A few people have asked about the weather data that shows on Crystal Mountain’s main webpage, why the numbers are sometimes screwy, why the snow depths don’t match their own experience, etc., etc., etc. Let me explain….
First off, let me clear up a common misconception. Ski Area snow reports—at least the ones I’m familiar with here in the Cascades—are generally NOT made up by Marketing Departments. They’re made up by machines. Cold, indifferent, machines.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, everybody knows somebody who gets all “Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura” about some sketchy friend-of-a-friend who claims to have worked in ski area marketing one winter, and brags about the morning they were so hungover they over-slept and just made-up random numbers on the morning snow-phone recording.
That probably happens, but it’s pretty rare. I’m sure Justus only does that 6 or 7 times a season. (Insert winky emoticon here!)
But seriously, that’s not how it works.
How do I know?
Well, I know because the telemetry instruments that send the Green Valley and Base & Summit automated weather measurements out to the internet always seem to be RIGHT in my way when I’m trying to heat up my lunch! The microwave oven used to sit right in the middle of the counter at the Summit House patrol station. But now it seems, every summer the Northwest Weather & Avalanche Center (NWAC) folks add more and more sophisticated telemetry instrumentation that has to be hard-wired into the T-3 line or something, pushing the microwave farther and farther down the counter. So now it’s like a crazy awkward yoga move every time I wanna pop-in my Lean Cuisine. Sheesh! Could they make my life any more difficult?
Anyway, so where was I?
Have you ever looked at Crystal Mountain’s Facebook Fan page? You’ll see “Saturday ROCKED, with cool temp’s and face shots all day!” right next to “Saturday SUCKED, it was freezing and I couldn’t see a thing! ” (By the way, Buck Up you silly haters that call yourselves "fans"! I recommend you spend more time skiing & riding so you’ll be cheerier and won’t have to spend so much time grouching on your keyboard!)
My point here is that in an expansive ski area right on the crest of a continent-defining mountain range, and just inland of a humongous volcano, conditions are going to vary from spot to spot. Since Crystal’s website developers have no way of knowing exactly where YOU’LL be making YOUR turns each run, each day, they integrate impartial measurements feeding straight from the NWAC, to show what the weather generally is in the area. The data is collected NOT for marketing or website purposes. The information is collected for forecasting avalanche hazard. It comes from “Snow Science Study Plots” where the machines take the mechanical and sonic measurements that are available to us all via the internet. (Click on "telemetry" links below for examples.)
Base Weather Plot (telemetry)
Green Valley Weather Plot (telemetry)
The reason the numbers sometime seem completely wacked, is that machines can sometimes be tempermental beasts. When things aren’t all working exactly right, the little database converter software thingy can borrow numbers from an adjacent column for the column that’s not working correctly and everything appears way off . So if the overnight snow depth shows as 270 inches (which is actually the wind direction blowing from the West as measured in a 360 degree clockwise circle) you know something’s up electronically, and it’s not the Marketing Diva’s trying to trick you!
Wind and snow settlement also play a role in your perceiving snow depth different than science does. I’m going to explain this more in a future post, but basically it works like this:
- The wind picks up the snow in some places and drops it in others. If you were to probe to the ground in Powder Bowl, you’d find 1 meter of snow on one side and 2.5 meters on the other. And you’re worried about a difference of 2" on the morning snow report??? We had 112 mph winds here a couple weeks ago!
- Settlement is the tendency of air to leave the snowpack as it sits over time. Ski areas all measure "snowfall" which may be different than the depth of the "snowpack" at the time you pass over it. It’s just how it’s always been done.
Stay tuned for part 2 which will explain how to use the telemetry to pick where you ski/ride on a particular day!
And please consider donating to the Friends of the NW Weather & Avalanche Center, an organization that helps support and promote the nice folks who’s work prevents avalanche accidents and makes my lunch hard to reach!