Thursday, December 29, 2011

Anticipating Ski Lift Wind Holds

A couple of years back we made a trip to Sugarloaf early-season and unfortunately could not ski due to all the ski lifts being on wind-hold. We absolutely understand safety is the #1 concern but it was frustrating to make the two hour drive up and back and not be able to ski.

I started to wonder if there was a way to anticipate wind-holds better and how mountains fare depending on wind speed and direction. Here are my unscientific thoughts and observations.

Informational Web Sites
There are three websites I check for wind forecasts and observations:

Higher Summit Forecasts from the National Weather Service
This will give wind forecasts under 4000 feet and over 4000 feet. The under 4000 feet applies to most lifts at Maine Mountains. The Timberline lift at Sugarloaf and the Kennebago Quad lift at Saddleback are the ones that will be impacted the most at over 4000 feet.

Mount Washington Observatory Summit Conditions
This give live readings on wind speeds and direction at the top of Mount Washington. See below, but if it is blowing over 50mph be on the lookout for wind holds.



Point Forecasts from the National Weather Service
Using the map, you can click on top of the mountains and get wind speed forecasts at elevation as well. Here is the link for Saddleback and Sugarloaf.

So what do you do with this information? Here are my general guidelines:

  • For Saddleback and Sugarloaf - If it is blowing over 40-60mph at the top of Mount Washington, the higher level lifts may be impacted. 60-80mph the entire mountain lift system could be impacted. Over 80mph its a good bet of a severe wind-hold day.
    • We find that a Northwest wind tends to impact Sugarloaf more due to the generally Northeast lift orientation.
    • We find that a Northeast wind tends to impact Saddleback more due to the generally Northwest lift orientation.
    • Any other direction impacts each mountain equally.
    • It looks like the new upper mountain Skyline lift at Sugarloaf will be much better with winds which is great for Sugarloaf!
  • For Sunday River, I don't have a lot of data points as we don't ski there a whole lot and their lifts go in a lot of different directions. Judging by trail reports, they generally are able to get most lifts spinning on moderately windy days.
  • Mt. Abram and Shawnee Peak (and all the other smaller Maine mountains) are great options on windy days. Their lifts are generally sheltered and they don't get that high in elevation. It really takes an extremely strong gale to put these mountains on wind holds.
Before heading out, check the forecast the night before then check the mountain web site condition report the morning of. The major mountains are pretty good about getting the information up early in the morning and they will generally say if there is a danger of wind holds. Most mountains also post to their twitter feeds and condition report pages as lifts close and open due to wind.

Hopefully this helps you out! Feel free to comment if you have your own observations about anticipating wind holds and Maine ski mountains.


4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the heads up. I too have gone to the mtn on a snow day and been sorely disappointed many a time to find the sweet stuff on wind hold and only the lower lifts spinning. It seems to happen right after a storm quite often like the wind has to quit blowing after a good snow dump and have pretty much given up on the idea of it. At the least it is always a good idea to call the area or check the gulp! updated website to see what's turning. Having worked at Stowe for 5 years, countless times I've gone up to find everything to the top is on windhold. Sometimes I wondered if it isn't some strategy too keep the snow for the herd that will be coming rather than for the locals to enjoy. It's a good subject to explore.

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  2. The other thing about working at a mtn and after a storm I've learned is how many employees make it to the mtn. So they run with skeleton crews if not enough patrol, liftrats, etc. And they attribute it to wind hold and play a little 'inside baseball' with the public.

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  3. Re. Valentines Day 2014 Storm: Just checked Sugarbush website. Sure enough upper mtn is on windhold yet Mt Mansfield weather.com says 1 mph wind at 10am...

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  4. One interesting idea might be to scan all the mtn websites now just after storm, and see how many are on wind hold. I know w/the tough season to date, if I was mtn mag'r. I'd want to be hoarding snow until the crowds show up. The heck with the ski bum locals.

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Hi - thanks for taking the time to comment. Please keep the comments on-point and lets be nice to each other!