We all like to ski under sunny blue skies and in fresh powder. However, sometimes it starts to snow during the day, while you’re on the pistes. Should you rush for the nearest gondola going down, or can you ski in the snow?
It is absolutely possible to ski while it is snowing. In fact, it can be quite a magical experience, as long as we’re not talking about a blizzard. Wear goggles with colored glass, which lets in lots of light and highlights the bumps and dips in the terrain. Wear a balaclava or ski mask to protect from the cold spray of snow when you ski down the ski runs. Stay below the tree line for better visibility.
Let’s dive in to this in more detail below.
Is it fun to ski while snowing?
When the snow is falling quietly on the ski runs and pine trees, it can be both beautiful, picturesque, and quite romantic.
When it snows lightly, the new snow built up on the slopes like a soft blanket or duvet. The pistes will be really soft, which will make for some silky smooth skiing.
Just like the snow falling quietly, the pistes become quiet too. The newly fallen snow muffles the sound of other guests, various piste machines and restaurants. Your skis will become almost quiet as well. It’s a very peaceful experience.
Going down a piste on a fresh blanket of fresh snow only to have the it fill in after each run is absolutely incredible.
If you need a break, nothing quite beats skiing into a slopeside chalet for a hot cup of cocoa and just sitting there watching the snow to relax and contemplating on the marvel of it all.
It can be great fun to ski while snow is falling, as long as we’re not talking about a blizzard with howling winds. When light snowfall changes into a blizzard or even a moderate snowstorm, that’s another matter entirely.
Is it dangerous to ski when it is snowing?
While it is fairly safe to ski in a light snowfall, things can turn ugly very quickly if the wind picks up and the snowfall increases.
Remember, that even if you’re only skiing groomers, you’re still playing in an extreme environment. On a mountain, the weather can change in a second. So you need to be aware of your surroundings and check the weather forecast in the morning before you head out.
But what are the dangers of skiing while it snows? And what can you do, to reduce the risks associated with skiing during a snowfall?
Skiing in fresh snow is tiring
Skiing in anything more than a light snowfall can be very tiring and hard on your body. Turning gets harder, and it becomes easier to catch an edge (the skis stop dead in the snow) and tumble over, which can be quite dangerous. The snow groomers won’t have had the time to pack the snow into nice corduroys yet.
It’s important to have newly waxed skis when skiing under snowy conditions as this will make the skis glide much better in the soft snow. It still won’t save you from crashing, if you catch an edge on a newly formed mogul though.
Bottom line, when turning gets harder and you are tired, you’re more prone to falling, which in turns can lead to injuries.
The visibility is bad
The visibility during a snowfall is usually low.
Just how bad the visibility is, depends on the weather. But do not think, that low visibility is only going to be a problem during a full-blown blizzard. Heavy low-hanging clouds (with or without snowfall) can cause flat light or a whiteout, which are both potentially dangerous conditions.
Is it dangerous to ski in a blizzard?
A blizzard is the most dangerous snowstorm to be caught out in. If a blizzard is approaching, you need to get off the mountain as quickly as you can.
A blizzard will have windspeeds of at least 56 km/h (35 mph) and a visibility of less than 400 meters. And it’ll usually last at least three hours at a time. In severe blizzards windspeeds reaches over 72 km/h (45 mph), and the visibility will be near zero.
In a blizzard wind will continously blow snow at you both from the sky and from the ground at freezing temperatures. The snow, the cold winds and the moisture in the air can cause you to lose heat quickly and cause hypothermia.
Don’t ski in a blizzard! Stay indoors!
Is it dangerous to ski during a whiteout?
A severe whiteout will make it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of you.
In a whiteout, white clouds diffuse the light and merge with the white surface of the snow. This causes the horizon to disappear and the landscape will appear featureless. The contrast of the snow will be washed out so that it becomes impossible to detect any irregularities in the snow.
