January 2017

Mountain Spy :: Question on Base Depth


Written by Dave Meeker | 347 Views | 0 comment

We asked a version of this question via Twitter—coming from SAM, asking resorts on social media how they measure their base depth. Alas, after garnering a handful of responses we got unceremoniously called out and the effort was squashed. The goal of the question, however, was realized: one resort communicator emailed after the fact and said he didn’t want to discuss on Twitter how his resort measures the base depth, because the area doesn’t actually have a method; it’s merely a guess. He’s not alone, we think.

That, then, begs the question: Why is base depth important? Is it ever a deciding factor for guests? It’s one of only three statistics that a vast majority of North American resorts report on every single day. The other two being number of lifts open and number of trails open, which speak to the amount of terrain and how much access there is to that terrain. Does it really matter how much snow is between the bottom of my skis and the ground? Will a deep base improve my skiing experience? The answer to that is: beyond a certain minimum, no. The surface matters. Recent snow matters. Lifts, acreage, trails, weather—those all matter, and directly impact the experience. A 120-inch base is impressive, but not if the top of it is ice.

Got a question you think we should ask? Send Dave Meeker (dave@saminfo.com) your questions and, if we use one, win the immunity challenge for one issue!


First contact: Female.

SAM: Stated question.

Staff: Well, we don’t have everything open. I can still see grass out there. So it’s a base of X-inches, and we’re going to be blowing snow again tonight (silence…).

SAM: OK. So the X-inches, is that what’s on every trail?

Staff: Not every trail, there are only X trails that are open.

SAM: So the ones that are open are the ones that have the X-inch base?

Staff: Yes.

SAM: OK. So is that something you guys use a ruler to measure?

Staff: That’s what the ski patrol does in the morning, yes. (silence…)

SAM: Gotcha.

Staff: OK? (silence…)

SAM: Sure. Thanks.

Staff: OK, buh-bye.

Rating: 3
Comment: Judging by her attitude, she likely made fun of me after hanging up.


Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose operator.

First contact: Female.

SAM: Stated question.

Staff: We’ve actually gotten more snow today, and about 24 centimeters the day before yesterday. We’ve gotten quite a lot of snow this week!

SAM: Wow, nice. The base depth on the snow report is a lot less than the amount of snow you’ve gotten recently. Do you know how that’s figured?

Staff: Oh, well, perhaps it isn’t up to date. But, the base is not necessarily the fresh snow, it’s the snow that, sort of, stays there. Like, a foundation. So, even though we just got 24 centimeters, after people slide on it, that snow compresses. It turns harder, and thick, and creates the base.

SAM: Got it. So if you have a 12-inch base now and you get 6-inches of snow tonight, it doesn’t mean you’ll have an 18-inch base tomorrow.

Staff: Not necessarily, no.

SAM: So, do you know how they measure it? Do they go around with a drill, or something?

Staff: Do you really want the information? I don’t actually know, but...

SAM: I’m curious. Is there someone there who would know?

Staff: Well, perhaps when you come here we could ask someone directly to find out? Maybe they can show you?

SAM: OK, sure. That would be cool. Thanks very much.

Staff: You’re welcome. Bye.

Rating: 8
Comment: Nice job describing just what the base is, despite a slight language barrier. Props for offering to have someone show me how it’s done. I might take you up on that (especially if it keeps dumping in Quebec).


Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose operator.

First contact: Female.

SAM: Stated question.

Staff: Um, it’s just like the accumulation that we have on the trails. That’s why it kind of fluctuates, you know, from this to this. You know, it could be, um, 26-inches at one point and only 22-inches at another point. Um… (silence…)

SAM: So that’s why there’s a range?

Staff: Yeah. Yeah.

SAM: OK. So, how do you guys measure it? Are you out there with a ruler?

Staff: To be completely honest with you, I’m really not sure. I would assume it’s kind of… maybe they calculate how much they can put down out of the guns in a certain amount of time? But honestly, I don’t know. I’m sorry.

SAM: No worries. It’s kind of a funny question.

Staff: Not really! I’ve always been curious how they figure it out, too. But I’m honestly not sure.

SAM: That’s OK. Thanks!

Staff: Thank you! Bye.

Rating: 6
Comment: To her credit, she tried. But if you don’t know, that’s OK. Just say it up front. Thanks for sharing in my curiosity, though.


Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose guest service.

First contact: Male.

SAM: Stated question.

Staff: Um, it’s like an average from all around the mountain. So, in some places where the snow piles up it’s deeper than other places.

SAM: Gotcha. So, do you know if you guys use a ruler? Or go around and drill and measure the holes? Or … ?

Staff: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We do that all over the mountain and just take, um, random readings.

SAM: Oh, OK.

Staff: Yeah, so since we don’t have, like, a lot of snow to fill the whole mountain, some of our runs only have a couple inches, and others have probably, maybe a foot.

SAM: Is that because it snows more in some places than others?

Staff: Well, because most of our snow, it’s fake snow. Like, we make the snow ourselves. And we don’t have enough guns to make snow on every trail, so we do the most popular ones first.

SAM: Alrighty. Thanks!

Staff: Yeah, no problem. Bye.

