To go high, low or somewhere in between? That is the elevation question. Many of the backcountry huts I’ve been to are located right at tree line, which is ideal for keeping your elevation options open. If conditions are good, you can go up. If not, you have the option of skiing down in the trees.
Lower elevations tend to have warmer snow, less coverage and melt out earlier. But, they can also be more sheltered, have less avalanche danger and become supportable sooner. Because good quality snow at lower elevations is fleeting, I try to ski it first and save the upper elevations for later.
Upper elevations are colder, and thus have lighter, drier snow, but are also more exposed to wind, so they can get blown out. Often times “good skiing” at upper elevations means looking for supportable windboard or corn snow. The best time to look for upper elevation powder is after a storm which has had little to no wind (a semi rare occurrence), or after a long dry spell of cold, clear nights when recrystalized powder might form.
Mid elevations often have the best snow quality as they are sheltered from the ridgetop winds, yet still high enough to be cold. Trees will further shelter the snow from direct sunlight, which can help preserve the fluff for days after the last storm. The downside of mid-elevations is that it can often be hard to find suitable skiing terrain, which is why good mid-elevation, sheltered tree skiing zones are coveted secrets–you can almost always find good snow there.
Category: Tips & Technique