Chasing the Lake Effect

Body Shot

In early February 2007, the northeastern snowpack was thin and hard, and spirits were low. One exception: The Tug Hill region of central New York was blowing up with a massive lake-effect system sweeping off Lake Ontario and dropping as much as 110 inches in a week.

Numbers like these cause great anxiety at the headquarters of East coast ski film company Meathead Films in Burlington, Vermont. So early one morning, a foursome of powder-starved 'Heads rolled out of Burly with fat skis and high hopes. We intensely searched the back roads of the Tug Hill region, where our topo maps revealed short but steep elevation changes within easy striking distance. During the next four days, we rode pillowy lines, eroded mini-bowls, modest cliff bands, and frozen-waterfall hucks, in some of the lightest, most abundant powder we had ever seen in the East.

Fortunately, you don't need to motor across New York State to score lake effect. The good stuff makes frequent visits to Vermont's Green Mountains, New York's Adirondacks, and, to a lesser extent, New Hampshire's Whites, typically dropping four to 12 inches of low-moisture pow at a pop, and often sneaking under the radar of less-than-savvy weather forecasters.

The key to getting the goods is identifying when a lake-effect pattern is setting up. Meteorologist Roger Hill, founder of, recommends looking to central and western Canada for an eastern-bound Arctic air mass that can turn lake evaporation into mountain fluff. "Even skiers are surprised how quickly lake effect can add up," says Hill. "When the conditions are right, it's possible to get four to five inches an hour." Sound the alarm.

Where to Find the Best Lake-Effect Snow
"The middle section of the Greens tends to get blocked by the 'Daks," Hill says, "so look north of Stowe and Smugglers' Notch, and south of Stratton. The area around Jay Peak in the north and Mount Snow in the south can do well. There's quite a bit of lake effect in the Adirondacks but no one there to talk about it. The Lake Placid area doesn't get a ton, but Gore does really well. In New Hampshire, look for Cannon and the whole Franconia Notch area to get hit on occasion. Sunday River will get some, but by the time it's gotten to Sugarloaf it's tailing off."