There’s Lots of Thin Coverage and Bare Spots Out There…

I get less involved on the website and the region’s resorts go soft on me? I’m not vain enough to think that’s really the case, however I don’t think I saw ONE ski or snow report that reflected "bare spots" or "thin coverage" this entire season. There may have been one but I didn’t see it and there are PLENTY of bare areas and thin coverage slopes going on right now and there were none listed in this morning’s reports.

Minus perhaps Appalachian Ski Mountain – everybody else has them.

It seems that the new "thin coverage and bare spots" is "SPRING CONDITIONS". Just FYI, four of six of North Carolina’s ski areas are closed; two of the four Virginia areas are closed (Massanutten will close after today); and eight of the sixteen ski areas in the region are closed for the season so I’m going to basically give all the ski areas a "PASS" and pass on a hearty THANKS to all that continue to operate.

There’s plenty of good, soft snow to ride right now – however there’s also (to be expected by the way) bare spots and lots and lots of thin coverage to ski and ride through. Some of the coverage is the kind of thin coverage that you’d probably rather be riding on rental equipment than your new skis or snowboard. I hit some areas in late FEBRUARY at two different ski resorts that left nice "blemishes" in the bottom of my skis. So I can only imagine what some trails are like out there today.

From the live cams out there…it looks pretty darn nice this AM after the resort’s groomers have done their magic. Look for some thin, watery coverage especially at high traffic areas like trail merges, etc.


I was speaking with a ski industry expert (who asked to remain anonymous) on Friday and they told me that it was as if the area’s managers all got together and decided that the new term for bare spots and thin coverage was going to be "Spring Conditions" for this season.

I REALLY doubt that happened. I’m thinking that they kind of conveniently forgot because bear in mind that there WERE NO thin coverage and bare spots LAST SEASON. By the way we didn’t receive ONE COMPLAINT email about conditions during the 2009-2010 season. Also bear in mind that a ten year old could have kept great conditions on the slopes with all the cold and snow we had during that campaign.

The complaint emails resurfaced this season when after February 1st things became much more of a challenge to patiently work the snow into the kind of conditions that most of our ski resorts offer after their daily trail management chores.

Another local, ski area marketing person (who I promised anonymity) told me that they were reluctant to post bare spots in their report when nobody else was doing it. When I shared the "Spring Conditions" usage they agreed that seemed to be the new term to replace the more negative (and more honest) actual conditions on the slopes.

I just wonder if next December if we have an early thaw and the slopes are covered with MOSTLY perfectly frozen granular, but some bare spots are there – if they’ll call THAT "Spring Conditions".

Maybe I’m making too much of the BEING HONEST THING…but to me I could go with absense of bare spots because like my buddy Joe Stevens says, "You don’t call the bordering forests bare areas. You don’t call closed trails bare areas. Any area within ten miles of a ski slope is a bare area when there’s no natural snow. So those areas ON a mountain that can’t be skied are just that."

(I paraphrased Joe’s longtime sentiments…)

Thin coverage is another thing…


How about "Corduroy"? You never see that on a snow report either and yet more often than not in the Southeast and Mid Atlantic our day on the slopes BEGINS with corduroy.

The NSAA has some official verbiage for snow conditions reporting and you’re welcome to go and research that for yourself. However here are some terms that you just never see used anymore:

Bare Spots (BS) – Areas of exposed underlying trail surface.

Corn Snow (CO) – Large ice-like granules.

Ice Patches, Surface (IP, IS) – Hard, glazed surface usually created by freezing rain or old surface snow melting and quickly refreezing, or by ground water seeping up into the snow and freezing.

Windblown (WBLN) – powder or granular snow blown into drifts in some places, leaving a firmly packed surface.

Thin Cover (TC) – The cover that currently exists will decline in quality due to skier traffic and may break through to the underlying trail surface. Bare spots are anticipated to develop in the area.

We see A LOT of Packed Powder (PP) reporting around here even though it’s not always packed powder which is defined as – Loose powder snow compacted by rollers, drags or other mechanical apparatus, or by skier traffic. I know I’ve seen a couple of our resorts report that condition for the ENTIRE season.


We’ve done a few stories over the years about how our resorts SPIN the conditions. There are tons of national stories about "the math" of ski areas. Many have issues with how one trail down a mountain is actually four trails. Ski resorts, even the most remote ones, are "closer than you think".
Don’t get me started, right?

I think Joe Stevens actually coined my favorite terminology for rain. He called it "under developed snow". I actually received an email from a reader who said that he used to do the morning reports for Smugglers Notch and he called it "Immature Snow". I like that one as well.

I guess we’re probably always going to be stuck with having to educate our readers on how to decode the ski and snowboarding conditions. Personally I can go with just about anything they want to report as long as they tell us when there’s some bare areas and thin coverage. When that’s absent from the SAME report that reflects 30-60" of base depth…it tends to be deceiving. Either the resorts need to start reflecting 2"-60" or at least tell us that there are SOME anomalies out there.

For ME…I look forward to seeing lots of reports NEXT SEASON with "cold smoke" listed on them. (That’s when the light snow billows behind you into the air when you’re ripping down some powder or frozen gran!

I like that one…

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Mike Doble
Mike is the Editor and founder of, and Since September 1996 he has posted more than 13,000 posts, articles, photos and videos promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid skier and enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and hiking in the mountains. Winter snowsports and Summer boating on Watauga Lake are among his favorite pastimes.