The best way to get your drift

When it comes to snowfall figures, ski resorts can be a bit slippery.

Here is the weather forecast for the 2001/2 ski season. Christmas week will see the most plentiful snow on beginners' slopes at Avoriaz in France.

Here is the weather forecast for the 2001/2 ski season. Christmas week will see the most plentiful snow on beginners' slopes at Avoriaz in France. Falls on intermediate and advanced areas will be heaviest at Park City and Deer Valley in Utah, and on the steeper terrain of Mt Batchelor in Oregon. For each of the subsequent peak periods, at the New Year, the February half-term holiday and Easter, La Plagne in France will have better beginners'-slope snow than any other major ski area in Europe or North America. At New Year, the best snow cover on intermediate pistes will be found in Big Sky, Montana; for half-term it will be at the Espace Killy in France, for Easter at Whistler/Blackcomb near Canada's Pacific coast. At the same periods, skiers in search of good snow on advanced terrain have the best chance of finding it at, respectively, Jackson Hole in Wyoming, Aspen in Colorado, and again at Aspen.

Where do these predictions come from? From a house called Tigh na' Tilleadh at Polbain near Achiltibuie, 85 miles north-west of Inverness. There, a 50-year-old former tour operator, Ian Campbell Whittle, collects and processes information for his WorldSki Guide. In what sounds like perfect isolation – there is nothing but sea between his house and Canada – he surveys the world's ski resorts, from the famous to the obscure. If they so wish, visitors to his website (which is essentially commercial) can pay $2.95 and download an analysis of the Yazawa ski area in Japan – although he does not believe anyone has ever done so. "But if you set out to do a world guide," he says, "you have to cover places like that." He is sure that someone once bought WorldSki information on another Japanese resort, and equally sure that "nobody has bought the Perisher Blue area in Australia".

The dense WorldSki site – it is not easy to navigate – sells guides to what it considers to be the top 120 resorts; they contain the usual facts and figures, plus an accompanying text more opinionated than one would find in the ski guidebooks. (Elsewhere, the site also offers opinions on those books to which their editors would probably take exception.) The ski-area information, however, is unusual in the stress it places on the suitability of the terrain for different skier skill-levels. But the snow reports are the most interesting area, thanks to Campbell Whittle's outspoken views on the accuracy of the statistics supplied by some resorts.

Everyone accepts that ski resorts have no incentive to underestimate the amount of snow on their slopes. Unfortunately – since, as Campbell Whittle says, "nobody else is going to go up the mountains every day at 6am to check snow-depths" – the resorts' own figures are commonly the only ones available. Even information supplied by "independent" reporters tends to bear an uncanny resemblance to the official figures, although judgements on the snow's skiability may differ. The data that WorldSki uses is, says Campbell Whittle, mainly sourced from national tourist boards and resorts; "and we take the view that the upper- and lower-slope snow-depths they publish are reasonably accurate. But there are several caveats, so we go through the figures with a fine-tooth comb to see if there's any cheating going on."

Many resorts also indicate whether it is possible to ski right down to the valley. Since this is an easily observable fact, reports are very likely to be accurate – and can therefore serve to confirm or deny doubts about the amount of snow on the lower slopes. Another control is the number of lifts and pistes that are open. "If a resort reports that it has fantastic snow, but is only operating, say 10 out of 50 lifts, that makes one suspicious," says Campbell Whittle. The local snowfall figures also provide a useful reference: although some resorts without snow-making equipment apparently provide evidence to the contrary, "You can't have more snow on the slopes than has fallen from the sky," as Campbell Whittle points out.

"Probably the best reporting system is the one in Spain: it records the percentage of lifts and trails that are open, snow-depths, and whether it is possible to ski to the bottom. Norway's is probably the worst. Its system was changed a couple of years ago, and now only a single figure for average snow-depth is published. As soon as people start quoting averages, you suspect they are trying to hide something."

But the biggest problems, he says, are posed by North America. The majority of the resorts are privately owned, so they have to make money – which increases the temptation to hide bare patches on the slopes. And different reporting methods are used in different areas. New England's reports are, he says, "pretty accurate" – partly because most resorts there have such efficient snow-making equipment. Nevertheless, Campbell Whittle has had disagreements with the area's biggest resort, Killington, over the location at which it measures its lower-slope depths.

He has also had a long-running dispute – of the same nature – with a Lake Tahoe resort. "It was quoting a lower-slope depth of 24 inches; but only seven out of the 27 lifts were operating. Looking at the other Tahoe resorts made it even more obvious that something was wrong, because they were reporting only 12 inches of snow at the bottom of their ski areas."

Using such detective work, Campbell Whittle produces "corrected" weekly figures sufficiently authoritative to be bought by the main Swedish snow-reporting organisation, and to which both the Austrian National Tourist Board in London and Virgin Ski refer their customers. The database is also used to generate resort snow-records over an annually updated, five-year period. And it is those statistics which WorldSki uses to select the resorts (listed above) as historically the most snow-sure for peak-period holidays. So one other caveat, before you book a holiday in one of those resorts: snowfall figures may go down as well as up.

The new, 2001/2 data is due to be installed on Monday on the WorldSki site, www.worldski.demon.co.uk

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices