A data-oriented retrospective

Tracking the conditions at ski touring centers represented a way to imprint specifics of the season in memory, and better yet, have data to show for it. I figured I could use the recorded conditions to get a longitudinal perspective on the season. I also wondered if it would reveal anything unexpected.

There don’t seem to be any retrospective assessments of ski seasons, so if I’m the first, yay me! For more on what I found out, read on.

The rankings

I’ve been tracking up to 45 ski areas on average twice per week this winter, and I’ve picked a handful for their particular interest to me (and any other Nordic skiers in the metro NYC area*). For the sake of simplicity the ski areas are listed with length of ski season and grouped by driving distance. I set the length of the season in the downstate area of the Northeast to fourteen weeks (Christmas to April 1), and have expressed the length of a ski center’s season approximately by quartile.

The lists below are in a ‘ranked order’, but I’m purposely not showing a rank or metric. For more on why, read through the section titled ‘Nerdopolis’ below.

Touring centers in day-trip distance from NYC:

NameLength of ski season 2018-19
Minnewaska4-6 weeks
Canterbury4-6 weeks
Mohonk4-6 weeks
Weston7-10 weeks
Maple Corner Farm4-6 weeks
High Point Cross Country Ski Centerless than 4 weeks
Fahnestockless than 4 weeks

There’s one surprise here: Canterbury farms would have been a viable option for skiing, particularly in January when Minnewaska didn’t have skiing. Weston is an anomaly because they make snow, so their season was artificially lengthened.

Because the length of the ski season is highly dependent on the weather, the ranking is only useful in retrospect and not as a prediction. The rank is also biased for proximity to NYC. If I the data had been from the ski seasons of 2010-11 or 2013-14, Fahnestock might have popped to the top of the ranks due to its shorter drive time.

Best from ‘summer camp country’:

NameLength of ski season 2018-19
Lapland Lake11+ weeks
Prospect Mountain11+ weeks
Notchview Reservation11+ weeks
Timber Creek11+ weeks

If there’s a surprise in the list from ‘summer camp country’, it’s Notchview, which is clearly punching above its weight as an alternative to Prospect Mountain.

What’s not in the scope of the data is that lodging is sparse outside of Lapland Lake, and while Bennington has some motels and B&Bs, there’s not a great selection. I’ve never skied at Notchview, but there are places to stay off of route 8A or route 7. Definitely seems worth a look next season, if not sooner.

The takeaway

The data from the season says: don’t overlook the Berkshires! There will be times Canterbury and Notchview will have skiable conditions when Minnewaska doesn’t, and Canterbury in particular is a shorter drive than Prospect Mountain.

Report from nerdopolis- predictability vs. inconvenience

In developing the ranking, I used length of ski season as a proxy for predictability (ie: when you want to go skiing, there will be skiable trails); drive time was used as a proxy for inconvenience (the more carbon you have to burn to go skiing, the more it takes to justify the trip). Predictability involved also having some guarantee of skiable conditions, so touring center statuses were used to factor in quality of opportunity. Arriving at the ranking took a fair amount of fudging in the arithmetic.

If you want to know more, read on. If taking a deeper dive into how I came up with the rankings sounds boring, skip down or jump away.

Inconvenience and quality of opportunity are human-qualitative values to begin with, so right away you know the rankings aren’t anything like ‘scientific’. In addition, any judgement of the quality of skiing is suspect. I read between the lines of the ski reports to set the ski area’s status for each report- not to mention factoring in the period of the season:’Good skiing’ in early February means something different than in late March. With the disclaimers out of the way, let’s move on.

The length of season was easy to determine- the first reported skiable conditions at an area started the clock; and on the other end, the last time an update was posted or the declared date of closure for the season.

Drive-time is of course based on mid-town NYC as the start point (see ‘List of touring centers’ link above). To make it better resemble ‘inconvenience’ I made an increase in drive-time count exponentially- eg a 3 hour drive has almost twice as much ‘inconvenience factor’ as a 2 hour drive.

