Study Says Ski Areas Exaggerate Snow Totals

12/02/09 7:34AM By Steve Zind

(Host)  A study by two Dartmouth College professors has concluded that many ski areas exaggerate snow totals. 

The study compares snowfall reports from ski areas with the totals recorded by nearby government weather stations.

Study co-author Eric Zitzewitz is an Associate Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College. 

Zitzewitz says he found the greatest discrepancy between official totals and amounts reported by ski areas took place on the weekends.

(Zitewitz) "That's why we look at weekends in particular.  If all we found was a difference between the ski resorts' report and the nearby government weather stations and that difference was the same every day of the week, I don't think we could conclude anything about exaggeration.  But our measure is the difference between the amount they're exaggerating on the weekend and on weekdays."

(Host)  Zitzewitz also says the advent of technology like the iPhone, which enables skiers to disseminate their own reports directly from the slopes, had a measurable impact by reducing the snow totals reported by ski areas.

The study looked at resorts in both the eastern and western U.S.  In the east, the official weather stations are, on average, 26 miles from the ski area and within 200 feet of mountain summits.  Data from any weather station that was more than 1000 feet below the summit of a ski area was not used.

Parker Riehle is President of the Vermont Ski Area Association.  He says the study is flawed because it lumps all eastern ski areas together. 

Riehle says a comparison of snow totals might be fair for ski areas in Michigan or Ohio where the terrain is relatively flat.  But in Vermont there might be a significant difference in elevation between an official weather station and a ski resort, making a fair comparison impossible. 

And Riehle says ski areas would be the first to blow the whistle on each other if snow totals were exaggerated.

(Riehle) "There's a lot of competition amongst the ski areas.  If they know full well that something like that is going on that would not go unnoticed or unmentioned. And again, customer review; a ski area, if they ever tried to do that, could get away with it for a day or two. But that's not going to fly."

(Host)  Riehle says ski areas have no incentive to inflate weekend snow totals because many skiers don't want to drive to the slopes in a storm.

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