The winter that was, 2020-21

In brief

This season was shorter but significantly better overall than last year’s. The average number of weeks in the touring center season was at 13-1/2 this year vs. 14 for 2019-20. Season length was pretty consistent even when excluding the downstate and flatland regions.

More revealing is the calculation of ‘average quality of skiing’: 70%. The average goes up to 80% when restricted to areas further north and at elevation. Recalculating last year’s information, the quality of the 2019-20 season was a dismal 55% overall, while the northern and elevated areas had a quality of 73%.

Takeaways:

  • Mt. van Hoevenberg wanted to make a statement about their snowmaking and new competition trails this year, using them to start earlier and close later than anyone. For that reason I measured season start and end using the other touring centers.
  • Snow came late and left early, but distribution was southward of last year, meaning that we in the downstate benefitted, somewhat at the expense of the far north country.
  • The snowpack is thinner in the mountains than last year, so springtime skiing in the high country will be shorter and more restricted despite a mid-April snowstorm this week.
  • This season’s skiing quality was better than last year’s, even for the north country. I believe this might be associated with the polar vortex (see next point).
  • February brought a wobble of arctic air southward across the northeast, allowing the snowpack to hold up much better than we’re used to. We should probably not count on this being ‘normal’, as it’s a sign of Arctic warming.

Hail nerdopolis

In reviewing last year’s spreadsheets, I decided this year to simplify judgements of ‘skiing quality’. I now use accumulated ‘points’ from posted conditions as a percentage of the maximum possible points for a given touring center’s season.

Points were assigned according to skiability status (seen in ‘State of the touring centers’); maximum for each status check is ‘good skiing’ which translates to 3 points, ‘skiable’ at 2, and ‘minimally skiable’ at 1 point.

For example, Prospect Mountain accumulated 87.5 points for 34 status checks I did between their season open and season end. The half-point is for a ‘TBD’ where conditions had not been updated recently. The max possible score for 34 checks is 102. No area or touring center will have ‘good skiing’ conditions at every check, so I discount the maximum possible points by 10%, making Prospect Mountain’s ‘100% quality’ equivalent to 92 points; 87.5/92 = a quality score of 95% for their season.

So how did our downstate/NY metro touring centers do? The quality score necessarily includes periods during the season when trails are closed. You can see what that does to quality of skiing in a poor snow season like 2019-20. At the same time you can see variability that appears to be the direct result of grooming, as with the difference between Mohonk and Minnewaska this year compared to last.

Touring center nameQuality for 2020-21Quality for 2019-20
Fahnestock43%7%
High Point46%13%
Minnewaska61%18%
Mohonk38%18%

Taking the variability of weather into account, areas that want to be viable would hope for a multiyear average quality of 50%. Fortunately for us downstate, a huge population means the NYC metro can support a distorted set of values. Downstate might be able to support a decent touring center with season quality as low as 30%. Further north a commercial area or resort should be situated with climate and grooming to hit 60%.

Maintaining 80% or above takes luck with weather, faithful groomers, and money. I’m going to be looking out for whether the kind of sorting we’ve seen in other parts of the economy takes place with touring centers and resorts.

In 2020 Mountain Meadows and Windblown called it quits for cross-country, after a season when Windblown had had a quality of 28%, and Mountain Meadows 54%. Looking at this season, Dexter’s could decide to thrown in the towel sometime; Mohonk wasn’t so dedicated to grooming compared to Minnewaska; and Viking Nordic’s quality was a bit sketch compared to the nearby Wild Wings.

If you care to peruse a scatterplot of average skiing quality by length of season in weeks, here’s a graphic for this past season. I’d love to know if my numbers are validated by collective experience of the skiers, but that could be a whole other project. Sounds cool.

Scatterplot of ski touring center skiing quality and length of ski season

Other than a couple of commentary items I’m working on, that’s about it for the season. Thanks for reading.