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Study: Ski Resorts Tell Tall Tales About Deep Snow

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Study: Ski Resorts Tell Tall Tales About Deep Snow

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Study: Ski Resorts Tell Tall Tales About Deep Snow

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Two researchers have confirmed something skiers and snowboarders have long suspected: Resorts sometimes boost their snowfall measurements to attract more customers. The researchers found that ski areas report more snowfall on the weekends.

And as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, if you look at government weather data, there is no such weekend effect.

JEFF BRADY: The researchers are both from Dartmouth College and big fans of the snow. One is economics professor Jon Zinman.

Professor JON ZINMAN (Economics, Dartmouth College): We certainly had some experiences being drawn out to the slopes to play hooky on days with advertisements of lots of nice, fresh powder, and then got into the slopes and been a bit flummoxed that the reports didn't live up to their billing.

BRADY: Zinman says they gathered snowfall data from ski-area Web sites, and then compared it with government weather data. The results were a bit fishy.

Prof. ZINMAN: Twenty-three percent more snow reported on weekends, on average, across all resorts.

BRADY: And the exaggerations were even higher at resorts with more to gain, such as those within a day's drive to a major population center.

(Soundbite of moving vehicle)

BRADY: Just about an hour from downtown Denver, at a ski area in the foothills of the Rockies, Robin Freidburg(ph) finds the research conclusions very amusing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADY: That surprise you at all?


(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADY: Nearby, Vicki Bienham(ph) is finishing up a day of skiing.

Ms. VICKI BIENHAM: They want you to come up here. They want you to go ski. Yeah, it doesn't surprise to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADY: The researchers don't single out specific resorts in their reports, choosing instead to make only broad statements about the industry as a whole. Michael Berry is president of the National Ski Areas Association. He didn't even try to make up a good excuse for the report's findings.

Mr. MICHAEL BERRY (President, National Ski Areas Association): I mean, we really are an industry filled with optimists. I mean, if you're a cynic, you go to law school. If you're an optimist, you end up running a ski area. We're a weather-dependent industry, and the weather gives and the weather takes.

BRADY: And sometimes, the weather needs a little help to boost business. Anyhow, Berry says it's a stretch to call snow measuring at most resorts scientific. It's typically a worker up on the mountain checking a measuring stick once a day. Berry says snow reports are becoming less important in the age of Facebook and Twitter. Today, he says, a lot of skiers are getting information from their friends who live near resorts. So he has this advice for his industry colleagues.

Mr. BERRY: If you try and create a reality that you perceive to be the truth, it better be consistent with the reality on the ground, because the consumer will remind you of that instantly if that's not the case.

BRADY: Back at Dartmouth, Jon Zinman saw evidence of this in his research. During the study period, an iPhone application was released that allows skiers and snowboarders to report conditions themselves.

Prof. ZINMAN: Once that came online, exaggeration by resorts fell very sharply, and fell all the more sharply at resorts that have good iPhone reception.

BRADY: The developer of the application says it has proven very popular. In the past year, there have been more than 40,000 postings on ski conditions around the country.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

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