First Trax

We “beat enough dead horses” on this website and we’re simply tired of beating this particular one that has had us posting way too many stories about how this or that ski area is reporting exaggerated base depth numbers.

We’ve challenged resorts from time to time and we’ve outright called “BS” on some reports both recently and over the years…to no avail.

A few years ago (maybe one or two) we complained more than a dozen or two days during that season as to how inflated the base depth numbers were. Frankly last season we felt that most resorts did a great job of accurately posting “believable” numbers.

I looked back as far as 2005 and we have “beaten this particular dead horse” so many times that I am amazed that we haven’t heard from PETA!

For those that don’t have a clue what we’re alluding to…there are basically TWO MAJOR variables that we all should care about when it comes to slope conditions reporting.

ONE is the SURFACE CONDITIONS, such as “groomed”, “frozen granular”, “powder” etc. (This is basically the TOP of the base that we all actually ski or ride on.)

THE SECOND is the BASE DEPTH. This is the one were griping over because some resorts inflate these figures. It has been our stance that the resorts that inflate these figures are doing so to influence the “uneducated skier” to ski at their resort. For example, if one resort accurately reports 24-42″ of base and another inflates theirs to 30-87″ then way too many potential visitors will mistakenly think that the snow MUST be deeper or better there.

All too often it’s ONE resort that starts the inflating and then others follow suit.

This frustrates us because as we have written way too many times, YOU ONLY SKI ON THE TOP OF WHATEVER BASE IS THERE ANYWAY. In other words, even if there’s a base of 80″, you are only skiing on the top 3-6″ or so.

Also, I can’t tell you how many times that we have received emails from newbie skiers and riders that assume that the BASE means that the snow is that deep. They picture Colorado-like, waste-deep snow and that is not what base depth is.

Regardless, it’s hard to respond to the thousands of emails that we receive on the subject when some of our Southeast resorts are reporting snow base depths far, far deeper than ALL of the resorts in Colorado right now…and bear in mind just how much snow the western resorts have seen this season!

One fix that we’d have loved to see all resorts in the Southeast and Mid Atlantic do is to only report ONE NUMBER as a TRUE average and report that figure from mid-mountain. That is what many of the resorts out west do, and some reporting services such as incorporate that kind of data on their reports.

I remember researching many years ago about how resorts decide and report base depths and came across this statement that ONCE appeared on an old National Ski Association pamphlet that read:

“At every ski area, the process begins when someone – usually a patroller or a groomer – heads up the hill, braving the pitch-black chill of winter every single morning during the season to measure the base depth as well as any new snow that may have fallen since the day before.

Those totals show up when you call the snow hotline at your favorite ski area before heading for the slopes. You’ve got to have an appreciation for the folks getting that information to us by 5:30 a.m.”


Another National Ski Association statement about base depth reporting states, “Ski areas as a rule determine their base depth as: “An AVERAGE minimum and maximum base depths, reported in inches, e.g., “Base 27 to 46 inches”. Base depth is the low and high estimated range of natural and snowmaking base depths on trails that are OPEN. Also, some areas measure base at mid-mountain.”

How many of you guys think that one of our southeast resorts has an AVERAGE of 87″ on every single trail that they have open? That’s what I thought.


As with too many other things in life, it only takes one or two bad apples to ruin things for everybody else and it should be noted that most of the 17 ski areas in the Southeast and Mid Atlantic are relatively accurately reporting base. A few are not.

We have spoken with other resort operators who don’t want to be mentioned by name, but who, themselves “question the accuracy” of the reporting of some resorts.

I don’t want to alienate any of our contacts but I can also share the fact that one my closest allies has spoken with some nationally known ski industry personalities who report on conditions across the country and they have called “BS” on some of the numbers being reported by some southeast ski areas. (If I get approval to share those names I will do so.)


In closing, we are under no allusions as per our level of importance. We’re kind of a small-to-mid-sized fish in an even smaller pond. However since we do see approximately 60,000 to 100,000 unique visitors per day, we DO have at least some measure of influence. (You know that “power of the pen” thing…but on the internet!)

In our very small way, we are starting our own small campaign to influence others to do away with numbers game that IS base depth reporting.


Base depth reporting is something that is so mistated that we are doing away with it altogether from now on. We have replaced that with a simple barometer of sorts that ranges from “terrible” to “great”. Our stance is that BASE DEPTH is really an unimportant number anyway – as long as there is some snow underneath us to ride on.

As long as there is good, side-to-side coverage then your skiing experience will be a good one. It’s the PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SURFACE CONDITIONS that are on TOP of that BASE that is more important anyway. In other words, if you have foot of BASE underneath and TOP SURFACE of groomed or packed powder…you are going to be ONE HAPPY SKIER OR SNOWBOARDER.

With that in mind, check out our new reporting “legend” at the top of our Slope Conditions page. We provide that simply as an explanation of what our reporting is saying. Click here to see> Southeast and Mid Atlantic Ski Resort Conditions

Our effort is one that we think will “even the playing field” and simply provide our visitors with what they need to know.

There will certainly be a few readers who will write that this is “much ado about nothing” and to you we reply, “Not to worry, because we won’t have to complain about inflated numbers anymore”

Send your comments to: [email protected]

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