Generating map tiles for FAA sectional charts with GDAL

Recently I launched the initial version of Pirep, a collaborative website for pilots to collect & share their local knowledge about airports such as transient parking location, crew car availability, nearby attractions/restaurants, camping information, etc. The central component of Pirep being the map page where airports are charted and filterable based on what amenities exist at them.

While it’s easy to get a map with satellite imagery, naturally one would also want the FAA VFR sectional charts as a layer on the map as well. This turned out to be fairly easy to get a proof of concept for, but much more tedious to get to a production-ready state.

A vision for the future of skiing in the PNW

Scattered across various online skiing forums, overheard in lift lines, and discussed on the skin track are conversations about the problems facing skiing in the PNW and potential solutions for the future. I have been participant to my fair share of these but they have always felt to me as being light on specific details and lacking a unified vision. As such, the desire was created to assess the depth of the problems and feasibility of the solutions to the problems we face around access to our mountains. The end goal being the establishment of my vision for the future of skiing in the PNW.

Previously in this series I wrote about how the Cascades snowpack is responding to climate change, what prevented expansion of our ski areas, and where our existing ski areas could expand. The theme of these being that skiing in the PNW is facing the following major issues:

  1. Washington’s rapidly growing population causing overcrowding at existing ski areas
  2. Corporate consolidation leading to ski area owners not having the sport’s best short or long term interests in mind
  3. Climate change causing some existing areas to become nonviable in the foreseeable future
  4. The lack of potential expansion locations due to land use restrictions

The conclusion of all this being that in order to meet demand while keeping our mountains and winter recreation accessible Washington needs to consider the possibility of an entirely new ski area. Specifically, there are four areas of focus that would go a long way to providing sufficient access not just for mechanized skiers, but backcountry skiers, snowshoers, and general snow play (sledding for children and families):

  • Expansions of existing ski areas (see my previous post for details on this point)
  • Creation of a new ski area to provide competition to the large ski corporations
  • Winter maintenance to high elevation trailheads for ski touring, snowshoeing, and sledding
  • Increased focus on winter recreation community groups for ongoing advocacy

This final post attempts to answer the feasibility of doing so. Mainly, why is a new ski area needed, where could it be located, how would it be funded, and how would it operate?

Where can PNW ski areas expand?

Here we are a month or so past the end of the 2021/2022 ski season. On trend with the previous two years, it was another challenging season that demonstrated the problems skiing faces in the PNW. This post is part of a series about the future of skiing and winter recreation in the PNW and how we can potentially go about addressing those problems. Previously I explored what prevented expansion of our ski areas and how the Cascades snowpack is responding to climate change.

This third post explores what our existing ski areas can do to adapt to the overwhelming demand resulting from growing popularity of winter sports and the rapid Western Washington population growth. Specifically, how this can be done through expansion of terrain and chairlift capacity.

The politics of ski areas: What prevents ski area expansion in the PNW?

This post is part of a series on the future viability of ski areas and ski area expansion in the PNW. The previous post explored how the climate and snowpack has changed over the decades and attempted to answer what it may do in the future. This post addresses the political issues and red tape around ski areas specifically in Washington’s Cascades.

Since 1990 Washington’s population has increased from 4.9M to 7.6M in 2022. Despite this, only limited ski area expansions have taken place, certainly not enough to keep up with population growth. As a result, our ski areas are vastly overcapacity. Facing a crisis of overwhelming demand ski areas have resorted to attempting to limit demand through various means in order to control crowding. It lead me to wonder, if the demand for ski areas and winter recreation in general is there, why have all nearly all meaningful expansions seemingly stopped in the past 30 years? What is preventing us from meeting demand and giving everyone access to our wintertime mountains?

Specifically, this post looks at the following issues:

  • What land use restrictions prevent development?
  • How did we get here?
  • What happened to allow or prevent previous expansions?
  • What needs to happen for future expansion to take place?

To answer these questions we need to go back to the development era of the 1960s, then through the increasingly restrictive years of the 1970s & 1980s, and finally to the red tape of the 1990s and beyond. It’s a story that involves decades of legislative history, a Supreme Court case, and a whole lot of maps. Given all this, it can seem hopeless that we’ll ever grow beyond the ski areas that we currently have, but as this post explores, there is a present opportunity for Washington to fulfill the demand for winter recreation in the Cascades.

When is the end of the golden age of PNW skiing?


I often have conversations on the chairlift or the skin track that involve how the Cascades don’t get as much as snow as they used to. It has been said that the 1950s/1960s were the golden age of skiing in the PNW and our ski seasons now are shorter, with less snow, more frequent rain, and that the future is bleak. Putting aside the chairlift hearsay I wanted to know what the data said about the accuracy of that sentiment. Specifically, I set out to answer the following questions:

  • Are the Cascades getting less snow than they used to?
  • Are our ski seasons becoming shorter?
  • How has climate change affected our ski areas in Washington?
  • And most importantly, what does the future hold?

Surprisingly, the answer to those first two questions is… eh, not really. We’re more or less getting the same amount of snow currently as in the 20th century; arguably more in some cases! Which begs the question, are we still in the golden age of PNW skiing? Quite possibly, but if so, for how much longer?

However, there are some BIG caveats to that statement. Unfortunately, the full answer to these questions is not a short one. As for the latter two questions, well, the future is not looking good without adaptions but it may not be as bad as you think. Here I explore what over 100 years of snowpack and snowfall data in the Cascades tells us, how broader regional cycles affect our weather, what actual peer reviewed studies have concluded, and what this means for skiing in the Cascades in the near and foreseeable future.