Okay, so I just got back from a weeklong ski trip to Park City. The plusses? One week of purple skies, sunshine, and spotless grooming. The minuses? One week of purple skies, sunshine, and spotless grooming. The plusses outweighed the minuses in this case, mostly because my girlfriend- from El Salvador- revelled in the weather (even when the high was eight degrees) and didn't dig the one time it snowed at all (a light flurry on Saturday afternoon at Deer Valley). In this case, getting her to like the sport was more important than immaculate powder conditions. But NEXT time I won't be so charitable about the weather...
Okay, let's discuss the weather. There is a blocking high pressure sitting over the Rockies and no indication that this is going to break over the next 7-10 days. Are you planning to get away to do some skiing out in CO or UT over the next 3-4 weeks? Chances are you are going to encounter thin conditions- thin at least compared to the last 2-3 years out west. Here's some words of advice that may or may not be an improvement over what you know, but maybe they're beneficial:
1) Not every powder bowl is actually powder. Do not be fooled by untracked conditions at popular resorts three to five days after a snowstorm. I hit one beautiful, powder run at The Canyons three days after a storm but other than that, my exploration of the bowls above the resort were a bust. One bowl was ice on one side and mixed powder on the other. A second bowl had different conditions literally every turn- from knee deep powder on one turn to breakable crust on the next to windswept hardpack on the third. In dry years it's best to follow the herd and accept packed down snow in the bowls, Scotts Bowl at PCMR is holding quality hardback right now (packed powder by western standards). Hiking 45 minutes can be a waste of breath.
2) If you must try for the untracked, follow the sun. It appears that the sun loosens the crust when it hits (and assuming it's in the 20s), and I had some very, very, very fine sugar powder runs at Deer Valley to prove the point. But as soon as the sun moves off the slope, it turns back to breakable crust, and if the powder is even partially skied out you're in for a world of pain.
3) Know the way the wind and snow has settled. Obviously southern facing slopes in a thin year are questionable until you get to a certain altitude (in the case of Utah, you better be above 9,500 feet or you're gonna be rock hopping). The wind also scours the slopes. McConkey's was blown dry by an 80 mph wind two weeks before. And The Canyons is miserable because of a combination of exposure, grooming, and wind. If you go to The Canyons, stay high and off-piste. If you must ski groomed terrain, don't venture beyond Saddleback. Boa off the old Parkwest is in good shape, as are some of the other groomers up there.
4) Where the snowcover is good, the groomers are awesome. Crowds are kinda light right now because of the lack of snow. At PCMR, you can ski the intermediate runs all day and have quality packed powder to yourself. Watch the Wasatch lift at Deer Valley- kind of groomer-scraped ice out there. Best terrain at DV is in Empire Canyon and Flagstaff Mountain.
5) Eastern skiing skills are at a premium this year. All the time you've spent learning how to hold a carve in ice, rock hop in a mogul field, and skim around bushes is gonna come in handy. My parents shot a video of me coming down West Face at PCMR and it ain't pretty, but it's brush-skimming at it's finest (you just can't see the brush in the video). I found a lot of skills I had honed in natural snow terrain in New England and Blue Knob and elsewhere coming back with a vengeance out west this winter, and I truly enjoyed calling upon those skills. Even one run at the Canyons my step-dad said the locals were watching me in awe. It's not that I'm a particularly good skier... it's that I am an east coast skier and any one of us on this board can burn the a** off a westerner when the snow is thin. Time to head out west and prove it, folks!
Nothing else leaps to mind for any westbounders out there. Oh, wait, one other thing. The El Nino is in full effect and the southern Rockies have been doing well lately. Taos and Wolf Creek are reporting solid conditions. I'll be at both later this winter (or at least at NM and CO). BC is still in good shape, too. Central Rockies are struggling right now, though, so be prepared with all your eastern skills. The snow is still great, so you won't be disappointed, it's just not the waist-deep powder we've gotten the last couple years.