Whether you’re an experienced backcountry rider, or a casual rider looking for a fun weekend at a resort, there are always many factors that you want to look into before heading out. Knowing which conditions are best to look for is crucial for your enjoyment and safety.
While the best snowboarding conditions depend on each rider’s preferences, a temperature of around -20ºC without rain and snow depth of at least 2 feet with fresh powder is great. The resort should have enough open runs so crowds are spread out. Mid January is often the best time of the year.
See also: How To Plan Your Snowboarding Trip
Checking what the temperature will be like the day you’re riding is one of the most important things to look for.
If it’s too warm out, while a beautiful sunny day may sound ideal, the snow will be very sticky which will drastically slow you down.. You will be soaking wet by the end of the day from all the melting snow.
Too cold of weather is just as unenjoyable. As much as you can dress up for the weather and may be comfortable standing in the parking lot, the top of a mountain is much colder, and also keeping in mind the wind you will face from riding.
Any form of precipitation is something you want to avoid as it will reduce your visibility. With rain, if you’re riding a groomed trail, it will be very slippery, and if you’re riding in fresh powder it will form a crust on top which will hinder your ability to carve. If you fall, it will also hurt breaking through that icy crust.
I would look for a perfect day of around -20 degrees celsius, with no rain in the past day or two, and snowfall the night before.
The ideal consistency of the snow should be light and fluffy powder. Wet, heavy snow, or packed too hard can take away control from the rider.
The consistency of the snow will change with the temperature, this is why the snow is best the colder it is, -30°C being close to a perfect snow temperature.
The depth of the snow should never be below 1 foot as debris from the ground could interfere with you. 2-3 feet is the ideal depth as it provides a smooth cushion without being too deep and restricting movement.
Think about the terrain you’re on as a canvas and your board is the brush. A fresh canvas is always best so if you can be the first person to ride it for the day you’ll have the great opportunity of painting your path.
Whenever I see an untouched trail my heart gets warm as it is an incredible feeling of anticipation, those untouched trails do not last long though, so it is important to get there as early as you can.
If riding in fresh powder is your thing, the lightest and fluffiest snow at knee-deep depth is what I like to look for as anything less is uneventful. Deeper powder, however, will make it hard to control your board.
If you’re riding groomed trails, the harder the pack, the better. This makes for maximum speed and control. Groomed trails are great for beginners, keeping them on a predetermined stable route unlike the ungroomed trails that can be full of surprises.
For the more advanced riders, ungroomed trails are going to be the most versatile as there is no defined route so it gives the freedom for creativity. While groomed trails are great for beginners, keeping them on a predetermined stable route, ungroomed trails can be full of surprises.
See also: Choosing the best snowboard for groomers
If you’re riding backcountry, crowds of people are usually not something you have to worry about as there are a lot of mountains to go around. I would never recommend going backcountry alone though as the risk of injury is high.
Snowboarding at a resort has its challenges, such as trying to navigate your way through an abundance of people. Going early in the morning not only lets you have the most untouched terrain but also decreases the time waiting in line at the lift.
Another way to make sure people won’t be assembled in one area is to check that most of the resort’s lifts are up and running so the crowds are spread out.
Another tip is to avoid going during holiday weekends if you can, as the time waiting in line will be high.
Although snowboarding is possible year-round in some areas of the world, peak season in North America is from late December up until late March. These months provide the best weather for the quality of the snow.
In my opinion, the best time to go is in mid-January because the snow has had time to pack and build up to a good level, and most if not all runs are open by then. Going early or late in the season can restrict the number of runs that are open as resorts are not able to maintain enough snow on them.
At this time in the season, it is less congested with riders as most of the casual riders have had their fill for the year already, so this makes waiting times shorter and the runs more open.
See also: Can you snowboard in a rain jacket?
With so many locations to choose from, you want to make sure the one you’re going to will be suitable for your experience.
Skill levels vary from a mountain to another, so looking at what the average skill level is for the spot you’re going to ride is important. Each peak will have different levels of difficulty for each run but it is important to look at the overall skill level as trail difficulty is specific to each mountain.
For inexperienced riders, some resorts are more like hills vs full mountains. These can be great to learn on as most of the runs will be green runs and lessons will be available.
For more advanced riders, mountains are the most enjoyable option. Altitudes of mountains differ but keep in mind that the higher the altitude, the more advanced the runs will be, and most of the runs at the top will be considered black diamonds.
Mountains are more likely to have more amenities than hills. I’ve been to mountains with multiple chalets along the runs, which is a very convenient pit stop to have along the way, ultimately making your more enjoyable.
It is always a good idea to look around at different resorts and see which ones will suit you and make for the best experience.
Taking a look at the avalanche radar before heading out is important as these are always subject to change. Get to know which areas that are common occurrences and which are generally safe.
Looking at the avalanche radar before heading out is important as these conditions are always subject to change. Get to know which areas have common occurrences and which are generally safe.
The stability of the snowpack should constantly be tested for the safest riding. You want to make sure that the snow is packed deep and not hollow. There are simple tests to check the stability of the pack such as shoving an arm into the snow, you will be able to feel if it is a sturdy pack or a deceiving crust layer.
Deciding when to go riding
Looking at the snow reports before planning on going riding is a must for me. Fresh snowfall the night before I go is typically what I look for. As I mentioned, riding untouched powder is always best.
Early in the season the powder base depth usually won’t have had time to build up to a good level yet. Again, a reported depth of 2-3 feet is ideal.
Whenever I’m looking at the status of a resort I’m looking for a few key things. Making sure that at least half the lifts are open and working is a priority for me, as waiting in line will take up most of your day.
The same goes for the number of runs open. When the terrain of the hill is limited, the runs get packed down fast so I avoid these conditions at all costs.
A great report of a ski resort I frequent would look like this: runs- 120/164, lifts-11/11, 24-hour snow report- mid-mountain 3’’, upper mountain 4’’. This is a day I would not miss on the mountain.
While the preference of conditions depends upon the rider and their skillset, there are important things to consider when planning on going riding. Knowing the right conditions to look for will be the deciding factor in how pleasant your time will be.