History of The Powder Guide to Powder (October 1995)

By Tony Crocker

In November 1992, an enormous envelope arrived in the offices of three national ski magazines. The editors leafed through the 50 pages or so of numbers, charts, numbers, tables and more numbers which I had crunched, and then tossed it into the "there may be something useful in here but we don't know what to do with it" pile. At SKIING Magazine, the editors excerpted some statistics for the Travel Advisory columns in the October 1993 and December 1993 issues. The first article concerned early season snow conditions, while the later article attempted to summarize the entire snowfall study within an unrealistic constraint of 1,000 words. The December 1993 Travel Advisory contained useful anecdotal information about many areas but fell far short of the comprehensive comparative study which had been my intention.

Meanwhile at Powder Magazine, the pile gathered dust until 1994, when Managing Editor Leslie Anthony inherited it and, after an initial adverse reaction to the morass of numbers and statistics, took a second look. He considered the mathematics to be sound, and the conclusions informative--in some cases surprising. Unfortunately, the presentation (intended to justify the statistical validity to magazine editors) was death for the skiing public at large. By the time Anthony contacted me in August 1994, I had convinced myself that a tabular format, as exemplified by Powder's January 1994 Local's Guide to 43 Ski Areas, was the user friendly way to present this material.

Leslie Anthony and I immediately agreed upon the format, but Powder needed a more comprehensive list of areas, particularly in the Northeast and Canada. By November 1994 I had expanded my snowfall database from 57 to 84 areas and the tables were ready for publication except that I could only offer subjective comments about the areas I had skied personally (about half). Anthony's extensive skiing in Canada and the Northeast filled in the gaps in my experience perfectly, but the size of the project had grown too large for a late season issue in the 1994-95 season. In July 1995, after recalculating the tables to include 1994-95, I visited the Powder offices where Anthony interviewed me for the final edits. The end product finally hit the newsstands in the October 1995 issue.

The Process

The following steps were required over a three-year period to produce the information displayed in Powder and on this website:

1. Gathering monthly snowfall data (Nov.-Apr): Half of this comes from the U.S. Forest Service's Westwide Network, which collects data for avalanche forecasting. The other half comes from calling--repeatedly in many cases--ski areas and other sites.

2. Coding the monthly data into the computer.

3. Writing the complex APL-language computer programs that enabled rapid comparisons of matrices, models to be generated from complete databases, and projections to be made for incomplete databases based on the models and regional indexing systems. The programs were converted to Excel in 2007.

4. Running the data through the programs, and figuring out which incomplete databases needed to be modeled to which complete databases.

5. Generating the final numbers. The "robust" statistics, the high and low snowfall months, are raw data which do not need to be modelled or adjusted.

6. Contructing the tables and drawing conclusions from the analysis