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:
Recreation & 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.
- Snowstorms that are windy tends to impact Saddleback lifts more than Sugarloaf.
- Any other direction impacts each mountain equally.
- Both Saddleback and Sugarloaf do have T-Bars which can be options on very windy days.
- 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, but higher wind days will impact operations.
- 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.
And if it is too windy to Alpine ski do something else outside instead! Maine has lots of things to do including nordic skiing, snowshoeing, sliding, ice skating, ice fishing etc.
Hopefully this helps you out! Feel free to comment if you have your own observations about anticipating wind holds and Maine ski mountains.