Toyota 4Runner covered in snow at Sierra-at-Tahoe

Tis The Ski-Son – Everything You Want To Know About Weather To Ski

No matter how much you love sunny weather, for skiing to be fantastic, it needs to snow. As surfers drift through weather forecasts to find the next big swell, skiers and snowboarders hone in on cold storms. The ones that drop those fluffy frozen water crystals we all want to feast on. In this article, we provide an in-depth look at what makes up the weather to ski. From weather predictions to superstitions to even lake effect snow and more! If you want to learn about all things snow, you’ve come to the right place.

Are We In For A Big Winter?

2016-17 Lake Tahoe Epic Winter

Some swear by them. Others will say they are hog wash. No matter what side of the fence you’re on, they’re fun! We’re talking about winter weather predictors. From wooly caterpillars to muskrats digging deeper dens, read below about all the fun superstitions that exist across North America… both for a snowy season or for those half glass empty people for a warm/dry winter:

How Does Science Stack Up Versus Superstition

Each year, NOAA and Farmer’s Almanac put out a forecast on how our winter will rank. And every year, nobody looks back to see how they did. Well, our brains are always are ruminating about things like this. Instead of just letting someone else dole out the info, we did some research ourselves over a few seasons and here’s what we found:

Farmer’s Almanac vs. NOAA In The 2015/16 Season – And the medal goes to…

NOAA vs Farmer’s Almanac – Which One Was Right About The 2017/18 Season


Sunday River Maine Largest Snowmaking System In North America skiing skier sunshine

No matter how well you plan, sometimes the snow just doesn’t want to come. That’s where snowmaking comes in. It’s also how most of the country gets those lifts open earlier than normal. Unfortunately, just like snowfall, you need the weather to cooperate for snowmaking as well.

What Goes Into Snowmaking

While it used to be that it had to be below freezing, technically you don’t need it to be. The advancements in gear have really pushed the envelope on it too. It’s a combination of humidity plus actual temperature that allows you to begin snowmaking. The magic number is 100, that is stay below a total of 100. If the humidity is 60 percent and the air temp is 33 degrees, in theory you could start shooting snow. Of course, it’s WAY more complicated than that but it gives you an idea of the engineering behind it. 

Who Has The Biggest Snowmaking System

Is it better than ma’ natural? No, but it’s getting way better than it used to be and the alternative is even worse. If you’ve ever wondered who’s the most “endowed” in the snowmaking world in North America and how they stack up, now you can know:

Mother Nature’s Snowmaking – Lake Effect Snow

Great Lakes Lake Effect Snow Satellite Image

Snowstorms are like hits in baseball. Even at the snowiest ski resorts, you can get into a “drought” and not see a flake of snow for weeks. What if you could make it more consistent? Voila… here comes Lake Effect Snow. Pretty much as long as it’s below freezing and the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can get a nice refresh. If you’re wondering which ski areas are the snowiest within a lake effect snowbelt:

Biggest Snowstorms Ever

Powder Day at Heavenly Ski Resort Lake Tahoe

Storm cycles. They’re the stuff of legends. To this day, I still remember being fortunate enough to be at Grand Targhee where it snowed seven days straight anywhere between 7-24 inches of new powder EVERY DAY. Backcountry is fun. Heli-skiing is amazing. Heck, even cat skiing is cool. For me though, there’s nothing like lift accessed skiing when the snow just keeps falling. It’s the greatest moment for any skier or snowboarder. The closest feeling to flying. For us, it’s the best weather to ski in. Since we’re powder hounds, we did research to find out what were the most legendary snowstorms in our lifetime. To read about them, head over to our article: Who Are The Storm Kings?

Record Setting Ski Seasons

2017-18 Record Setting Closing
Record setting snowfall in April helped push Boyne’s closing into May! Image appears courtesy – Boyne Mountain Resort

In the last decade ski resorts are breaking records on both sides of the season spectrum. For the first or second time ever in their 70+ year history Midwest and East Coast ski resort stayed open until May. And then in the early season ski resorts from Colorado to Pennsylvania and places in between have set records on the earliest ski resort opening ever for their resort. In summary, as a skier or snowboarder flexibility is key. If the lifts are turning you gotta go because you don’t what’s going to happen.


Types Of Snow

The old saying goes “there are no two snowflakes the same.” While that might be true, there are specific types of snow. Even though the ingredients for snow are simple, just like a good pint of beer, it’s how the weather whips them up to make the concoction that determines what kind of snow you’ll be riding / skiing that day. Learn about the types of snow, where they exist in the country, and more in our exhaustive article on all things snow:

Mid-Season Snowfall Comparison

No matter where you live, if you’re on a chairlift, conversations are ALWAYS steered to snowfall. Depending if you’re the glass half full or half empty type, each person’s memory of the past winter varies widely. Instead of basing it on opinion, around the end of December we do a mid-winter apples to apples comparison of the current season to the last one. To see how the past few winters have done, check out the articles below: 

How Does The 2017-2018 Season Snowfall Compare To Date?

How Does The 2018-2019 Season Snowfall Compare To Date?

How Does The 2019-2020 Season Snowfall Compare To Date?

What Is ENSO & Why Does It Matter For Powder Hunters

cabin covered in ice and snow after a winter storm perfect weather to ski in
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Yes, every winter is different. Some bring ample amounts of snow. Others provide monsoon-like rainstorms even at the highest elevations. For North America, there’s one major occurrence that affects the winter season: ENSO.

El Niño Versus La Niña

ENSO is short for El Niño / Southern Oscillation. It’s about the sea surface temperature across the heart of the Equatorial Pacific. When the average sea-surface temperature is above average during winter, it’s an El Niño winter. On the other side, if it’s below average, then it’s a La Niña. Depending on if it’s an El Niño or La Niña winter, this will tell you who gets the goods and who gets skunked.

It’s A Dimmer Switch, Not A Light Switch

So, if the waters of the Pacific affect the storm track that much, why can’t the meteorologists predict the winter that well? Unfortunately, each winter varies on how strong or weak an El Niño / La Niña season is, and how much it will affect the storm train. For a more in-depth discussion on El Niño’s or La Niña’s, head over to NOAA’s article that discusses it in detail.

Who Gets The Snow In El Niño Winters

snowboarder and skier standing at the top of Taos Ski Valley on a sunny winter day

We know what you’re going to ask next. Who on average gets the snow in an El Niño winter? The major region that is affected by this type of storm track is the southwestern US. For a full run-down of the entire list of the best places to go on a trip for an El Niño winter, read our article “Who Is this Little Boy?

Most Favorable La Niña Ski Resorts

On the other side of the spectrum is La Niña. Instead of the southerly storm track favored by El Niño it’s the northerly states like Washington, Idaho, and Montana that typically get the goods. For a detailed list of which ones are the most favored in a La Niña winter, take a close look at our article Salsa Your Way To Fun Best Ski Resorts To Ski In A La Nina Ski Season.