For ski areas, snow reporting should be as simple as…
- Measure the snow that fell over the past 24 hours at 6:00 AM local time.
- Record the 24-hour snow report and add it to the season-to-date snowfall.
- Share the 24-hour snow report, along with the season-to-date snowfall.
Unfortunately, sometimes there are errors in the snow report data. Below we outline the issues with snow reports and discuss how we attempt to fill in missing data.
How is snow measured at ski areas?
Most ski areas gather and share their snow report data from a mid-mountain elevation and record one 24-hour snow report every morning at nearly the same time.
Reasons for inaccuracies or inconsistencies in the data include the measurement of snow at the base or summit elevation and not mid-mountain, as well as measuring snow multiple times per day and not once per day in the morning.
Another reason for inaccuracies can be a miscommunication from the ski patrol or snow safety manager that initially makes the measurement to the communications team that records and shares the 24-hour snow report and season-to-date snowfall with the public. While people grumble that ski areas lie about snow measurements, our observation during 15+ years is that nearly all errors occur due to a lack of attention to detail and honest mistakes.
There is no standard procedure or protocol across the ski resort industry for how, when, and where to measure and share snowfall, and this lack of standardization across hundreds to thousands of ski areas is what contributes to inaccuracies in the snow report data.
What is OpenSnow doing to fix it?
We rely on the ski areas to send us the correct 24-hour snow report.
During the ski season, most North American ski areas send OpenSnow a 24-hour snow report, the open/close status, terrain information (trails and lifts open), and a base depth measurement.
Example: Crested Butte
However, sometimes we receive incorrect data or no data at all.
We do contact ski areas to talk with them about their snow reporting and to encourage them to consistently measure and report snow, but ultimately we do not control the snow reporting process.
If we do not receive a 24-hour snow report, we have a backstop in place, which is to create an estimated 24-hour snow report.
Estimated 24-Hour Snow Reports
If we do not receive a 24-hour snow report from a ski resort by 6:00 AM local time, we use our proprietary blend of global and high-resolution weather model data to estimate how much snow fell between 6:00 AM on the previous day and 6:00 AM on the current day.
We then mark this estimated 24-hour snow report with a yellow line and an "Estimated" badge.
Example: Sugar Bowl
The estimated 24-hour snow reports are exactly that – estimates. Sometimes these estimates are very accurate, most of the time they are in the ballpark, and sometimes they are much different than the actual snow total.
We also verify each resort-submitted 24-hour snow report against our estimated 24-hour snow report. This way we are as transparent as possible and it gives you the option to double-check the report if we think it's significantly above or below our estimate.
Example: China Peak
The 24-hour snow reports that we receive from ski areas are free to view on OpenSnow, and the estimated 24-hour snow reports are available only to All-Access subscribers.
These 24-hour snow report estimates are also available for locations that have no official snow reports, like backcountry locations and even at your house, and you can view estimates for any location using Forecast Anywhere.
Estimated Season-to-Date Snowfall
The snow season (or Water Year) is defined as October 1 and September 30 in the Northern Hemisphere and between April 1 and March 31 in the Southern Hemisphere.
We wish that creating the season-to-date snowfall number would be as easy as recording the 24-hour snow report every morning of the season and then simply adding these numbers.
However, the season-to-date snowfall number can be incorrect for the following reasons:
- Some ski areas forget to report snow on some days.
- Some ski areas report an incorrect snow measurement on some days.
- Some ski areas measure new snow only when they are open.
In order for us to show a season-to-date snowfall number for every location, which includes snowfall for every day of the snow season, we add the daily 24-hour snow reports that we receive from the ski areas and then we add the estimated 24-hour snow reports for days when we do not receive the 24-hour snow report from the ski area. This method results in our ability to provide a season-to-date snowfall number for every location.
Example: Alta Ski Area
For ski areas that publish a season-to-date snowfall number that we trust, we may manually adjust our season-to-date snowfall data to match the ski area. In other cases, the estimated season-to-date snowfall number on OpenSnow should reasonably approximate the seasonal snowfall, often within about +/- 20%.
BUT, here's the disclaimer: The season-to-date snowfall number should NOT be quoted by resorts or the media as official data, nor should it be used for official climate statistics.
Snow does not fall in an even 'blanket' across a mountain, so it is normal for one area of a mountain to have a lot more or a lot less snow than another area. This is yet another reason why snow reporting is tricky.
We hope that you now have a greater appreciation about how the snow report numbers are generated here on OpenSnow and why they might at times be inaccurate.
Still Have Questions?
Send an email to [email protected]