Photo: Author enjoying some Japanese clear air.
(Two Minute Read)
Preparation is key. On your holiday you want your time to be as relaxing and problem free as possible. So here are three things you should consider before you launch your day on the slopes.
What’s the Weather Really Doing?
It's important you do your own homework and not rely on second hand reports. You can’t make judgements based on ‘mates’ and shouldn’t do so if you are in charge of a family or group. There are lots of good sites to look at weather reports and forecasts. Be aware that official resort reports tend to extra “optimistic”. Independent sites such as Snow.com or government sites such as the BOM usually give me the most objective picture. Apart from checking snow fall have a look at temperature, precipitation, wind and visibility and know what they all mean for your day out.
Check the conditions (again) (ABC= Always Be Checking) but pay extra attention to wind
Wind can make or break a good day on the hill. First, “wind chill” can make the difference between outside feeling like -1c or -10c, so it’s important to look at the wind speed and wind chill factor when deciding how much to wear and making sure to cover exposed skin when you're out on the hill.
Secondly wind, when roughly over 35km with gusts, has the possibility to slow or even shut lifts. Some lifts are more exposed than others especially when you consider wind direction so as a guest there is no way to know for sure. But knowing where the wind is coming from and keeping an eye on lift statuses will help you stay ahead of the crowds and avoid getting stuck at a slowed or closed lift.
Finally, knowing what direction the wind is coming from is one of the secrets to finding the best snow on the day. If it has snowed recently the wind will often pick the snow up from the windward side and blow it over to the leeward side, adding to the fresh snow depth and even filling in tracks from the previous day. So for example if the wind overnight was a Westerly (meaning blowing FROM the west) it would pick up the snow and dump it on the Eastern facing slopes. From experience this is one of the best ways to find freshies in a resort. If you're not aware of the wind you can very easily end up skiing bulletproof ice even if it had snowed a fresh 10cms overnight. To take advantage of leeward snow loaded slopes you must also know the aspect of the slopes and how certain weather systems hit the resort, so this is where local knowledge and guidance from an instructor is extra valuable.
Navigation: Trail map and meeting spots
Before heading out for the first day of your trip, taking some time to look over the trail map and familiarising yourself with the lifts, trails and meeting spots will go a long way to making your day more relaxing and successful. An example of a 'tear off' map is here and shows what a good orientation this sort of map can give you.
It might sound like overprepardness to some, but having a solid foundational understanding of the resort can pay huge dividends and can help you avoid getting lost or stuck in big lines and can help you navigate the resort and prevent waiting times when (not if) the group gets split.
Look over the trail map and remember the main lifts or central trails that get you around the resort. In my experience lifts are the best landmarks as they are less in number and they are a focal point for mountain access. On larger resorts as an instructor myself I often don’t memorise all the trail names (I still remember what colour they are though) and I’ll often communicate to other instructors relative to the nearest lift point.
Trails and lifts often have varying and silly names, so it can be useful to define a lift by its capacity (eg. double, triple, quad or gondola) and remember where the different stations are on the hill (eg, bottom, mid or top) relative to other landmarks.
At the start of your day grab a few trail maps from the concierge or ticket office and give them out to your group. You can then also mark out a few meeting spots and decide a location and a time to meet for a break or for lunch (more on this in another blog) .
This allows everyone to pull out their maps for easy navigation (or if they get lost) and allows everyone to be somewhat aware and responsible for the group's decision. These maps also mark ski patrol huts and will have the number for ski patrol on them in case you, a member of your party or someone else on the run needs to call ski patrol for an emergency.
Snow Instructor and Guide