How to read snow forecast to get better experience in winter sports

How to read snow forecast to get better experience in winter sports


Winter season 2020-2021 is way different in terms of active sports and traveling given the global lockdown and quarantine regulations. Still, you might be lucky to have the opportunity to do some snow sports and outdoor activities even in these uncertain conditions.

If some sports are on your winter “to-do” list, you need to learn about weather conditions in order to be able to choose the right spot and day for your activity.

Now, we will clarify such essential thing as a snow forecast, good and bad weather conditions for skiing and snowboarding as well as where to get a snow forecast for the this winter.

What is a weather forecast in general?

Briefly: the forecast we’re used to is a result of the complex work of lots of formulas and algorithms. We can never make 100% precise predictions about the weather (the Earth’s atmosphere is a very complex system), but we can calculate certain parameters for a particular point on the map, like humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, etc. These are the initial conditions for a complex equation system, solved by supercomputers.

Solving complex equations for many locations constitutes a weather forecast model. First, it’s necessary to know the weather at a certain point of the global picture — that’s what global models do. Regional models work on a certain territory. For example, the WRF8 covers only Europe, the global GFS27 — the whole world.

Models need to be “fed” constantly. The main data sources are weather stations, satellites, radars.

Weather forecasts for 3 and 10 days are the most common. You can also see forecasts for 5, 7 and 14 days.

Photo: jack-atkinson / unsplash

What are the features of the snow forecast in the mountains?

Globally, snowfall is more common for two types of areas: the north and the mountains. And that’s understandable. The farther north you go, the closer to the North Pole. The higher in the mountains, the closer to space. Both places are the coldest.

There are lots of factors in the mountains impeding accurate forecasts:

  • Short days and different slope exposure. Due to the complex terrain, there are much fewer daylight hours here than at lowlands. Because of this air in valleys cools quickly and doesn’t get warm enough during a short day. Exposure is the cardinal direction of the slope or the direction in relation to sunlight. It’s warmer on the slope facing the sun most of the day. The model has to take all those factors into account, that’s why a specific model would be necessary for each mountain.
  • Precipitation. There’s a large amount of precipitation in the mountains as humid air starts rising and cooling after bumping against mountain ranges and the moisture condenses.
  • Local winds. Wind movement in the mountains is very hard to predict. There are small “local” models calculating forecasts for a certain valley. The wind often blows along the valley — the air “flowing” down and “leaking” away from the valley.
  • Temperature changes. Temperature changes occur due to the height of the mountains. For instance, it’s always colder at the top. Each region has its own peculiarities, that’s why we recommend using chats. There are lots of locals there who’ll give you hints on the slope’s characteristics.

What is the difference between a snow forecast and a snow report?

In fact, there is no difference, both tell us about the amount of snow, but...

If you want to know how much snow there was on the particular slope within, let’s say, the last three days, you’ll look at the snow report. If you are looking for this data for the several following days, then you’ll need the snow forecast.

The report shows something that has already happened, the forecast — something that is about to happen.

Photo: tim-arnold / unsplash

What are the main snow measurement parameters?

The snow forecast consists of several important parameters:

  • Weather conditions: sunny, blizzard, white out, flat light, cloudy, changeable conditions — all these can occur in the mountains. Depending on weather conditions, your experience will be different, more or less satisfying.
  • Air temperature, degrees. The temperature of the air on the particular slope on a particular day.
  • Clouds. The intensity of clouds in a particular area.
  • Snow depth, inches/cm. The depth of the new and old snow remaining on the ground at observation time. Top snow depth is measured on the top, bottom snow depth — at the bottom of the slope.
  • Fresh snowfall depth, inches/cm. The snowfall since the previous snowfall observation (usually 24 hours).
  • Last snowfall, date. The date of the last snowfall (or how many hours ago it occurred).
  • Freezing level, meters. An altitude in the mountains at which the temperature drops below zero and the snow stops melting.
  • Wind, m/s. The velocity of moving air.
  • Ski resort altitude, feet/meters. An altitude of the chosen ski resort, its top station and bottom station.

It is better to keep in mind all of it in order to choose the best slope and time for snowboarding or skiing.

What are good and bad snow and other weather conditions for skiing and snowboarding?

