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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The no BS family ski trip using an Epic Pass

Posted by on Feb 17, 2017

Scells gang

The Scells gang do Heavenly … and five other Vail resorts

Four people with four Epic Passes. Two thousand miles. Three states. Six resorts. One month. The unsponsored, unfiltered story of a family ski trip across the United States.

When my sister Monica told me she and her family were going to ski the US for a month I suggested getting an Epic Pass. She concurred. I also told her she had to tell me about the whole experience for The Snow Gauge readers who were thinking of doing the same.

This is what the Scells gang did, what they experienced, what was good, where to eat, how to save a buck and one thing in particular that didn’t work out so well …

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North America season outlook: why forecasters could be having a lend

Posted by on Sep 18, 2016

Weather guessing

If you’re in North America or going there for the 2016/17 season, it’d be pretty normal right about now to be asking the question: which states are going to get the best snow?

As someone who travels from the southern hemisphere most years the question burns a little more for me right now than say someone from San Francisco, Salt Lake City or Squamish.

So, much like I did around this time last year I spoke to Joel Gratz – founding meteorologist and CEO of Open Snow, the premier powder forecasting site used by 1.5 million skiers and boarders in the US.

His answer threw me completely.

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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 …”

“14”@the 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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Two alpine communities, 13,000km apart mourn as one

Posted by on Jul 28, 2015

On the 18th anniversary of the Thredbo landslide which tragically also killed 18 people, we remember two very special ski instructors whose legacy lives on – on both sides of the Pacific.

It’s an innocuous trail in a ski resort that probably doesn’t enter into too many people’s thoughts outside of California, but when I saw it, I knew. If your heart could rise and sink at just the same time then I guess mine did. It was a name that I could only ever associate with one thing.

The name Sodergren will resonate with many in Australia’s alpine community, as it does in Northstar, California. Sodergrens run, a clear-cut trail in among the Lake Tahoe area’s glades, was named after the resort’s much-loved ski instructor Mike Sodergren and his wife Mariam, who were killed in the 1997 Thredbo landslide. As it did in Thredbo, the death of the pair hit the Lake Tahoe area hard.

Used to picking apart some of California’s steepest terrain with their almost obsessive technical proficiency on skis, it seemed almost inconceivable that the Sodergrens were crushed in bed as they slept. I’d met Mike a few times in the mid-1990s at Thredbo. His broad Cali accent, blond spiky hair and ski-fit physique formed most of my memories of him, along with a warm smile and happy disposition.

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