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Truth in snow reporting?

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Hello. I'm a reporter with Bloomberg News and I'm working on a story about how ski areas report snow. How accurate are these reports? Has anyone experienced a ski day in which the snow report appeared to be wrong? Please tell me your stories. Thanks.

post #2 of 16

A mountain resort is a big place.  Is a snow report inaccurate if it only measures the snow depth at one place but the conditions are different everywhere else?  As a reporter, how would you define accuracy?
 

post #3 of 16

here's Bryan Allegretto's take on it:

 

http://tahoeweatherdiscussion.com/page/138

 

I believe he said all the resorts in tahoe use this same measuring procedure and acceptable by the NWS and therefore from his persective no shennanigans at least for the tahoe resorts, you should contact him to get his semi-pro input.

http://opensnow.com/about/people

 

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First let’s just run through snow measuring real quick. If 3-5 feet is reported over a 4-5 day period that doesn’t mean the snow is going to be up to your neck when you get up on the mountain. The way that most of the resorts measure is using white boards or areas of packed down snow as a starting point before the snow falls. They then take a measurment twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Between each measurement they clear the spot and start over. They will add together the 2 measurements that day for the 24hr snowfall total.

That is an acceptable method usable for data collection by the NWS. What that does however that is different than on the slope or in the trees is it eliminates things that happen to the snow over the course of time like settling and compression from snow piling on top. There is a different measurement for snowpack which is the settled snow on the ground. If you measure twice a day for 5 days, clearing the spot each time, and add it all together you get can get amounts of 4-5 feet. Meanwhile on the ground the snow has settled and compressed down to only 3 feet. The lighter the snow the more dramatic the difference can be. 5 feet of cement is not going to settle that much..

 

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Northstar put up their video with their actual snow stakes here: 

 

http://vimeo.com/57093781

post #4 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by TrekkerJen View Post

Hello. I'm a reporter with Bloomberg News and I'm working on a story about how ski areas report snow. How accurate are these reports? Has anyone experienced a ski day in which the snow report appeared to be wrong? Please tell me your stories. Thanks.

 

I think the internet has been a great equalizer with regards to this over the past few years. If a resort posts a snow report that is stretching things, these days their facebook wall, twitter, etc. will be inundated with people calling them out on it.

 

I trotted out an old joke, probably older than me about this a few weeks ago- Q: What do you call 3" of snow? A: 3" of snow, unless you are Vail, in which case you call it a foot.

 

There was a news story a few years ago quoting a study indicating that over many years, average reported snowfall was about 10% higher on Friday, Saturday and Sunday reporting, which would seem to be pretty solid evidence that people were pushing it.

 

All that said, there are a whole ton of variables that go into this.

 

1. Most mountains will place their official snow measuring stick in an area that will show good accumulation. The stick will also almost universally be on a north facing slope to show the best base.  Most are smarter than to place the stick someplace where the results will be way out of sync with the rest of the mountain (ie., placing it in a lee spot where wind will drift 3" of snow into 3 feet), but the stick is someplace that will put a good face on things without resorting to ouright lying.

 

2. When a ski area releases their 6 AM report saying 12" of snow in 24 hours, that could mean that snow started falling at 8:00 AM the day before and stopped at 4:00, which means the previous days skiers will have tracked and compacted down a lot of that snow, leaving little evidence of a foot of new snow.  On the other hand, if the storm started after close, completely different ballgame. Some ski areas report new snow since closing the night before, but many, most perhaps, do not.

 

3. With ski area acreage in the thousands, one or two sticks is going to give only a loose generalization of overall conditions, microclimates are much finer than ski areas encompassing several square miles, before even getting into things like terrain aspect. 

 

4. Some ski areas will "correct" the snow stick reading if it is not representative of actual conditions for most of the mountain. Vail started doing this a few years back after being yelled at when the stick showed most of a foot, and the overall mountain most of an inch. Of course, once you start "deskewing" your snow stick readings, you open up the door to more people playing loose with things. Perhaps the Thursday before the holiday weekend that will make or break your season's profitability has conditions that would normally warrent you to revise the snow stick, but instead you only revise it a little or not at all...

post #5 of 16

I've personally witnessed what seemed to be more under-reporting than over-reporting - although I think that they take the measurement so early in the morning may be a big part of this.  If they do it at 5:30am and the lifts don't open until 9, that's plenty of time for a few more inches to pile up.

post #6 of 16

FWIW, the Lake Tahoe resorts seem honest--thanks for the post raytseng--while the Utah resorts seem a little fishy to me  (but not too bad) .  Measurements seem out of whack all across the country when it comes to the reported base.  Resorts everywhere can report, for example, a 20"-30" base at mid-mountain and you can be skiing over rocks on most trails.  To be fair to the resorts different trails face the sun and/or wind from different directions, there are at least 10 degree F temperature differences from summit to base of the bigger resorts, etc. all having an effect on the depth of the snow.  Still, I'll bet a lot of those "mid-mountain" calculations are inflated.

