Ski reports are usually generated by the resorts themselves. They do contain bits of worthwhile information even though they are a type of marketing piece. Experienced skiers learn to read between the lines and to derive just as much information from what is not reported.
Snowfall amounts: Current practice is to report snow falls in the past 24 hours, the past 36 hours, the past 48 hours and sometimes even the past 10 days. Learn to read these amounts with some caution because some resorts add up the amounts in a confusing way. The amounts are designed to put the mountain's snowfall amounts in the best possible light, even if there has been freezing rain, a major thaw or rain in between the periods reported. For this reason alone it is better to stick to the past 24 hours and ignore the rest of the information. Total snowfall for the season is usually on the bullish side. Most mountains count the higher number in a 2-3" snowfall, for example. Over the course of the season it can add up and put them infront of a competitor.
Mountain Temperatures: Pay strict attention to these figures and get into the habit of following them. They can tell you a lot about mountain conditions and how truthful a mountain report is.
Wind Chills: Anything below -10 degrees F is going to be unpleasant. Below -20° is dangerous! Only Mad River Glen reports this on a regular basis. Wind Chill is not generally reported because it is a negative and a ski report, being a marketing piece, is only supposed to report positive information, in the characterisc manner of any propaganda system. Read more about the dangers of skiing in the extreme cold,
Wind Speeds: Anything over 35 mph will generally trip the safety devices on a lift and cause it to shut down. However, it depends upon which direction the wind is blowing. You could have a 45 mph wind from the south blowing on a lift and not cause that lift to close. It all depends on how much chair swing is detected. If high winds are in the forecast, be cautious about driving to the mountain or paying for a ticket. Lifts are also prone to lightning strikes, so operations are always halted at the first sign of this weather condition. One other thing...some people may get confused by the word "breezy." It might well be used to describe a 65 mph wind!
Base Depths: This measurement is supposed to tell you how much snow depth there is on the average trail. There is no "Ski Association" standard or practice for recording the measurement...it is up to the ski area. Ski areas like to show an increase as the season progresses. Beware of a ski area that doesn't report a decline in base depth during a thaw. It could mean other parts of the report might be suspect too. Some resorts now report a "natural snow depth" and a "snow making depth." This can be very useful information if you like to ski in the woods or do glade skiing. It will tell you if there is sufficient depth to avoid rocks and other obstructions. Usually, at least 15-20 inches is sufficient.
Powder, Packed Powder, Machine Groomed, Machined Frozen Granular, Frozen Granular, Icy, Wet, Wet Granular, etc:
I have listed some of these in order of preference. Powder is the best, followed by packed powder. If the report is correct, you can count on a really nice surface...the packed powder is packed because it has been run over by a groomer and packed down. It makes for really silky surface. Frozen Granular is one of the worst...it could include things called "Death Cookies" which are balls of ice not chopped up by the groomer. There is usually an icy surface beneath if there has been any ski traffic.
Rain and Freezing Rain: This is a word that is rarely used. Indeed, for a long time Killington scribes could be fired for using it! Rain is a terrible thing in ski country. It means slushy snow and wet clothing as well as sitting on wet lifts unless you wear a fanny flap. Rain is sometimes describe as "funk" or "funkiness." Such conditions often cause an icy base to build up - sometimes called "boiler plate." This shows up when wind blows the top groomed surface away or after heay skier traffic. If there has been freezing rain or rain in the past seven days, you should defintely plan on skiing in the morning and quit around lunch time.
Grooming: Mountain resorts use giant Snowcat machines equipment with rakes and other devices to groom their major trails. Grooming is especially important when rain is followed by freezing temperatures. Trails become sheets of ice without the grooming. This why you will sometimes read about a reduced trail count with the resort saying that more trails will be opened later in the day. It can take quite a while to do a whole mountain!
Snowmaking: Ski resorts are dead without snowmaking. The Vermont weather is just so unreliable that keeping a decent snow depth without snowmking is virtually impossible. Only Mad River Glen seems to manage it, but this resort has to close several times a season to protect its base. Snowmaking is very, very expensive. It usesa lot of electricity and a lot of water. Killington and Okemo use more electricity than their adjoining towns when all their compressors are running. For this reason, snowmaking is done cautiously with a close eye on the long range weather. Snowmaking usually stops well before February unless a touch up is needed.