Spending a season as the snow reporter at Mission Ridge taught me a ton about the ski industry, the culture, the slang and coffee – mostly coffee.
I did the snow report during the 2010-11 season. I was up at 3, er well, by 3:24 a.m. every day and on one of ski patrol’s snowmobiles (which I rolled one time – don’t ask) by 4. Other than a couple groomers and the head chef I was basically the only dude on the mountain. In those quiet early morning hours I had a lot of time to think about the lessons I’d learned during the season. And here they are:
- 1.Snow reporting is harder than it looks. A LOT harder.
The great thing about living in this technologically-advanced day in age is that we have the luxury of laser-guided computer machines telling us how much snow has fallen in the last 24 hours. We can check handy-dandy websites like NWAC via the internets while still cozy-warm in our footy pajamas.
But someone has to make sure that expensive laser-guided thingy is actually doing its job and hasn’t gotten knocked down by a squirrel or something. That someone was me. I would ride that ski patrol sled to Midway station and the summit every day snow, sleet, rain or fog. In the pitch black of night with no moonlight to those mornings lit by the blue luminescence of a full moon that looks so close you feel like you could reach up and touch it.
I’d check and wipe the 24-hourly stakes (to reset them), check the season total stake (which is pretty much a glorified yardstick) and then check the temperature and then come back. That’s when the real job starts.
In addition to updating the website on the hour every hour you also have to update the snowline every hour as well as update about five other sites feeding info into various other ski-and-board-related organizations that update conditions on the web. Sometimes one of the radio stations call and you have to record a short interview about conditions. Then there’s the morning conditions text message. And the Constant Contact e-report.
And after ALL that, not everyone is going to agree with your assessment because...
- 2.One man’s corn is another’s corduroy.
Corduroy, corn, freshies, powder, pow pow, dust-on-crust, bulletproof, glass, cascade concrete...
They say the Inuit had more than 100 words for snow. When a snow reporter hears that he laughs and says, “Only 100? How cute.”
But the fact is that with so many different ways to describe snow, almost everyone who knows the language is probably going to describe it a little different than you do.
The trick is transparency. And finding the most accurate way to describe conditions. If you make a habit of reporting conditions as accurately as possible, when they’re good as well as when they’re bad, people will know you’re not blowing smoke.
But even when you take all pains to report accurately...
- 3.The weather can change fast.
Fourteen mph breezes at the summit at 4 a.m. can become 90 mph sleet-filled face-stinging gale force winds by 9. Snow can turn to rain in the blink of an eye, and then back again. Powder in the morning can turn to slush in the afternoon.
Any snow reporter worth his salt knows to keep an eye on the forecast and pay attention what the weather had been like throughout the night. The frost line is also very important – where it rests can mean the difference between rain or snow.
But at the end of the day, skiing and snowboarding are outdoor sports and they are subject to the volatility of nature.
That’s why I say:
- 4.Mother nature doesn’t acknowledge the saying, “The customer is always right.”
Sometimes people forget and expect a ski area to be as predictable and consistent as a movie theater. People want lifts to start at 9 a.m. and run to 4 with no problems or weather delays whatsoever.
Some forget that skiing and boarding are outdoor sports that you do them in nature and nature cannot be controlled or harnessed. Some days are going to wet, cold and miserable. And some days you’ll remember for a lifetime. That’s what makes this so much fun.
- 5.Before spitting and cursing a snowmobile for not starting, check that the ignition is on.
If I had a nickel for every time I exhausted myself trying to start a sled only to find that I hadn’t flipped the ignition on I’d probably have, like, 15 cents. True story.
- 6.That’s not Propman in the trees, it’s probably just a deer. But still, walk faster.
Yeah, it’s stupid. But I have an active imagination and sometimes in the dark, misty mornings when you can hardly see a foot in front of your face, the snapping of a branch faraway in the woods can really freak you out.
Don’t judge me.