I felt that the longer the ski season the more opportunity there was to go to a given touring center, but it had to take conditions (quality) into account. The average of skiability statuses across each area’s ski season was the indicator of quality. **

To check the results, I paired up some areas to compare and tried to translate what I felt was the reality of the past season into the calculations- in other words I rationalized the math until I got answers that matched observation and experiential knowledge.

  • Minnewaska and Mohonk are a natural pair being so close to each other. Mohonk actually had a slightly longer season but didn’t groom as much or as well, so the ranking had to reflect better ‘quality of opportunity’ at Minnewaska.
  • Notchview and Northfield Mountain are somewhat close, but had very different seasons, and any rational ranking had to put Notchview on top.
  • Lapland Lake and Prospect Mountain each had long seasons, and their drive-times are the same. But Lapland Lake had an edge on trail conditions, so the rankings had to reflect that nuance.

Determining the quality of a given area’s ski season without direct observation was hard, and will always retain some uncertainty. Condition reports always need a ‘credibility filter’ which I tried to correct for when setting skiability status. ***

The crux fudge factor involved adjusting the average skiability status using the length of each area’s ski season to arrive at ‘predictability’, such that the rankings came out the way I thought they should. In effect, the fudge factor means that having skiable trails more often counts a bit more than better conditions.

The result is that a significantly longer ski season at one area will win in ranking against another with slightly better conditions, all other things being equal. But a touring center close to NYC will win against one further away, even if it has a slightly shorter season. At the same time, for two ski areas with similar ski seasons and distance, the one with better conditions on average comes out on top.

There is only one season of data to work with, so I’ll probably tweak or overhaul the calculations based on next year’s reports. This is indeed a certain kind of fun. Got a comment? Go ahead and leave a note- I’m listening.

Just one more thing

Another side effect of tracking the season the way I did was that it produced a bunch of pictures of snow depth that I’ve collected into a time-lapse view of the past ski season. You can see how much it matters to the March ski season whether a given location builds a snow pack during January and February.

Posts will get very sparse from here on till next fall, but hope you’ll check back every so often, and tune in for next season. Thanks for reading.

Footnotes

[*] Why NYC as the start point? I live in the metro NYC area, as do 20 million others, at least some of whom must be interested cross country skiing but may be unsure where they can go for a day or a weekend during the season.

[**] A change to statuses I’ll make for next year will be to use an explicit status for season start/end. It’d also be nice if more ski touring centers would update their conditions page to actually say: “closed for the season” instead of just leaving a week-old grooming report up. Sometimes I wondered if they’d just closed up and didn’t bother to say anything or just decided not to do an update for a couple of days.

[***] Some touring centers have reports that feel like real advice: Minnewaska, Notchview, Osceola, and a couple of others. Generally speaking it seems to go with the attention paid to grooming, and who’s writing the reports. Those areas whose raison d’ĂȘtre isn’t critically dependent on the cross-country ski crowd (eg: spa-type resorts and Alpine ski areas) tend to have vague updates. And almost all have some shading of honesty with PR-speak.

It’s a wrap

April 5 update

Had to check one more time- Notchview gave it up last weekend, while Mt. van Hoevenberg came back and updated on 4/3 with minimally skiable conditions. One way or another, this is MvH’s last weekend though. Garnet Hill still had 6k as of Thursday, so it looks like this will be their last weekend as well assuming they even bother. Call ahead.

Great Glen is open and says the trails were groomed but didn’t post an actual grooming report. Bear Notch, Jackson XC, Waterville Valley, Trapp, and Craftsbury are still skiable.

And the great fallback for every cross-country skier in the NYC combined statistical area of 24m people, Prospect Mountain, is going to make it through the weekend with granular snow and a 6-9″ base.

