The winter that was, part 2


The coronavirus epidemic made typical free-time concerns fade in urgency and motivation. But at long last, the skis have been cleaned, waxed, and put away for storage, and it’s time to take a break and do some processing of data that doesn’t involve health and safety.

What’s in a ranking anyway?

Any list or ranking order is a way to grade something according to a set of priorities or values.

Last year I experimented with scoring predictability, quality, and inconvenience of the ski areas whose conditions I’d surveyed. Predictability came down to the length of ski season; quality the average skiing conditions; inconvenience was the drive time with a slight exponential multiplier.

This year I recorded the data of ski conditions for 41 ski areas across 20 weeks’ time, and plugged them into Excel. In all, I updated my report table 49 times from Nov. 15 when Craftsbury opened till the end of March, by which time no areas were open even though Bear Notch was still grooming and updating, an average of almost 2.5 times per week.


The top eleven places for skiability this year were:

  1. Craftsbury Outdoor Center
  2. Mt. van Hoevenberg
  3. Osceola Tug Hill XC Ski
  4. Lapland Lake
  5. Bretton Woods
  6. Trapp Family Lodge
  7. Jackson Ski Touring
  8. Cascade
  9. Great Glen Trails
  10. Garnet Hill
  11. Rikert

If you wanted to live somewhere close to reliably good cross-country skiing, the usual suspects are the best bets: Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the Adirondacks (northern or southern), lake-effect snow country in central NY, or the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The chart below maps the percentage of time an area had any kind of skiable conditions, and the length of their ski season. (I edited the areas represented to maintain legibility):

Quadrant graph showing skiable conditions and length of season for 2019-20
Skiable conditions by percent of season and length of season in weeks for 2019-20

This year, fourteen weeks was a bit above the median for all the areas I tracked- call it a ‘passing grade’ for length of season. Percentage of skiable conditions for the season confirms how poor the snowfall was in the lower latitudes and elevations.

Optimizing the experiential opportunity

No matter where we live, distance is a large factor in choosing whether to ski at all, and the farther we have to drive the choosier we’re likely to be. Last year I tried out some calculations to balance the conditions:distance valuation. This year I reworked it and call it ‘Qi’. Qi estimates the perceived utility of a ski area in relation to distance from NYC. Here’s the top ten ski areas for this season, ranked by Qi:

What the heck is ‘Qi’? To find out, read on

But what is ‘Qi’ anyway? Warning: you are about to enter the nerdopolis zone.

Behind a curtain of charts are assumptions

Quality and predictability

We want to know that we can plan for having some kind of skiable conditions because mobilizing (even if only ourselves) requires motivational and logistical effort. So we like places that have predictably decent conditions.

If you’ve ever looked at ‘State of the touring centers’, you know I record ski conditions as ‘Good skiing’, ‘Skiable’, or ‘Minimally skiable’ throughout the season. Total number of times an area reported skiable conditions divided by 49 updates through the season yields the percentage of instances that one could ski at any given area. Higher percentage means better chances that conditions were skiable on any random day.

But to make it more in line with human expectations of quality, I set ‘Skiable’ conditions to be worth 0.8 that of ‘Good skiing’, and ‘Minimally skiable’ only 0.6. Hey, none of us would turn down a day of skiing, but poor conditions don’t call to us the way fresh snowfall on a solid base does.

Calculated altogether, the adjusted skiing quality as a percent of the season says something about both predictability and quality. To score a 100%, a ski area would have to have to maintain good skiing conditions at every check throughout the entire season, a practical impossibility on account of weather. 85% would probably qualify as a very good season.

aside: snow farming/making skews skiability

Craftsbury did quite well with an adjusted quality of 78%. But they have both a pilot snow-farming operation as well as snow-making for a couple of trails. Weston of course is the real anomaly in the graphic, b/c they maintained a 1k manmade loop for 15 continuous weeks. TBH, I’m trying to figure out how to account for that, but ski areas don’t typically report the extent to which trail conditions are supported by manmade or farmed snow. Craftsbury is an exception in that regard as well, usually differentiating between the conditions you could expect on supplemented parts of the trail vs. the ‘woods’.