The success of your skiing and snowboarding experience depends on the snow, but also on other weather conditions. Let’s learn more about it.

Good and bad types of snow for skiing and snowboarding

In the mountains, the weather can change quickly and easily, and not any snow is good for skiing and snowboarding.

  • If it is freezing and has not snowed for a while, the pistes start to get icy. Keep in mind that in this case, you’ll probably have less control.
  • If it has snowed recently, the snow will be soft. It means that it can be moved around a lot, and pistes can become lumpy very quickly.
  • If the snow melts during the day and then refreezes at night, the snowflakes lose their structure, the pistes become slushy and contain lots of little lumps of ice, so you can easily get ice burns on bare skin. Also, slushy snow is heavy, and it can be hard to turn and move around.
  • It it is the wet snow, it creates a vacuum under the ski, as a result, you can not slide easily. Skiing in these conditions can be quite disappointing.

Good and bad weather for skiing and snowboarding

Sunny weather is the best for skiing and snowboarding as you can see the slope very clearly, notice the bumps and changes in gradient as well as enjoy the beauty of the landscape.

But, we will repeat, that the weather in the mountains is quite capricious. That’s why you should keep the following in mind:

  • Blizzard. The most dangerous condition on a mountain. Not only because you can not see very well, but also because moisture in the air makes you lose heat quickly.
  • White out. You won’t be able to see more than a few meters away and can easily lose the piste.
  • Flat light. It also makes it harder to see bumps in the snow, that’s why it is better to stay below the tree line in these weather conditions as trees give more definition to the snow.

Don’t forget to use some sun protection, otherwise, you can easily get a sunburn.

Finally, and the most important: because of the changeable weather in the mountains, you can have both the sun and blizzard within a couple of hours. That’s why it’s better to always have some extra equipment and a weather forecast app with you.

Photo: felipe-giacometti / unsplash

What snow forecast period in the mountains can I trust?

Well, as we have already mentioned, snow is hard to predict. That’s why snow forecasts are made for shorter periods and are challenged more often than others because the interaction of conditions meteorologists use for forecasts is very unpredictable. Jet streams, the evolution of snowstorms, and even a small change in the level of moisture are the factors that can easily change the data of the snow forecast.

You can trust the snow forecast for 3 days for sure. In some cases, it can be 5 days, and a 7-day period is the most. The more days, the less accurate it is, so the most accurate will be the snow forecast for the next day.

Given that, the best you can do is check the changes in the snow forecast as often as you can and talk more with locals who are familiar with the specific location.

What is a snow history forecast (ski resort historical snowfall)?

Normally, when you check the weather or snow forecast, you’ll also find the data about the weather and snow on this day a year ago, several years ago, or sometimes — the historical minimum and maximum. This information can help you predict the snow on the day you need it. Again, there is no guarantee that if there was snow in this area on this day every year during the last 10 years, it will be the same this time, but it increases the chances a little bit.

On some resources you can also find information about the snowiest week of the year at the particular ski resort, the number of snowy days in a week, the average snow on this day based on weather data for the last years, and other historical data.

Where to get a snow forecast in the

There is a whole Snow Weather Profile in, where you can get a preset of 10+ weather parameters, indexes, data, and charts created especially for winter sports like snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing and other:


In the profile you can get:

  • General weather condition
  • Air Temperature
  • Freezing Level
  • Wind speed, gusts and direction
  • Clouds and precipitation
  • Fresh depth
  • And much more

To set up Snow Profile:

1. Go to your favorite or the nearest spot in the app.

2. Open Snow Weather Profile by an icon right to weather forecast modes.

3. Get weather forecast for the next 10 days.


Read full guide to for iOS and Android, sports mini guides to kite- and windsurfing, and fishing, as well as guides to weather forecast models and weather stations, and customization options. There is also a Compass to all 100+ features of the app.


Text: Irina Artemova, an author from Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Bali, Indonesia. Her favorite sports are surfing and yoga

Cover photo: jan-kopriva / unsplash

You will also find useful

Mini guide to snow sports with

What is freezing level chart in your weather forecast? Yes, it is about snow but not only

Snow and ice pellets — the other types of frozen precipitation

The cold breath of global warming: how winter frost is connected to the warm Arctic

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