 

If I were a Bloomberg reporter I'd convince my editor to write a story about real estate trends at ski reports.  San Francisco real estate is on a tear right now and I'll bet the Lake Tahoe market will follow with the usual two-year lag.  Then I'd pen a few pages about the new and old stories leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, with Mikaela Shiffrin being the new and the nearly healthy Bode Miller being the old.  Then I'd charm some domestic or foreign ski resort into giving you a ride in a Prinoth Beast so I could get a free room, ski a few days, and write about it.

post #7 of 16

Gosh, there are these mileage numbers on the stickers of several cars I've purchased.  I'm pretty sure that I've NEVER gotten performance within 85% of the figures listed on the car sticker.  As for resorts, talk to people that ski there.  Look at the webcams and hour by hour weather forecasts.  There is no reason to rely on nothing but the resort marketing spin on current conditions when planning a trip.

 

Caveat emptor

post #8 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by quant2325 View Post

If I were a Bloomberg reporter I'd convince my editor to write a story about real estate trends at ski reports.  San Francisco real estate is on a tear right now and I'll bet the Lake Tahoe market will follow with the usual two-year lag.

 

Not so sure about that.  It's pretty tough to get a bank to offer a loan right now if it's not a primary residence.  The only people they'll be giving them to are the ones who could nearly buy the other property out-right.  And at the end of the day, Tahoe still needs second home owners to really drive that market... which is unfortunate, but with certain prices paid in the past, expectations have been set.  I do think there will be an uptick, however.

post #9 of 16

Down here, we had 'lies, lines and damn statistics' so apartment owners instal their own snowcams, aim them at dining tables, and stream them on forums. The "Table-o-meter" will show we had either had a Cup of Coffee, a Jim Bean Bottle or a Beercan overnight. (Hmm, Nolo: the Product Placement Rights could be worth a dollar if Epicski made coffee, bourbon and beerdrool.gif)

post #10 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by JayT View Post

I've personally witnessed what seemed to be more under-reporting than over-reporting - although I think that they take the measurement so early in the morning may be a big part of this.  If they do it at 5:30am and the lifts don't open until 9, that's plenty of time for a few more inches to pile up.

Had this happen last week- Vail reported 0" but by the time I hit the slopes at 9 am there was 3+" on the ground.

 

I also agree with those that say the internet helps to keep things honest, especially snow stake cams that you can look at live.  With that said, one thing I have noticed about the measuring stick with snow stake cams is that sometimes the platform for the stick is above the level of the existing snow (making it less likely to hold snow during a windy storm) and sometimes the platform is put in a dug out area (making it more likely to accumulate snow if there is wind).  I don`t think this is necessarily done intentionally either way by the resort, but is one of the things that can happen when you have a bunch of employees with different levels of understanding and/or training.

 

There are a bunch of other reasons why an honest snow report may not reflect the actual conditions on every run on the mountain, especially at the larger resorts.

post #11 of 16

Snow reports are as honest as is practical--in addition to factors already mentioned--upper mountain numbers reported at 6am after a storm will have to be updated after someone actually gets up there to take a look.  Lift ops--what lifts will open when--are another story.  Funny thing is Squaw reports are pretty detailed and accurate, Alpine Meadows often sketchy and overoptimistic--and they're both owned by the same company. 

post #12 of 16

The situation at smaller resorts in what is called the "flatlands" is quite different than for places in the Rockies.  When a place can be open with 10-20 inches of manmade snow, over or under reporting by 2-3 inches can really make a difference.  I live in NC so am familiar with snow reports for places in the southeast.  I imagine it's similar for the midwest (OH, IN, IA, KS).

post #13 of 16

In my experience the snowfall stat is one of the more accurate stats ski areas promote.  Base depth is often very misleading.  Even worse is the open run report.  I have seen reports that have shown 100% open when as little as 50% is open.

post #14 of 16

I should clarify that I'm talking about big Tahoe resorts, where storms may be measured in feet rather than inches, and where the wind may move more snow than what falls on the ground.  We also have hourly wind, temperature, and precip data for various levels at multiple mountains on the NWS website, and traffic cameras which give a pretty good picture of snowfall on the ground.  There is an abundance of data on weather and snowfall available from multiple sources. What is more lacking is knowing if lifts are going to open late due to snow safety, or not at all due to avy risk or weather.  As I mentioned above Alpine Meadows nearly always says the Summit Chair will be running, even when it's obvious from the weather that it's not. 

post #15 of 16

The part of snowfall reporting that gets skewed the most imo is average annual snowfall. Some resorts count the snow that falls from opening day to closing day, some count snow that falls during the entire winter.

 

Some resort will even count the snow that falls in Sept. and Oct. and then melts long before the resort opens.

post #16 of 16

Agree that base depths are the bigger issue.  Especially when the weather is such that a decrease is probably reality.  When a place in NC has rain and continues to put 10 inches for the minimum for a day or two, but brown is showing on a webcam then it's obvious the base measurement hasn't been updated.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nathanvg View Post

In my experience the snowfall stat is one of the more accurate stats ski areas promote.  Base depth is often very misleading.  Even worse is the open run report.  I have seen reports that have shown 100% open when as little as 50% is open.

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