Assigning a value to time (and carbon)

As to inconvenience, that’s basically drive-time from midtown Manhattan, with its own adjustment. As with last year, I apply an exponential multiplier to drive-time in hours, resulting in a number that becomes progressively more imposing with greater distance. For example, the ‘inconvenience’ of going to Prospect Mountain is about double that of going to Minnewaska, which is itself roughly twice that of driving to Fahnestock. To illustrate the effect, if you were to think of driving to Fahnestock as the equivalent of a $15 time-carbon cost, you would sacrifice over $60 for a trip to Prospect Mountain. Seems like a reasonable multiplier.

The Qi of skiing: your day off matches their ski conditions

Quality divided by Inconvenience = Q/I, or Qi. It’s a dimensionless quantity which can be used to compare any two ski areas for the same season, based on their skiability and proximity to NYC.

This season, the highest Qi score was that of Lapland Lake’s. They had ‘Good skiing’ for the equivalent of about 10 weeks out of their 14-week season. So despite the time-carbon cost, it was likely that your free time and their skiability would have matched up. FWIW, Craftsbury, which had an 18-week season, managed 9 weeks of ‘Good skiing’ conditions.

Prospect Mountain was right behind Lapland Lake in Qi, but had fewer Good skiing days: 7-8 weeks out of their 14-week season, and about 5 weeks’ worth of ‘Skiable’ conditions.

The next four in the Qi ranking have similar scores, but the conditions vs. drive-time balances vary, so choosing would have depended on other qualitative values. Shortest drive? Notchview. A place with a nice village and accommodations that won’t break the wallet? Brattleboro. Trail system with backcountry access? Garnet Hill. Extensive trails and terrain for competition training? Mt. van Hoevenberg.

One more thing

What I’m looking to unwind is my nature as a creature of habit and highways. Like any animal, I tend to stick to familiar and well-trod paths. But there are times when I could benefit from seeking new territory. Here’s the same chart as above, but this time organized slightly differently:

Generally speaking, skiers in the NYC area this past season would have relied on the I-87 route to one of the areas in the ‘dacks, or the Taconic to Prospect Mountain. But with a sightly earlier exit off the Taconic we can see that Notchview would have been a decent bet, while those in northern NJ or Orange county might have been tempted by Osceola.

It’s part of human nature to see where we can go, and skis are an instrument we’ve inherited from the paleolithic to help us do that. I’m planning to use data to enhance anecdote and reconnaissance for new trails I can set my skis onto and explore in seasons to come.

Got an improvement to suggest? Want to know more? Leave a comment or a pingback. Thanks for reading. Stay safe and healthy.

The winter that was, part 1

The winter just past was pretty terrible, was it not? After a promising early snowfall that teased us downstaters, it seemed like every subsequent storm left the mid- and lower-Hudson valley with rain. The fact that up north, particularly the White mountains, wound up with a large snowpack was cold comfort.

And then the coronavirus hit, and the wheels just came off the bus everywhere starting in late February. The entire series of cross-country ski World Cup races in North America (first in the US in almost 20 years) were cancelled, ski centers closed in accordance with state public health directives, and locales previously welcoming to tourism rolled up the welcome mat. In some cases, locals put up barricades and downed trees across roads.

If that weren’t enough, the budgets for sports teams are being cut and it looks like we’re due for a global recession at least as bad as the one in 2008. Many of us have big matters on our minds. All the more reason we need…

a little distraction

Since a lot of us are stuck inside, we’ve probably gotten busy cleaning the house. While you’re at it, take some time to clean the skis and prep them for storage. Scrape them down, brush down the p-tex, and swipe on a nice coat of base wax. Then join me in the nerdopolis for assessment of the ski conditions for this season. With two years of data, I’ve revised calculations again to fit the observer’s perspective.