Rating: 5
Comment: Not quite sure he actually knew the answer, but it sounded reasonable. Minus points for calling it “fake snow.” Ugh.


First contact: Female.

SAM: Stated question.

Staff: They make snow galore, I couldn’t even tell you how they measure it. Probably out there with a ruler (laughs).

SAM: Is that right?

Staff: Seriously. Either that or a big yardstick, or a tape measure. (asks another nearby staffer) Has to be a tape measure, right? Seriously. They have different machines…

Other staffer: Why is he asking?

Staff: Why are you asking, can I ask you that?

SAM: I’m just curious.

Staff: (to the other staffer) He’s just curious. (to me) You might want to look it up online.

Other staffer: Is it some kid doing a science project?

Staff: (to other staffer) No, it’s not. It’s an adult.

Other staffer: Transfer him over to snowmaking.

Staff: I could do that, transfer you over. But you could look it up and find something online. I don’t know, I never thought about that.

SAM: Could that be something I find on your website, or?

Staff: Well, probably anywhere. How they measure, cuz it’s not just us…they would have to measure… You know what I’m sayin’? Let me, ahh. I could transfer you to see what they could do for ya, alright? Hold on.

SAM: Thank you.


Rating: 1
Comment: One point for attempting to connect me to someone who might know the answer. Otherwise: use the hold button, learn how to transfer calls, and please don’t make me feel like an idiot.


Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose guest services.

First contact: Female.

SAM: Stated question.

Staff: That is actually a very, very good question! (laughs)

SAM: I’m glad it’s not a silly question!

Staff: No, I actually have never been asked that question before, and I do not have an answer for you (laughs). Um, I could give you a call back. All the managers are in a meeting right now. But I’m sure I’ll be able to ask our director of operations or the snowmaking guys and they would have an answer for you.

SAM: Actually, can I give you a call back?

Staff: Of course. The meeting should be over in about an hour and I can ask then.

SAM: Great! Thank you.

Called back later…

First contact: Female.

SAM: Hi! I called earlier with the question about base depth.

Staff: Yes, yes. And I asked somebody and I found out!

SAM: Awesome! What’s the verdict?

Staff: The snow depth is different at different points on the hill, just based on wind and things like that. But they take a drill, and they drill into the snow that’s on the trails and measure how deep it is. Then they take an average of all the different places they measure.

SAM: That makes total sense.

Staff: It does! And I never would’ve thought of that.

SAM: Well, now you have the answer if anyone asks again!

Staff: I do!

SAM: Well, thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to find out.

Staff: Yes. Absolutely. Thanks for calling back.

Rating: 10
Comment: She took the time to find the answer to my question, and handled it beautifully. We both learned something as a result. Nice job!
Identity revealed: Alpine Valley, OH

Mountain #7, ID

Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose operator.

First contact: Female.

SAM: Stated question.

Staff: I, uh, I have no idea. I don’t pay attention, I just show up at work and watch it snow.

SAM: Oh, OK.

Staff: Probably your best bet would be to talk to XXX. They’re like the master controller of that kind of thing. I can try and bounce you up there, see if they can answer that better for you.

SAM: Cool, thanks.

Staff: Hang on… (waiting…) You still there?

SAM: I am.

Staff: OK, hang on. (click)

Score: 4
Comment: She didn’t know the answer, and right away tried to connect me with someone who might, but it does no good if you hang up on me.

Mountain #8, CO

Answering phone: Automated machine. Skier services.

First contact: Male.

SAM: Stated question.

Staff: It’s all based on how much snow we get, how much wind, and how much it gets rode. We stick a rod in the ground and see how much actual depth there is.

SAM: Oh, cool. Are there certain areas that are deeper than others?

Staff: That’s taken at mid-mountain (silence…)

SAM: Gotcha. It looks like you’ve gotten a lot more snow than what your base is measuring.

Staff: It gets compacted. Snow falls really fluffy. Every day that fresh snow sits on the ground, the more it compresses. There are a number of factors that go into that: the number of riders that go over the top of it, the amount of water that’s in the snow that falls—um, there’s a lot of things that actually go into getting that number.

SAM: Interesting. How often do you guys do that?

Staff: Every day. It’s done every day at six o’clock, yup.

SAM: Cool. Thanks for the info, I appreciate it.

Staff: Anytime! You have a great day.

Score: 9
Comment: You don’t have to know the answer to score big, but he knew the answer and politely provided some background to help me understand it.

Mountain #9, CA

Answering phone: Automated machine. Guest services.

First contact: Female.

SAM: Stated question.

Staff: We’ve made snow for the season.

SAM: OK, so… (interrupted…)

Staff: We’ve had some natural snow, and we’ve also made snow for the season.

SAM: So that all adds up and… (interrupted…)

Staff: So, we’ve made snow on different parts of the hill. So, of course at the bottom of the resort there’s X-inches, and at the top part of the resort we have Y-inches. So, at certain parts of the resort we’ve made snow in different areas.

SAM: Do you know if they take a ruler or something out there to get those numbers?

Staff: Yeah, they have certain…you could call it a ruler, yes.

SAM: OK, gotcha. Thanks.

Staff: No problem. Have a good day.

Score: 2
Comment: If you don’t know the answer, or don’t feel like answering the question, find someone who does rather than being impatient.