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February 3, 2010 / Dave Gorham

Power to the People

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. -Abraham Lincoln.

So goes the logic behind a new iPhone app from which allows skiers and snowboarders to use their smart phones to upload current ski conditions directly from the slopes of ski resorts. Previous to this, skiers and ‘boarders relied on published ski reports to make their "go/no go" decisions.

Question: Who furnishes ski reports? Answer: The ski resorts.  Question: Would it be in the best interest of a ski resort to inflate recent snowfall and/or base conditions? We’ll leave it to you to provide your own answer here, but two skiers started poking their ski poles around and discovered that, when compared to area government weather reports, resorts were more likely to report more snow base and deeper snowfalls. On average, 23% more. In a sport where four or five inches can make a tremendous difference, snowfall and base are key to not only a good time, but also to the decision about where to spend those ski dollars.


Not only that, but the two skiers (Jonathan Zinman and Eric Zitzewitz) discovered what they call the "weekend effect" in which snow reports were larger from resorts within closer driving distances to more populated areas. The logic: Attract the day skier with bigger snow.

With the new app, a camera phone and a social media site of choice, skiers and snowboarders are now armed with exactly what they need to keep the resorts honest – and busy. A resort caught inflating their reports will undoubtedly lose business. Perhaps it’s not surprising to note the inflated resort reports are now much less likely where cell phone reception is good.

Photo: Flickr

The report by Zinman and Zitzewitz, who surveyed more than 400 ski areas between 2004 and 2008, was presented to the National Bureau of Economic Research in July, but has not yet been published.

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