Joe’s Take On Base Reporting –

Hello Everyone –

First off, let me thank Mike for my two weeks away from this column.  It has been a fun and white holiday season.  Now back to the subject at hand, the 2005-06 winter season.  The word from all of the resorts in the southeast from Maryland to North Carolina to Tennesse is that the visits have been strong since day one.  Anyone that is surprised with that, really doesn’t understand the industry. 

Just look around, the conditions have been good to excellent, even with the recent milder temperatures throughout the region.  This past weekend’s snow definitely helped matters to say the least. Skiers and snowboarders in the southeast haven’t had to worry about traveling outside the region to enjoy some downhill fun.  Now mother nature just needs to lower the temperatures a little bit more and those mid-season conditions will return to those early season conditions.  Now isn’t that a strange way to think of the situation. 

Now let’s get to those current conditions or the reduction of them.  Let’s be clear, the coverage on the open terrain is in good shape and if you remember this time last year, most resorts were in danger of not being able to operate for the Martin Luther King Holiday.  It has already been discussed on this site that for some strange reason the higher than normal temperatures recently didn’t really affect the amount of snow on the trails.  I have always been a supporter of not having a base of zero when there are bare spots or thin areas along the tree lines, but resorts need to communicate those conditions to skiers and snowboarders making plans to hit the slopes.  If the reports are accurate and guests know before arrival, no questions can be asked.  But when guests hit the slopes and have to dodge the bamboo in the middle of the slopes that ski patrols use to mark none skiable areas, well the resort’s snow reporting credibility comes under question. 
We have asked this question before and probably will ask it as long as I am connected with the industry.  Just how much snow does one need to have all the fun in the world while on the slopes, skiing or snowboarding?  I was with an industry veteran a few years ago and he said technology has improved the on-slope experience with improved snowmaking and grooming practices, but that technology has also spoiled everyone to expect perfect conditions every time they hit the slopes.  He reminded me that skiing was still fun when only natural snow was available and grooming was done by skiers packing down the trails.  Bare spots, thin areas were just part of the challenge.  Makes you think doesn’t it?  I am not for a minute saying that experience was better, but we need to be thankful for the time we can get on the slopes. 

By a show of hands, how many of you decide which resort to visit, by the amount of base is reported, when every resort has a two to three foot base?  Just what I thought, not many.  So why do resorts think it’s important to report those high numbers of 60, 70, 80 or over 100 inches?  Because the other resorts do and that’s when egos take over.  The last time I checked an average is ONE NUMBER of a group of figures.  What the industry uses is not an average but a range.  I propose a true report of an average base of only one number, but don’t hold your breath of that ever happening since there really isn’t an industry methodology of how to measure slope base depth anyway.

A lot of questions have been placed on the table in the above paragraphs and I don’t think there is any easy answer to any one of them — other than to say that a good place to start would be true and honest snow reports, instead of marketing reports.  Put the facts out there and let people know you are telling the truth and the return factor (which is when resorts really make the bucks) will increase.  Those increased numbers will be good for everyone because more revenue means more capital expansion, which means more fun during the winter.

We sign off this week’s rambling by thanking Mike again for my two weeks away from this column and to remind everyone to make some turns somewhere, anywhere, just get out there and have some fun! Always remember though, whether it be cold or whether it be hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be.  Think about it!  See you on the slopes!

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Joe Stevens
Joe is well known around the southeastern ski circles. Stevens was Director of Communications at Snowshoe Mountain Resort for 16 seasons with another 15 years prior to that in Richmond, Virginia newsrooms. Joe serves on numerous boards and committees and currently is a spokesperson for the West Virginia ski areas.Joe has been a featured columnist on SkiSoutheast since 2005 and has written numerous articles for us, as well as for others promoting all of the southeastern ski resorts. Joe resides in Charleston, West Virginia, with his wife, Angie, and son, Christian. He is an avid snowboarder and marathon runner.