Live In Seattle? Here's The Best Tool For Deciding Where To Ski

Do you live in the Seattle area and obsess about snow conditions? Whether you usually head to the backcountry or often stay inbounds, we have great news for you: The Northwest Avalanche Center has a new tool to help you compare snow and weather conditions across the whole Seattle area, so you can know exactly where to head for the very best day.

“We get perceived as this backcountry-only service,” says NWAC Executive Director Scott Schell. “And while that’s clearly a focus, we have these weather stations and graphical tools that allow in-area riders to figure out where to go, given the day or storm pattern.”

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Easily compare conditions from mountain to mountain on a single page

The graphs, launched last season, allow you to overlay information from various weather stations to compare which of your favorite spots has the most snow—and the best quality of snow. So if you’re up early, looking for the best spot after last night’s storm, you can compare temperature, precipitation rate and wind to decide where to head, says Schell. You can overlay and mix and match the info from any weather station in NWAC’s network—all on a single page, without clicking back and forth. You can even bookmark your custom graph to refer to it over and over. This blog post gives great instructions for how to start customizing your graphs with the data you want to compare.

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Suss out conditions, even inbounds

Obviously, if you’re heading to the backcountry, you’ll want to look at conditions and forecasts before you head out. But did you know that NWAC’s graphs also let you compare between inbounds ski areas? That way, if you decide it’s not a good day for the backcountry, you can still sniff out the best powder stashes.

“The colder it is, the lower density of snow you have,” explains Schell. “So, by checking out both the temperature and the precipitation, the savy backcountry user or in-area rider can get a good feel for the density of snow.” Read: POWDER.

And then there’s wind, of course, says Schell, which plays a big factor—in both avalanche phenomena and ski quality. “We’ve all been out there when there was a foot of snow, but the wind rips the snow off some parts and piles it up in uneven and odd ways on the terrain,” Schell says. “With these graphs, you can see whether the wind has been consistent, or erratic. All those things can start to indicate snow quality.”

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Deepen your knowledge of how weather patterns affect snowpack

Using NWAC’s graphs, you can compare weather for the past day, week, or year—all the way back six years. So if you’re learning about snowpack and how weather affects it, you can compare what you see in the records to what you find when you dig a pit. For example, if you see the weather station graph showing four inches of rain at 42 degrees, says Schell, you can go out and dig a snow pit and map that—to see how it’s affected the snowpack.

“There’s a lot of stuff you can do, depending on your skill set and familiarity with mountain weather,” he says.


Photos by Joey Schusler and Thomas Woodson, and NWAC.