Here’s a preview: the five ski areas we should have been going to this season for the most reliable and convenient skiing:

  1. Lapland Lake
  2. Prospect Mountain
  3. Brattleboro Outing Club
  4. Garnet Hill
  5. Notchview Reservation

Why those? To find out, hang in there for part 2.

March endnotes

[Updated Sunday March 29]- Trapp Family Lodge called it a season yesterday, but Bear Notch is seeing things thru to the end. Jackson XC is in the funny place of not really being open, but posting 49k of trails and ‘courtesy grooming’. Osceola is posting weather but not trail conditions.

Basically, no one wants visitors from outside the area, but are more welcoming of locals who just want to get out for a bit.

Rain seems to be happening across much of the northeast today. Snow cover is going… going…

Snow depth northeast US 2020-0329
Snow depth northeast US, March 29

[Updated Friday March 27] See the update

There was enough snow in some parts to go skiing in the southern Adirondacks and even in the Minnewaska area briefly- although with a general ‘shelter-in-place’ order (or PAUSE), only those living in the immediate area could take advantage of it.

These next few quotes are intended to transport your thoughts away from where ever you are, if only for a minute:

Minnewaska and the local area received a few inches of new snow yesterday. It fell as finer flakes first and finished in the evening with a much heavier, sleet-like precipitation. Not as much in the valley, but at the higher elevations it is sufficient for skiing… Minnewaska should be skiable this morning and into early afernoon at least.

Posted Tuesday 3/24 on the Mid Hudson Valley Cross Country Ski Google group

The southern Adirondacks got 9 inches of fluffy powder yesterday, which consolidated overnight to 6 inches of sticky dense snow.  I decided to end my cabin fever by skiing this morning on an old logging road that I discovered by accident.  It hasn’t seen a logging truck since WW2 and it’s little known even to those of us who live in the area. 

Posted Tuesday 3/24 on the AMC-SKI NY/NoJ Google group

Good News Cross Country Skiers. We received 9″ new snow Monday night. Our snow base was still intact before this new snow. Temps rose right after storm so snow became moist. Cool temps set up the snow overnight. Good news because now we can groom it. The result is a very nice machine groomed loose granular- powder mix.

Bear Notch Ski Touring, Glen NH

Cross country skiing across the nation (at a minimum 6′ separation)

From FasterSkier comes this list of open or ‘courtesy groomed’ areas, for those lucky enough to live right by certain trails:

Bear Notch Ski Touring, NH

Methow Trails, WA

Pineland Farms, ME

White Pine, UT

Paul Smiths VIC, NY

Cross Cut, MT

Aspen Snowmass, CO

Great Glen, NH

Nordic Heritage, ME

Jackson Touring, NH

Crested Butte Nordic, CO

Jackson Hole Area, WY

Sun Valley, ID

Tahoe XC, CA

Trapp Family Lodge, VT

Enchanted Forrest Cross Country, NM

Fort Kent, ME

Telluride Nordic Association, CO (projected close date:  April 5 )

FasterSkier, via Cross Country Ski Areas Association

Then there’s the reality:

Due to the order from the Governor of Vermont, the Outdoor Center is closed until further notice. However, we are open for xc skiing and snowshoeing! When conditions allow, we will be courtesy grooming.

Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe VT

30 degrees and at least 1/2 of yesterdays (6″) snow is already melted.  With all that is going on, I have had a chance to get started on ski merchandise inventory.  I should have totals in the next day or so.  If you have ever thought about getting into the ski business, I will have a great offer in the next few days.

Osceola Tug Hill XC Ski, Camden NY

Even if we can’t be out in it, we can take a look at the snow cover will probably be gone in a few more days:

Snow depth with ski centers marked, 2020-0325
Snow depth with ski centers marked, March 25

And what the heck, I even updated the ‘State of the touring centers‘. Stay safe and healthy. Thanks for reading.