Lining up for the first chair on powder days is a ski town tradition. New snow is only new once, and local skiers and snowboarders know that the only way to guarantee white freshness is to get out of bed early. But when the winter storm hits, so does the wind, cold and moisture – sometimes for days at a time. And that can make for an uncomfortable day out on the slopes. Surviving storm skiing days in Whistler is a matter of preparedness; wearing the right clothing, choosing the right runs and most importantly, staying safe. With that in mind, here’s some tips to enjoy your storm days in Whistler to their fullest.
Skiing in the Coast Mountains is generally milder than continental (inland) regions such as the Rocky Mountains. But when snow storms hit the west coast they do so with more intensity and a lot more moisture. Staying warm begins with staying dry, so it’s worth investing in some quality waterproof outerwear and layering up underneath. And not just your jacket, either. One should never discount the importance of a well-built and waterproof pair of ski pants. Apart from the usual exposure to deep (and sometimes wet) snow on powder days, you still have to sit on a wet chairlift with precipitation piling up on your knees and thighs. To help keep you comfortable, the Black Tie Ski Rentals store (located in the Chamois Hotel in the Upper Village) has a range of Gore-Tex gloves and mitts made by Scott and Celtek, as well as a range of quality rental clothing from Quicksilver.
Plan Your Runs
When the wind is howling and the snow is blowing sideways, Mountain Operations will often close the high alpine chair lifts. This is for your safety as well as that of the very expensive infrastructure that conveniently whisks skiers uphill. If conditions improve, it’s easy to spot which lifts are opening by observing the light boards around the mountains, but you can even receive notifications straight to your phone via apps such as Whistler Blackcomb Live or Powday. If visibility is an issue, it’s best to stay on mid mountain where trees provide cover from the elements and more definition of the snow in front of your skis. Always check the snow forecast for the freezing level (also available on the aforementioned apps or on the Whistler Blackcomb website) to avoid skiing into lower elevations where it may be raining.
Get on the Right Gear
Skiing powder snow on storm days is a lot easier if you go out on the right gear. Skis like the Rossignol Soul 7 and the Atomic Backland 109 are designed to keep you floating on top of the snow, making it easier to turn and more fun. They also handle mixed conditions surprisingly well. The great thing about renting from Black Tie Ski Rentals is that you can swap out your skis according to the conditions. Hardpack conditions on Tuesday but a powder storm hits on Wednesday? We’ll deliver the right ski to you to maximize your enjoyment on the mountain.
Storm days with deep powder snow do come with a few risks. Snow Immersion Suffocation (SIS) can happen when skiers and snowboarders crash into tree wells, unfilled creeks or simply get stuck in deep snow that they can’t get out of. When skiing in treed terrain or very deep snow, make sure to go with a partner and maintain a line of sight between you at all times. It’s also worth carrying an emergency whistle in an accessible jacket pocket near your face or chest. If you do spot a track running into a tree well or depression or hear muffled cries for help, don’t just blow on by. Make sure someone hasn’t fallen with no way to breathe.
Storm skiing days in Whistler can be hard on the body and sometimes feel a little intimidating. Make sure you go up prepared with appropriate clothing, gear and knowledge and you may just learn to love the storm as much as the vehement locals.