What is the Best Temperature to Ski In? (Colder Than You Think)
In a typical ski season, the temperature can drop far below zero and rise above 60 °F (15 °C) degrees -no matter what, skiers are bound to be out shredding on the hill. So the question is, with such varying weather extremes, what is the best temperature to ski in?
While it is generally agreed upon that 20 to 30 °F (or -6 to -1 °C) degrees are the most comfortable skiing conditions, there are a ton of other factors that make for a great ski day. Snowpack, visibility, humidity, and even the temperature of the previous day all work together to determine the best (and worst) ski conditions.
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Between 20 and 30 °F (-6°C and -1°C) degrees is a comfortable temperature to ski in because it is cold enough that the snow won’t melt, but you still won’t be shivering on the lift. For most skiers though, bodily comfort has more to do with dressing appropriately than the air temperature.
So why do we care about temperature? Because it’s one of the most important factors impacting snow conditions.
And while you can find plenty of skiers willing to sacrifice their comfort for a great day on the slopes, you will be hard-pressed to find one who will miss a powder day because they misread the weather conditions.
Cold Weather Conditions
0 - 15°F (or -15 to -25°C)
Best for: Experts Looking For Speed
Icy days require cold temperatures, but a cold day doesn’t necessarily mean icy conditions. Ice forms on the slopes in a few types of ways.
If it snows on a particularly humid day, groomed snow can harden into ice overnight. This type of ice is still grippable and usually softens as the day goes on.
Some ice, however, can be almost impossible to turn or stop. Ice like this happens when the previous day is warm, but the next day is cold. You can spot these because they are generally a different color (either brown or blue-gray) and avoid them.
Other times, ice can form simply because the same trail has been skied over many times without getting a lot of snow in between. This is also known as a hardpack and can range from just a little slippery to completely iced over.
It’s much more difficult to maintain control on icy terrain, but you will definitely go much faster! Racers and daredevils love icy pistes.
Best for: Absolutely no one
Crud is considered some of the worst conditions to ski in. It happens when half-melted snow re-freezes into hard, icy clumps.
This can happen day to day (40 °F (4°C) degrees on Monday, 20 °F (-6°C) degrees on Tuesday) or over the course of one day as the clouds come in during the afternoon. Like with any type of skiing, riding in crud is a great way to become a better skier (it just might not be the most fun day out on the hill).
Moderate Temperature Conditions
15 to 30°F (or -10 to -1°C)
Deep Powder 10″ & Above
Best for: Wide board riders
Those who love deep powder love deep powder. These skiers will often tell you that it is akin to flying.
Most of the time, big powder days happen when the temperature hovers around 20°F (-6°c) degrees, and pow lovers will travel hundreds of miles to get a taste. But, it isn’t for everyone.
East coast skiers notoriously have a rough first day in the powder on their thin skis. Leaning too far forward on too thin of a ski is a recipe for face planting your way down even the easiest trails. Check out the best powder skis for next season here.
Maintaining speed is key in deep powder, so beginner and intermediate skiers who aren’t comfortable letting their skis fly might have a difficult time these days. It’s also important to know that powder covers obstacles, like rocks, so it’s important to have a good handle on reading terrain.
Avalanches are most common on powder days, but if you stay in bounds, that’s not something you need to worry about.
Best for: Everyone
After the snowfall, the loose powder can get packed down naturally by other skiers, or by machine grooming. This results in packed powder.
It’s easy to turn on and stop, so it is loved by beginners and intermediate skiers. It’s important to note that on steeper, ungroomed trails, the packed powder will take the form of moguls.
Moguls can be difficult to master but are an essential skill for anyone looking to take their skiing to the next level.
Warm Weather Conditions
32°F (0°C) and above
Best for: Surfy skiers
Slush happens on days when it is warm enough for the snow to partially melt. Sometimes, slush can occur even when the temperature is below freezing if the sun is strong enough.
Skiing in slush is much slower than skiing on packed powder or groomed trails. Slush can also ‘grab’ the bottom of the ski, causing you to get thrown forward.
Generally, slush is characteristic of spring skiing, when decreased terrain and warm weather encourage skiers to throw on their bikini or the goofiest fit and ride the tails of their skis as if they were surfing. It might not make for the most beautiful skiing in the world (especially not once the margaritas come out) but it does make for some of the most fun days of the year!
Other Weather Factors
Wind and cloud cover also impact the type of snow on the mountain. A cloudy, windy day at 32 °F (0 °C) degrees on the east coast will make for an icier day than a 28 °F degree (-2°C) sunny day in Utah.
But beware of ‘clear and cold’ conditions! There might not be a cloud in the sky, but these bluebird days can drop to below zero at a moment's notice.
The regional climate of your mountain also impacts how air temperature feels on the skin. A humid 30 °F (-1°C) degrees can feel much colder than a dry 20°F (-6°C) degrees.
The east coast (Vermont and New Hampshire) is more humid than the West (Colorado and Utah), which is why the latter is known for light, fluffy powder dumps (and why the east coast is lovingly referred to as the ‘ice coast’ and why many famous racers hail from Vermont mountains).
Snow tends to be heavier and slower on the east coast as well, so some east coast skiers prefer colder temperatures (lower water content = lighter snow). This results in a different regional ski style.
East coast skiers tend to lean much further forward, ride skinny skis, and be very adept on icy terrain (some of the best racers in the world come out of Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont). West Coast skiers lean further back, ride fatter skis, and hit the park more often (light powder makes for a soft landing). So, it’s not all about temperature!
Humidity, region, and snow conditions are key as well. That’s why lots of skiers use apps like OnTheSnow, which note all the weather conditions on a hill to determine their plan for the day. Make sure to check the conditions to make every day on the hill a great day. Happy riding