furano. There’s been some nice top-ups in March (around 50cm so far) and given its location east of Niseko, will tend to keep the snow longer. Closing date is usually around May 8 and they should see that out this season. Big vertical (they run downhills here) , interesting terrain and touring options, solid facilities and it’s still very Japanese (unlike Niseko). Prices should be very friendly for accomodation etc at this time of year too.

Best Euro

Val Thorens

While not quite a winter of discontent in Europe it has been a mixed bag at best. Early storms. Wet storms. Extended dry spells. It’s been one of those seasons where it has been best to go when it’s on and avoid extensive forward planning. That said if you find yourself on the continent over the next few weeks it will pay to be high. Amsterdam aside that makes one of your better bets Val Thorens. At the pointy end in the French Alps , it’s the last of the Three Valleys areas to close (May 1) and it enjoyed a very handy top up of about 70cm over the last week. Temperatures have been cold recently and the base is almost tipping three metres in the high alpine so it should remain one of your more reliable options.

Val Thorens

Val Thorens: Looks passable at night.

Travel tips

If you are checking this out from Australia and are thinking about a US trip during the April school holidays, Air New Zealand seems to be doing some pretty good deals via Auckland at the moment. As is always the case most flights skyrocket during the holiday period but if you can stomach the extra travel time you could be saving yourself $A2000+ for a family of four. Return to LA looks to be in the $A1200 zone per person up against the $1750+ I’ve seen elsewhere.

If you are hiring a car the need for a 4WD should have lessened too which will save you $$$. Stay tuned for a rant sometime about the bullshit games US car hire companies play with 4WDs …

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Why you shouldn’t overlook California this winter

Posted by on Oct 3, 2016

Heavenly views

Paul Scells enjoys some Heavenly views.

After four pretty ordinary seasons many felt California had lost its mojo.

Already playing in the shadows of the Rockies and Wasatch ranges, Sierra Nevada was starting to become more synonymous with its eminently drinkable pale ale than as base for a ski or snowboard trip.

But season 2015/16 brought it back to the fold. The numbers weren’t through (or over) the roof snow-wise but it was a solid season that again demonstrated just how good California can be. And some are suggesting a good to better one this season.

I’ve done Colorado and Utah and while it can’t compete for dry snow in most seasons there’s plenty of things to like about the Lake Tahoe district. Stick with me and I’ll take you through what tickled my fancy …

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The best ‘tween’ resorts in the world

Posted by on Aug 25, 2016

Whitewater

Riding the rapids: Whitewater BC. Pic: Whitewater Facebook

The biggest and most popular ski resorts in the world didn’t get there by accident. Amazing alps and reliable snow sure help, but serious infrastructure and marketing are just as big a part of the pie.

While it’s nice to sit in the latest gondola, dine at the finest on-mountain restaurant and tuck into bed at a five-star hotel there’s often a flipside to the largess: namely crowds, costs and competition for first tracks.

Solution? The tween resort.

Not something Nick Kyrgios does between his legs (did I just say that?) – they are ski areas in between. Affordable and not too big. Yet they are not too small that you can’t spend a week there.

Following are my favourite ‘tween’ resorts in Japan, Europe, the US and Canada. What’s yours?

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Are these the best snow reports you’ll ever read?

Posted by on Feb 12, 2016

Before I stepped foot in Kirkwood, California I had enormous respect for the place. In part it was due to its fearsome big mountain reputation and tales of 600-inch snow years. But a big component was also the snow reports.

Of course there’s epic powder days. But at how many commercial ski areas would you also see these types of comments in your reports:

“The weather pattern is setting up for unseasonably warm days with max temps some 10-15 degrees above normal and nearing records for early Feb …”

“Rain top to bottom all day yesterday my friends, ouch but temperatures have dropped significantly here since 3am its now [email protected] base and [email protected] summit, winds SW 35/40mph across the ridge tops with gusts upwards of 45+…”

“Take the day to get your affairs in order, ‪#‎POWHunting‬ season is well underway – We will keep you in the know …”

[email protected] base with 14”+up at the summit… Not quite ‪#‎ColdSmoke‬ but certainly not ‪#‎SeirraCement‬! … Let’s level set the day mis amigos, We will start the day out with snow-safety holds on all front-side lifts 1,5,6,7,9,10 & 11 …”

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In praise of the little ski resort

Posted by on Dec 31, 2015

When it comes to choosing your next ski or snowboard destination big must mean better, right? For many people with limited funds and time there’s a natural inclination to seek out the larger resorts.

You know the ones. They like to flop their stats around like they’re packing a ski stock in their trousers. There’s a knee trembling 1300 metre vertical drop, 126 restaurants and bars within five minutes of your condo and enough lifts to send Schindler out of business.

And that’s all well and good – to a point. But as the years chip away and the seasons mount up I often find myself pining a little for homey ski areas – ones with a couple of lifts that work, the semi-regular opportunity to find a little pow and that Cheers attitude where everybody knows your name (or at least act like they want to know your name anyhow).

With that in mind I have put together my list of the best little ski areas in each of the four key destinations. Give ’em a try sometime, even if it’s just tapping one on as part of another trip.

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