So one last time, you can hit the ‘State of the touring centers’ to see how things are in detail, and get your last look at snow cover in map form here:

Snow depth in Northeast US, Apr 5

Closures

[as of April 1st]: Notchview hung on at least through Saturday, while Viking called Sunday their last day. Lapland Lake, Wild Wings, Rikert, Mountaintop, and Bretton Woods all squeaked their way into April, each marking the 1st of the month as their last day of the season. I suspect Cascade and Mt. van Hoevenberg have called it a season as well.

[4/2 update]: Mt. van Hoevenberg will be open Wed-Sun, conditions permitting.

Hanging on

Garnet Hill is still open as of Monday, and Gore Mountain’s XC trails will open for one last weekend.

Olaf the snowman happy and anxious

The usual suspects are doing OK- for now

As predicted, the low that brought rain to the tri-state and Hudson valley turned over to snow for some in the north country. Prospect Mountain got 3″ of new snow, and Osceola 5″, resulting in something like mid-winter conditions today. More predictably, Trapp Family Lodge, Great Glen, Bear Notch, and Craftsbury are still going, and Jackson NH is keeping trails open without grooming.

But nobody’s expecting to have much of anything skiable by April 15, so this week is pretty much it.

One for my baby

Opera finale
Curtain call for the season

…and one more for the road!

Take one last look at the ‘State of the touring centers’ link above until next fall, and see below for my last snow depth map of the 2018-2019 season.

Don’t forget to prep the skis for storage, and change over the utility area for bike season!

Snow depth in Northeast US Apr 1
Snow depth in Northeast US Apr 1

Stay tuned

There’s still a couple more posts I’m working on to sum up this season of Across the Snow Line. Plus, there might be a random thought or two filed under ‘Commentariat’ during the off-season.

Too warm and wet to groom

Spring skiing forecast

Executive summary: Wee amounts of snow may refresh trails in the north country on Sunday, but better spring skiing conditions will be in the first part of next week. The warmth and wet weather makes grooming impossible for now. Call ahead.

[3/30 update]: Prospect Mountain and Viking are open.

[3/31 update]: Rikert declared today the last day of their season. Lapland Lake is calling April 1 the last day. Lapland Lake says the drop in skier visits and mechanical problems with grooming equipment contributed to the call, despite a decent base. Cascade and Mt van Hoevenberg are closed today, likely due to rain and/or wind.

Poor weather for the weekend

Universal klister

A storm has moved in from the west. Downstate we’ll see scattered rain showers, but the north country will see more rain and some wind as well. Up north the rain could alternate with some snow; however with the warm temperatures forecast for Saturday the remaining snowpack will get wetter and more compact (if that’s even possible). Trails will be wet and mushy or slick if ice is exposed.

An ominous sign: for the first time this season Prospect Mountain hasn’t updated just before the weekend. Viking is closed Friday and Wild Wings is closed for the weekend.

Hit up the ‘State of the touring centers’ link for details. Snow depth map is below:

Snow depth in Northeast US, March 29
Snow depth in Northeast US, March 29

On Sunday a cooling trend begins, so precipitation in the mountain regions may change over to snow. The Tug Hill plateau, Adirondack high peaks, and select areas of VT and NH might get a bit of a refresh on the base by end of Sunday before the front moves out. The cooling trend lasts thru Monday.

Does anybody really care what day it is?

Altay skier in fancy coat
The only thing this Altai skier knows is that it was a great day to ski

With the early week forecast to be a bit cooler and below freezing at night, it looks like a chance for some nice spring skiing in the mornings on Monday and Tuesday, maybe even Wednesday. Advise calling your chosen touring center before you go.

Good time to be someone who sets their clock by the seasons and not the day of the week.

Time for rock skis

More debris and soft, wet snow means breaking out the old waxless skis.

The countdown begins

I’m starting to hear a fat guy readying for his last aria

Tin container opera singer
Is it time for me to sing?