Hit the Slopes

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Judging ski conditions at New England resorts

A recent article on Ski the East got me thinking about ski condition reports and how valid they can be. Ski the East “Editor at Large” Zander Basedepth (a pseudonym, I’m guessing), wrote yesterday that base depth measurements at eastern ski resorts are widely unreliable and can fluctuate enormously, even between two resorts near each other.

Zander Basedepth writes,

Early this year when dirt was everywhere, even on many open trails, we had ski areas reporting 18”-36” type numbers similar to what we see in March. What else should they do? It’s not their fault. There are input fields on the snow report, and ski area down the road has a certain number, so let’s go with 12”-22” and call it good. Right? Pretty much. But how does this equal a useful reporting stat? It doesn’t.

We need a new system. One that isn’t gameable, can be consistent between resorts, and will grant that fact that a 30” guess is no different than a 43” guess. By mid season at many resorts there are spots that have 0” of snow and other spots that have 100”. A 50” average of those two spreads is just as useless.

A guide on reading ski condition reports I found online corroborates a lot of what Zander Basedepth writes. The guide cautions skiers to look critically at ski reports. These reports are generated by and for each specific ski resort, so they naturally try to paint mountain conditions in the best light. There’s no regulation or regularly used standard for ski reports, so resorts can fluff up the report to entice customers to come skiing that day. Snowfall amounts, for example, can be reported in varying time periods, anywhere from the last 24 hours to the last 10 days. The guide advises readers to

Learn to read these amounts with some caution because some resorts add up the amounts in a confusing way. The amounts are designed to put the mountain’s snowfall amounts in the best possible light, even if there has been freezing rain, a major thaw or rain in between the periods reported. For this reason alone it is better to stick to the past 24 hours and ignore the rest of the information. Total snowfall for the season is usually on the bullish side. Most mountains count the higher number in a 2-3″ snowfall, for example. Over the course of the season it can add up and put them infront of a competitor.

The guide also advises readers to beware of a gain in base depth during a thaw. That means ski resorts could be lying about ski conditions, or reporting snow from snow making, not the natural powder snow that we all love to ski on. Be careful when you’re reading your snow report!

Photo (cc) Graham Horn and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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