Japan is usually a sure bet for powder - but how are things going this year? Photo: Valérian Ducourtil by Matt Georges
Once the days gets shorter and the temperatures drop, it's only natural to get excited about snowboarding - hence why most snowboarders are already frothing at the mouth by late September, even though most of us don't get the chance to actually do any snowboarding until the New Year.
Still, good things come to those who wait, and January is finally here. Dead Christmas trees line the pavements, gyms are full to the brim with well-meaning resolution makers, the skies are full of eager shredders on their way to the mountains, and the season is well and truly underway.
"If you’re about to head to the mountains, here's what you can expect to find - and if you haven't booked yet, maybe this will point you in the right direction"
Or is it? Depending on where you ride, it might feel like Mother Nature is playing a particularly cruel joke on snowboarders, or that the Grim Reaper offed the Snow Gods at the tail end of his 2016 killing spree. We've seen a lot of beautiful snow shots on the interweb in the last few weeks, but we've seen some horror stories too.
So where's good? For answers, we've taken a look at the world's key shred destinations - excluding Australia, New Zealand and South America, for reasons we really hope don't need explaining - and weighed up how their season has panned out so far.
If you’re about to head to the mountains, here's what you can expect to find - and if you haven't booked yet, maybe this will point you in the right direction:
We’ll start close to home, where it’s been a heartbreaking couple of months for the Scottish resorts.
There was enough snow in November to get a few lifts turning, and hopes of a crazy-good winter – the likes of which we last saw in 2009/10 – started to spread through the snowboarding community like Buckfast though a bloodstream.
Unfortunately, since then it’s been unseasonably mild, and after a few days here and there in late December, all five resorts are now closed for snowsports. However, with a storm on the way this weekend, things may be looking up...
For the third year on the bounce, our friends across the channel have had a miserable start to the winter – especially those in lower resorts with less sophisticated snow-making capabilities. France, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Andorra, Austria... it’s essentially the same story all over.
Aside for the odd minor snowfall, the view from WL’s Morzine office has been far too green, and our pre-season trip to Sölden in Austria would have been a complete non-starter were it not for the snow cannons working overtime.
Early January has seen a bit of a turnaround, but there is still much room for improvement. If you’re lucky enough to get a powder day in the near future, look out for hidden rocks; our man in Les Arcs says it's currently sharkier than a Great White that knows his way around a pool table.
For the sake of those that have already booked a Christmas/New Year trip on the continent for 2017, let’s hope that – like celebrity deaths in the years prior to 2016 – these bad winter starts come in threes.
NORTH AMERICA (WEST COAST)
It’s often the case that when one part of the snowboarding world is having a shitter, there’s another one that gets more of the white stuff than it knows what to do with. This year, it appears to be west side of North America that’s got the goods.
There’s plenty of snow to go around in Canada, with BC and Alberta getting plenty of good days, but even they are not experiencing the freakish levels of snowfall that their friends below the 45th parallel.
Yes, it’s the Americans that are winning this year, so much so that we’re surprised Donald Trump hasn’t yet taken credit for it. Just check out this picture from Mammoth Mountain, taken just a few days ago:
There’s even more on the way this weekend – for bossman Shaun White, Mammoth is looking like a pretty sound investment.
Epic powder days in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho are a given in any normal year, but things have been particularly good this winter.
You may have caught the news that Colorado’s Crested Butte had to close for the day because it had snowed too much, or that Arapahoe Basin did the same due to avalanche risks on the famous Loveland Pass.
— Jason Blevins (@jasonblevins) January 10, 2017
There's more on the way, too; while most of the snowsports world is due to get a top-up this weekend, the biggest snowfall is due to hit here.
NORTH AMERICA (EAST COAST)
Snow has always been in shorter supply on the Eastern seaboard – they don’t call it the ‘Ice Coast’ for nothing. However, this year they’re keeping the ‘USA #1’ theme alive with reports of great conditions in places like Vermont and New York State.
Up in Quebec it’s a similar story, with resorts like Mont Tremblant getting excellent coverage. They’ve still got bastard-cold temperatures to deal with, of course...
Famously the most snow-sure place on Spaceship Earth, you can get several weeks' worth of uninterrupted pow days in Japan.
So far this winter it’s been a slightly different story. While Niseko had seen over 150cm of fresh in a fortnight at this time last year (and even more the year before), this season it’s been less than 50cm. In Hakuba, the snowfall has so far been similar to the last couple of winters, but in January (which is when the taps really start to come on), it’s looking a bit below average.
It's till early days, of course, so don't be surprised if things pick up before long.