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In The Snow

Editor's note: This column about winter sports will run weekly until the end of ski season. To share ideas about what you'd like to see in this column, or report conditions call 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

It doesn't take much time in the snow to realize it's always changing.

Skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers all know how much snow varies, especially here in Southern Oregon. There's wet snow, dry snow, old snow, new snow, powder, packed powder, windpack, hardpack, hard crust, breakable crust, spring corn, boiler plate, crud — and sometimes you can find most of them on the same day!

The quality of the snow makes all the difference in the quality of your winter outing, even if all you're doing is building a snowman or throwing snowballs. (Ever try to squeeze real powder into ball?)

Knowing the conditions you're likely to run into can help you make the pre-trip preparations that will help make your outing enjoyable. A little knowledge can also help you avoid a disappointing day. Knowing that the snow is likely to turn to rain by the time you reach the mountain, you might decide to stay home and clean the garage.

As of Wednesday, the sunny days were melting surface snow and it was freezing overnight, making for crusty conditions wherever there was much sunshine, especially on the south- and west-facing slopes.

The Internet makes it easier than ever to learn about conditions, or at least gather the information you need to make an educated guess about what to expect. Many clubs and groups have their own Web sites, and members often post information about their personal trips. Ski resorts have snow phones that are updated at least daily, and many now have Web cams that refresh frequently or live video cameras that provide a real-time look at the mountain.

The Southern Oregon Nordic Club's site (www.southernonc.tripod.com) includes cross-country skiers' reports on conditions they encountered on recent trips, as well as upcoming ski tours and club meeting dates.

The Rogue Snowmobilers Web site (www.roguesnowmobilers.com) includes information on trails they have recently groomed and snow depth. Even if you're not a snowmobiler, this information might be useful. Many snowmobilers like to use recently groomed trails, so trails that have not been groomed for a while, or groomed at all, might have less traffic.

Ski areas have taken advantage of Web cams and video to give us condition reports. Mount Ashland (www.mtashland.com) planted a live video camera on the lodge that provides a view of the lower Juliet run all the way to the summit of the mountain. There's also a grooming report that indicates which runs have been freshly groomed. The snow phone (482-2754) is updated around 6 a.m. daily, and several times through the day.

The Mount Shasta Board & Ski Park also has a Web cam that provides a view of conditions from the lodge at the base of the ski area. Their snow phone (530-926-8686) is also refreshed at least once daily.

Backcountry skiers and snowmobilers need to know about avalanche hazard before they venture out. The U. S. Forest Service has an avalanche site (www.shastaavalanche.org) with information about the current hazard level, weather trends and how the hazard level is expected to change over the next few days.

Granted, Mount Shasta is pretty far from Mount Ashland, but Southern Oregon and Northern California often share the same storms. If there are avalanche conditions on Mount Shasta, it's a good idea to be careful around Crater Lake and Mount Ashland, too.