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Mountain Weather

High mountains in winter can present a huge range of weather conditions, which skiers and boarders need to be prepared for.

In midwinter, resorts in the Canadian Rockies or in New England can be so cold that it is normal to wear rubbery face-masks to prevent frostbite. In other resorts, temperatures around or slightly below freezing might be normal - and visitors from Britain are often pleasantly surprised to find that they feel less cold than at home, because the mountain air is so much less humid.

And temperature is of course not the only variable. You also have the inter-related matters of cloud, wind and precipitation. Wind, in particular, lowers the apparent temperature - a phenomenon known as wind-chill.

Normally, temperatures are lower at higher altitudes, and the wind is stronger. So clothing that is adequate at resort level will not do the trick higher up.

If you are lucky, your holiday will consist largely of cloudless, windless days separated by overnight snowfalls. It does happen, but not often. Short periods of consistently sunny or consistently snowy weather are more common.

The sun is strong at altitude. One result of this is that you need to have protection for your eyes and skin. (See Sunburn and Eyewear.) Another is that you can sit outside comfortably even in freezing temperatures - and most mountain restaurants have terraces for the purpose.

Once you are a competent skier or boarder, 'bad' weather will probably acquire a special appeal. 'Bad' weather means fresh snow, and that means skiing and boarding as good as it gets. When the storm passes and the sun comes out, you can hope for a very special day. But given the right equipment you'll also come to enjoy going out during the storm, especially if you're in a resort with lots of trees to aid visibility. Not only is the snow continually refreshed, but also many people in the resort will have stayed in bed or gone swimming, leaving the runs blissfully uncrowded.

Of course, bad weather is sometimes bad news. If it involves high winds, you may find that lifts such as gondolas, cable-cars and chair-lifts are closed for safety reasons, especially on the upper part of the mountain. (See Lifts.)

Heavy snow immediately means a high avalanche risk, and this again can be compounded by wind. So one way or another it is possible to find yourself effectively confined to barracks until the storm has passed. This is much less likely in a resort with trails cut through forest than in a resort high above the treeline. (See Avalanches.)

For more ski safety, tips and mountain advice: Ski lifts | Pistes | Snow | Avalanches | Accidents and First Aid | Altitude sickness | Mountain Guides | Starting snowboarding | Sunburn and Snowblindness | Tips for first-timers | ISF rules | Off-piste | On-piste | Ski Insurance | All ski tips and advice

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