A whiteout can be caused by heavy snowfall, overcast clouds, mist, fog or a background of snow. Sunlight is blocked, reduced, and scattered by the falling and snow-blow, clouds, mist etc., while the remaining light is merged with the white snow surface.
Skiing in a whiteout makes navigating the slopes very difficult. You can lose the ability to position yourself relative to the surroundings.
In a severe whiteout, it can become difficult to see the trail markers, and you might unintentionally ski off-piste if you aren’t very familiar with the terrain. In a worst case scenario, you might accidentally ski over a cliff or steep drop-off.
Is it dangerous to ski in flat light?
Flat light is the result of sunlight being diffused by molecules in the air (like a thick layer of clouds) and the snow lying on the ground.
Flat light is perceived as coming from multiple directions at once. As each light source will cast a shadow, the multiple shadows will cancel each out. This will wash out any colors or contrast in the terrain, making everything seem to blend into each other.
During flat light, the terrain will look like a white canvas with no horizon and no depth of field.
Flat light makes skiing a very disorienting and confusing experience. It becomes hard to see any bumps and dips in the terrain or gradient of the ski run. And it can get so bad, that even though, you think you’re standing still, you might actually be moving.
Tips and tricks for skiing while it is snowing
So what can you do, so that you can still ski, when it starts to snow?
Remember, I’m not talking about skiing in heavy snowfall or during a snowstorm or a blizzard here. In any of those cases, it’s best to get or stay inside. I’m talking about a light to medium snowfall, which has caused a drop in visibility, e.g. due to a whiteout or flat light.
1. Use goggles when it is snowing
Owning a pair of snow goggles is essential on a ski trip. Ski goggles will help protect you in a lot of ways, e.g., from
- snow, wind, and rain getting in your eyes
- from the harmful UV-rays of the sun
- from going snow-blind.
Goggles will help you see details in the terrain better if you choose a pair with a tinted lens, which matches the conditions. Some goggles come with interchangeable tinted lenses, which matches different conditions.
When it is snowing, and there’s a whiteout or flat light, I usually prefer to wear yellow or pink lenses.
Yellow and pink/rose tints enhance the contrast, which makes it much easier to watch any irregularities in the terrain, while still allowing a fair amount of light through.
Read my list of best goggles for skiing, where you’ll find some excellent options, which offers some great value for the money.
2. Wear a balaclava, neck gaiter or ski mask
When the wind starts to blow snow at you, as you ski down the slopes, you’re going to want something to protect your face.
A neck gaiter (or neck
A balaclava is also a good and versatile solution, which not only protects
A neoprene ski mask is less versatile but can offer even more protection in even colder and extreme conditions.
Out of the three, I prefer to wear a balaclava. It is just such a versatile solution. I found this balaclava, which is made from merino wool, which I think is a good choice.
3. Wear a helmet
Ski helmets are awesome. They help protect your head and keep you warm and dry at the same time.
When the visibility is low, and the light is bad, wearing a helmet become extra important.
The weather in the mountains can change at any time and very quickly. This is another reason why you should always wear a helmet.
4. Wear mittens instead of gloves
As the wind increases and the snow falls, your fingers will get cold. Wear mittens instead of gloves. Mittens are usually warmer than gloves because keeping your fingers in the same space will generate more heat, than having each finger in a separated finger compartment.
Have a look at the guide How to pick the best gloves and mittens for skiing, which also have some good suggestions on which gloves or mittens
5. Ski below the tree line and look for trail markers
When it snows, the light is flat or there’s a whiteout, it is a good idea to ski below the tree line. Skiing below the treeline has several benefits in such conditions because the trees will
- protect you from strong winds
- give you a sense of the slope gradient
- provide a set of contrasty reference points to navigate by
- provide a sense of depth-of-field to counter disorientation
When the weather turns bad, I usually also keep an eye out for trail markers (especially if there are no trees), as this help give a sense of direction and the slope gradient.
I hope you’ll find this information useful. Happy skiing an be safe.