Sunday, 27 February 2011

Ignore the Snow Reports

Many a UK skier spends the winter months avidly scanning the snow reports, either to decide where to book a skiing trip to, or to try and figure out what the snow will be like when they arrive at their destination.

The trouble with snow reports is that things change, often quickly. A lot of snow can fall over a day or two, meaning that those pessimistic reports from the week before are quickly out of date. Compare these photos of Arinsal (one from my window and one Vallnord Webcam image) to the sunny photos of my last post for example.

The other problem with snow reports is that the numbers are not that relevant. People often say things like "Resort X has 150cm of snow and Resort Y only has 90cm, so Resort X is better this year." I have to say that as long as any rocks are covered I have never noticed the difference between skiing over 20cm or 200cm of snow depth on the pistes. Even if it did matter, the snow depth changes constantly as the ground underneath is not flat, and the snow is moved by both the wind and the piste grooming machines. The biggest factor that determines the snow depth measured is where exactly the measuring stick is pushed into the ground. Each resort will use the same spot for their measurements, so it is fair to compare this winter to last winter, or this week to last, in the same resort. Trying to compare different resorts based on snow depth is pretty meaningless though. The cumulative snowfall for the season - i.e. how much snow has fallen - might be a more useful figure to compare resorts for their snowiness. This will be a much bigger number than the snow depth as the light fluffy snow that falls will compact into dense heavy snow over time.

If you live close to a ski area, or a few of them, looking at the snow reports on a daily basis when deciding where to go and what to do is definitely a good idea. If you live here in Andorra for example you have plenty of options for your weekend skiing. If you live in the UK then the Scottish reports are the only ones really worth looking at outside of your holiday. Looking at the reports during your holiday is a good idea as well, particularly if you plan to go off piste. Looking at the reports in advance though is often just going to make you pessimistic ahead of what will probably out to be a great holiday.

The final point I want to make on this is that snowmaking technology has come a long way in the last few years. Here in Arinsal for example, almost every run (95% of the ski area) has been open all season despite a sunny January and early February with a lot less snow that average. Not only have the pistes been open, they have been well maintained and kept in good condition the entire season. For beginners, many intermediates and in fact anybody who prefers to ski on-piste to off, the conditions have been every bit as good as in a really snowy year with the added bonus of being able to ski in the sunshine most of the time. The only disadvantage is that the (fantastic) view across Andorra is a bit greener than people have been expecting.

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