A Snow Reporting Tempest in a Teapot?

In Vermont, if there’s one thing locals follow more closely than the Patriots, school mergers and the price of gas at the pump, it’s this: snow reports.

For years, ski areas have been slammed for over-reporting snowfalls. Weathermen have been lambasted for hyping storms. And schools lauded for closing– ideally soon enough so you can get yourself and the kids to the slopes in time for first chair.

So, when November storms began to drop record-setting amounts of snow on the Green Mountains more than a few skiers raised an eyebrow as Stowe’s snow report, new Epic Mix app and its daily emails started under-reporting snowfall.

On top of that, skiers and riders accustomed to calling the snowphone at the crack of dawn each morning to hear “Goooooooodd morning skiers and riders!” (and a detailed and often colorful summary of the conditions), got a ‘just the facts, ma’am’” report on snowfall—often taken from the questionable numbers on the website.

For locals, accustomed to the often uncannily precise reports of years before, this was heresy—and the flamethrowing began across social media. “Embarrassing,” one local posted. “Telesnowvella” another pundit dubbed the growing controversy.

For years, Stowe’s,starkly honest reports drew a following and respect. Reports often noted how weather would differ from the valley to the mountain and provided even more detail than the National Weather Service did, thanks to forecaster Scott Braaten, a former forecaster for Hearst-Argyle Television and Stowe’s social media supervisor. This year, Braaten changed jobs within the company (though he independently does forecasting on Facebook at Braatencast) and Stowe started relying on an outside weather service.

The changes to the forecast and the reporting glitches set off a firestorm of angry comments on social media. “I thought I had it bad in 2008 when AIG [Stowe’s former owner] got a Federal bailout and ‘taxpayers’ were claiming they could ski here for free,” said Jeff Wise, Senior Manager of Communications for Stowe and, now, Vail Resorts’ three eastern resorts (Stowe, Okemo and Mt. Sunapee.) “Trust me, this weather issue has been even harder to deal with from a communications standpoint.”

Wise’s explanation was simple and logical: as Stowe switched over from its custom website to Vail Resorts’ software this season and set up a new website, glitches occurred.

“We had problems integrating the snow report with the software,” he noted.  On top of that, says Wise “Vail’s system allowed for four conditions — packed powder, powder, machine groomed and one other, whereas Stowe, Vail’s first eastern resort, was used to reporting a wider gamut, including loose granular, granular, frozen granular and more. It’s something we’re working to customize.” As for the snow phone, “We wanted to make it simple and factual, so I don’t think you’ll see much editorializing.” But it will be updated at 6:30 a.m., each morning.

“We know we lost trust with some of our guests and that’s a difficult thing to regain but we’re going to work hard to do that,” Wise said. “We took down the daily emails until we could be sure they were accurate,” he added.

One thing to look forward to is a new live-cam on a snow-measurement stake posted near the Octagon restaurant at the top of the Four Runner quad. “There will be a web cam on the stake and it will dump snow and re-measure it every 24-hours so you can see exactly how much new snow has fallen,” Wise says. Once the software integration issues are ironed out, the snow reports will also be updated on the new Epic Mix app as well.

As for the actual snow report? The good news is this past week Stowe got some unforecasted sleeper snow—8 inches in the past 48 hours the website was reporting Thursday and another 5 inches since then.

By our math, that’s over a foot. And no one is arguing with that.

Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.