With the recent snowfall of 2 meters (80") or more in the Carnic Alps and surrounding region, one might wonder what it's like to ski in so much snow.
Not as good as you might think.
The reality is that powder skiing, like many things in life, requires some level of moderation, or what many call the Goldilocks storm. In other words, not too big, not too small, but just right.
Where the threshold is for too big is somewhat ambiguous as it depends on the condition of the underlying snowpack or surface (alpine meadows in the Alps often serve as the bed for glide avalanches) and the characteristics of the snow during the storm. As storm totals go over about a half a meter (20") you can have great skiing when conditions are right, but as the storm rages on and accumulations deepen, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain momentum except on the steepest hills, where avalanche hazard is likely to be high.
When you get a meter (40") of snow, especially if it falls in a day, it's pretty unlikely you can safely ski anything steep enough to slide except perhaps under the best of conditions in the lowest density snow (and I wouldn't tempt fate in such a situation). Two meters in two days and you've got a good snowpack for the rest of the season, but otherwise you're probably hunkered down or interlodged.
I've skied twice in conditions where two meters of snow fell in two days.
Crystal Mountain, WA
The first was in the early 1990s at Crystal Mountain in Washington. They received two meters (80") of snow in two days and 65" in 24 hours, the latter a record for the State of Washington and indicative of unusually dry snow for the Cascades.
I have vivid memories of skiing after that storm, although psychologists will tell you that memories change. I remember driving at high speed through Seattle to pick up a buddy and then up to Crystal. I can't remember if we got the first chair for the public, but if we didn't, we were close. We waited forever at the base. Not only had we gotten up there early, but it's pretty much impossible to open a ski area when you get 2 meters of snow in two days. In fact, they only opened one chair, the lower lift that takes you to the base of Rainier Express.
After riding that chair, we were the "tip of the spear" breaking trench out northward to the only terrain that *might* be steep enough to ski. It was like a breakaway during a road race rotating through trail breaking responsibilities with competitors with the chasing peloton gaining minute by minute.
At the time, I was probably skiing on a pair of slalom racing skis, possibly the Salomon 2S. Long and skinny, as were all skis at the time. The snow was so deep and I sunk in so far that turning was not an option. I just pointed them straight down, tried to maintain speed, and bounced up every now and then to make sure I wasn't going to run into anything and to cough out snow. I survived to the bottom, looked back up the hill, and, other than a few others who made it down like me, saw most had fallen and augured in. Many spent the morning looking for lost skis.
We took a few more runs on the same hill, which became more manageable with time as it was cut up, and then went home.
Myoko Kogen, Japan
In January 2017 I was on a difficult business trip to the Nagaoka Snow and Ice Research Center. Following the science meetings, I spent a few days in the high-mountain and especially snowy Myoko Kogen region near Joetsu. I ski toured on the first day, afterwhich the heavens opened up and we got about a meter of snow in two days in Akakura Onsen where I was staying and a reported two meters on the upper mountain. It might have been closer to a meter and a half, but who's counting?
On the first day of the storm, I had a great day at Seki Onsen, a small ski area with a couple of lifts, including a single chair that, I kid you not, they were loading every other chair. I think Powder Mountain called Seki the "soul of skiing." It was a great experience.
On the second day, I skied at Akakura Onsen, a ski resort that is the epitome of "deep not steep." Average annual snowfall of 500+ inches but, as it turns out, pretty damn low angle. I think our options were limited, however, since travel was getting pretty difficult at this time.
I began the day with some Kiwis who were staying at my lodge. I took a photo of one of them getting an "official" measurement of the new snow depth next to the top chair as we waited for it to open.
During this time, patrollers were out begging everyone not to ski off piste or enter the backcountry. Terrain traps were likely to be death traps. The possibility suffocation in a tree well or from inversion was very real.
We weren't first in line and thankfully, the two pistes off the top had been skied the prior day and were already somewhat cutup when we got there. That made the skiing possible in the low-angle terrain, although it was a struggle for many.
The Kiwis then decided to do some sidecountry skiing. I had brought my touring pack and gear, but was not going to succumb to powder fever and we split for the day. It's painful to ski low-angle cutup, but going home is mandatory.
After skiing, I had an iconic walk through the winter wonderland of Akakura Onsen. I regularly use several of these photos in talks.
Later that day, the Kiwis arrived back at the lodge. All were safe, but they had to perform a rescue of a snowboarder who had fallen into a creek bed and nearly suffocated.
The storm continued that evening, quickly filling up the walkway into the Myoko Mountain Lodge where I was staying.
The next day I was flying out of Tokyo. That morning, through the Herculean efforts of the lodge owner, we were able to get out and he was able to transport me inland to the first train station that was actually open. Remarkably, it wasn't that far away. Maybe 10 km. Sea-effect storms, even big ones, sometimes decay rapidly with inland extent.