Jay Richards is one of the co-owners of Maplelag Resort, as well as the primary groomer. We asked Richards to give us some notes on warm air temperatures and its impact on snow conditions, especially this season. -- Ed.
When the forecast calls for above freezing temps or a "thaw" as forecasters like to call it, I don't get overly concerned especially when we have such a deep base of snow and the lows are forecasted to below freezing. Any melting or softening at the surface will only freeze down at night and with proper grooming, the base will be solid and better prepared for the next day of above freezing temps. The first day of warm temps is always the "worst" as the snow hasn't transformed yet. After that initial transformation, the snow actually has a higher melting point. Other factors to consider are the dew points, humidity and obviously the sun/cloud cover.
With a solid base and cold temps within the base, it would take a lot to melt out the snow this season. The frost ranges from 6-8 feet in the Midwest and along with the cold base, acts as refrigeration. Minnesota has probably the most ice arenas in the country, many keeping ice during the hot summer months with high humidity and even though the air temp in the arenas during the summer are well above freezing. The ice stays hard and frozen thanks to the refrigeration below. The same thing happens on ski trails, with a cold deep base of snow and deep frost underneath the snow acting as refridgeration for the top layer.
The anxiety factor runs high when warm temps are upon us and the snow packed streets get slushy and soft but remember, Nordic ski trails are not salted or sanded. If anything, the warm temps with freezing nights will be a good thing, helping to solidify the base. When I lived out west, we welcomed a warm period of temps to help season the snow pack. As long as there is snow on the ground, the skiing is good, it's just a matter of waxing!