SNOWREPORTING – PERCEPTION OR REALITY

Hello Everyone –

It seems that Mother Nature has decided to return to the region this week, by giving the resort’s veteran snowmakers what they need most and that’s cold temperatures and a bit of natural snow. Not too much of the white stuff, just enough to mix in with the manmade substance. The sound you hear right now, is thousands of snow guns operating again from North Carolina to Maryland.

That brings me to this week’s topic, slope conditions on snow reports. Talk about an imperfect science. What one mountain manager thinks is packed powder another might only think is groomed machine made snow. Despite being an industry that has been providing winter fun since Sun Valley in Idaho put that lift in during the 30’s, there still isn’t an industry wide accepted way of reporting slope conditions. Take a visit to the National Ski Areas Association’s website sometime, www.nsaa.org  and you won’t find any mention of a slope conditions glossary. Information portals like this one, www.skisoutheast.com  has to rely on, pretty much, how the majority reports the daily conditions and that can be as tough as guessing the daily lottery number, or maybe even more of a challenge.

When conditions are good, the job of snow reporting is a relative easy one. There’s plenty of snow on the slopes and everyone is happy. The challenge comes when those dreaded freeze-thaws occur and those good conditions start heading back into the lake. So the question begins to crop up for resorts, when to report bare spots on the slopes. If there is only one or two and they really aren’t affecting one’s travel down the hill, I say, oh, what the heck. But if they really start to be a problem, it’s time to get them on the reports and let skiers and snowboarders know what to expect as they make plans to head to any resort. That’s one thing I just don’t understand, why a resort wouldn’t want to put the real word out there, instead of ticking that skier or snowboarder off who might have had to travel several hours to get to the resort. I know skiers and snowboarders would appreciate knowing before their departure. Resorts have to understand that they are probably not losing a skier visit for that day but gaining a few extra during the season for being, shall I dare say, honest.

Let’s switch to average base depths on snow reports. Just how much snow is needed to have fun? In recent years it seems the trend has been to report huge base numbers. Is that really necessary? Or are resorts just reporting big numbers so that when those thaws occur, a depth reduction isn’t taken so harshly by skiers and snowboarders. You are just going to have to figure that one out. One thing I do know is that there are skiers and snowboarders out there that want to know why base depths don’t drop to zero when bare spots are visible. The last time I was on a slope and there were bare spots I avoided them and stayed on the snow. I found my equipment lasts longer and needs less maintenance with that practice. So leave the zero factor alone and worry more about remaining on the snow as that is where all the fun is located. Don’t worry, the ski patrols in the region will close a slope before it gets to the mud wrestling point. At least I hope they would and pretty much know they would around these parts.

That’s it for this week; more to come as the season continues. Just be patient as whether it be cold or whether it be hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be. Think about it!

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Joe Stevens, a member of the southeast ski industry since 1990 is a regular columnist for skisoutheast.com and serves as the Communications Director for the West Virginia Ski Areas Association.