Starting this winter, Western Canada has a weather forecasting website designed specifically for skiers and snowboarders. It is called ShredFX, and it delivers snow and weather forecasts for the region’s ski areas – forecasts that take into consideration the unique weather patterns of individual ski areas and the idiosyncrasies of the mountains themselves.
We can now make a call as to where to ride if we’re looking for pow with just a quick glance at ShredFX. Even the colour legend suggests it was built from the ground up with powder hounds in mind:
- Lots of Rain
- Lots of Rain and Snow Mixed
- Some Snow
- Oodles of Snow
- Champagne (I don’t think they’re talking about the bubbly drink.)
- Oodles of Champagne
A partial screenshot from ShredFX looks something like this:
Looking more closely, ShredFX gives us forecasted precipitation amounts for each of 27 different ski resorts over the next four days. Why only four days? Because mountain weather is so difficult to predict that four days is about as far in the future as a mountain weather can be forecasted. For that matter, 2 days is about as far ahead as we can expect highly accurate mountain forecasts.
Yup, I think ShredFX was designed by people who play in the snow. Indeed, it is a service provided by the Mountain Weather Services, the same resource that provides avalanche professionals (including CMH Heli-Skiing), heli and cat skiing guides, and the movie industry with subscription-based weather forecasts designed for professional users.
With a tagline of “only the gods know better” ShredFX must be pretty sure they are providing an entirely new forecasting product, and I'd agree. A CMH Ski Guide once told me that the Mountain Weather Services forecasts were the first forecasts to have any real usefulness for ski guides in Canada – and up until now these pinpoint mountain forecasts were the exclusive domain of snow professionals.
The ShredFX forecasts are broken down the 3 main regions of western Canada - the Coast, Interior, and the Rockies. Along with the precipitation forecasts are two weather maps: a satellite view of precipitation and an atmospheric pressure map.
While the mountain weather forecasting has gotten better every year, until very recently there has been little done specifically for skiers and snowboarders aside from truly excellent avalanche forecasting services - and avalanche forecasting has a fundamentally different mission than powder forecasting. A few years ago, Joel Gratz, a meteorologist from Colorado started the Colorado Powder Forecast, combining the automated weather forecasts with location-specific climate and terrain knowledge as well as powder-centric weather pattern modeling. The snow riding community was ravenous for such a resource, and Gratz went national, changing the name to Open Snow which now has over 15 million monthly hits.
The significance of sites like ShredFX and Open Snow is enormous. What it means is that the information that was once only available to professional groups with paid subscriptions - and vast experience in intrepreting weather data - is now being made available for free to the public.
It means that recreational users of the backcountry now have one more tool in their toolbag for making decisions, but as with other decision-making tools, we can use them to make good decisions as well as bad decisions. It is for this reason that the Mountin Weather Services backcountry forecasts remain the domain of professionals and are not made public by ShredFX. There is a lot of wisdom in their explanation of why they don’t publish backcountry forecasts:
“The ShredFX, like all public and freely available forecasts, is not suited for applications where adverse weather can get you into trouble. MWS does not encourage backcountry winter travel without thorough and detailed knowledge of avalanche and weather conditions that go well beyond the information contained in the ShredFX. Professional guides certified by organizations like the ACMG, IFMGA and CAA have the knowledge to interpret weather information on a professional level and often retain services by professional meteorologists (like MWS) to keep you safe in the backcountry. Your best bet is to stick with those professionals or a ski resort.”
Here’s another way to put it: Knowing which ski area is likely to get the most snow is great for maxing out the fun, but incorrectly interpreting a forecast calling for oodles of fresh snow in one valley in the backcountry can be dangerous and not fun at all.
The bottom line is that ShredFX is obviously designed as a resource for snow riders looking to have fun. We now have more information at our fingertips that will help us enjoy the wonders of winter to the fullest. Thank you ShredFX!
Ice crystal photo by Topher Donahue.