Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Snow, Lies and Ski Reports

Promoters of skiing look for any way they can make conditions sound inviting. At its worst, this means sheer ice referred to as packed powder because that's what it was three weeks ago and big, brown patches of bare ground called "thin cover." But the psychology never stops.

Nordic skiing has always tried to wear the white hat. Reliance on natural snow and small budgets forces a measure of honesty. Cross-country ski centers find creative ways to interpret how many kilometers of trail they have, and refer to a portable toilet as a restroom, but we don't get paid enough to defend claims inflated far beyond that. And of course we describe our snow conditions as charitably as possible.

To keep enthusiasm alive, some operators resort to such entertaining fiction as the Inaccuweather 15-day and hourly forecasts. I suppose some veterans of such a weather-dependent industry as Nordic skiing might believe that a forecast further than three days out has any value at all, but not many. Especially not one who spends summers sailing the New England coast. But when it's time to spin the ski report, out comes the 15-day fable.

"Snow is mentioned on ten of the next 15 days in the forecast," this expert might say. Let's not say that the probability is 10 or 20 percent and the snow is merely showers or flurries.

I understand how the fervent desire to believe in something like a good, snowy winter, eternal life or the human race living in peaceful, prosperous harmony can cancel out rational intelligence. The rational leader looks for ways to sustain belief in wavering followers. Their lives will be better if they believe. The collection plates will be more full. The truth is as fuzzy as a snow cloud on the horizon. Think of the possibilities, not the likelihood.

It's funny how flakes in the air can add up to so little on the ground. We had two or three days of snow, sometimes falling thickly, and netted perhaps six inches of very compressible fluff. To the north and east, parts of Maine and the adjacent Canadian provinces got the real stuff, measurable in feet.

Snowshoe hiking has largely replaced cross-country skiing for the average tourist. With somewhat shallow snow, those who still ski have the advantage. There's no point to plodding around with something like a couple of cafeteria trays on your feet when you don't need to float over knee- or thigh-deep snow. Meanwhile, we sliders can slither on the compressed snow, provided the surface beneath was fairly smooth.

As for the future, I readily admit I do not know. But it is winter and we could get snow.

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