Mountain Spy :: March 2017

Written by Dave Meeker


With the historic snowfall out West, and a fair amount falling in the East, the folks who are used to skiing all corduroy were a bit out of their element. When it’s a powder day at many mountains, especially in regions other than the West, it can actually be a guest service nightmare. Raise your hand if you’ve heard a ticked-off guest say, “There’s too much snow! Why didn’t you groom it?!” There’s usually plenty of snickering and head shaking in disbelief that these people aren’t enjoying themselves. But the fact is: skiing powder IS different, and it can be challenging. And it’s reassuring that the folks answering the phone for this Spy mission didn’t laugh or make me feel like a dummy. So, kudos for that. However, I can’t speak to the comments after I hung up.

Have a good “Spy” question for us? Seriously, do you? We don’t get many, and we know there are some gems out there. Send yours to Dave Meeker (, and if we use your question, win immunity for that issue.



First contact: Automated machine. Chose operator.
Answering phone: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: You mean, like, as far as how to ski in it?
SAM: I’m just curious about what I should expect and if there’s anything I need to know.
Staff: OK, let me try and find somebody who will be able to answer that question for you because I really don’t know. Hang on one second.
(holding, for more than 2 minutes)
Answering phone: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: If it’s only a couple of inches, you just do what you normally do and it’s better than ever! If it snows more than four or five inches and it starts to affect the tips of your skis and such, I would recommend taking a lesson. Even a group lesson would help. The coaches would have a lot of input for you by watching the way you ski. But, the best way to learn, and I learned this way, too, and I’m a level three instructor, I go on YouTube all the time and just type in “powder skiing” and you’ll get a hundred different awesome coaches showing you on video what they do in powder snow. Some will be not so deep, some will be waist deep. You can pick and choose and watch at your leisure.
SAM: Oh, cool. What about skis? Do I need wider skis?
Staff: It totally depends on how deep the snow is. They make specific powder skis that are really wide and look almost like water skis. But they float better in deep snow, that’s what they’re built for. But you know, I’ll bet you could go online and probably get a tutorial on that as well!
SAM: What did we do before YouTube?
Staff: Seriously. But you can also come to the mountain. We have an awesome ski school and we’d be able to help you out anytime you visit.
SAM: Sounds good, thanks for the suggestions!
Staff: You’re very welcome. Hope to see you soon.

Rating: 8
Comment: He just told me what every Millennial reading this has been thinking from the start: Why are you making a phone call? Just go on YouTube.


First contact: Automated machine. Chose operator.
Answering phone: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Ummm, you’re asking when it’s going to be a powder day?
SAM: Oh no, I understand you can’t predict when it’s going to snow. I am just trying to get some general information. With the winter we’ve been having and the people who have suggested I join them on a ski day, I assume that we’ll plan to go the next time Mother Nature brings us some more snow.
Staff: Ummm, uh, so right now it’s raining. That’s all I can tell you. The weather forecast I have only runs through Tuesday, so I can’t really tell you what it’s going to be like in the weeks to come. It’s been snowing a lot then raining a lot, so I really have no idea what to expect in the coming weeks. We do have a base of, like, 130 inches right now. Umm, and when it’s not snowing the base is what we call Sierra cement. It’s pretty firm snow, especially with this rain we’re getting it’s probably going to solidify it. So if we do get some snow, it’s probably going to be powder. So I can’t really give you an idea of what it’s going to look like past this week, so I am not going to be very much help for you.
SAM: Well, I understand that you can’t give me a long-term forecast, but I am making this call under the assumption that we will have another powder day this season and my friends and I will plan to come ski then—whenever that may be this season. I am not experienced skiing powder, so I am just trying to make sure that I am prepared for that type of conditions.
Staff: Ummm, OK, well do you mean gear-wise? Because I can’t really give you an idea of when there is going to be a powder day because we don’t really know. I have the weather up until Tuesday, so I am not really going to be much help predicting the weather for you. Gear-wise, I can transfer you to someone in the repair shop who can help you on planning what kind of skis to bring….
SAM: Yes, that’s what I am looking for. If you could transfer me that would be great.
Staff: Yeah, cuz it’s been kind of a crazy winter so it’s kinda hard to predict the weather. Right now we’re actually closed because of rain so there’s nobody here at work, but if you do need help planning gear I can transfer you over to the rental-repair shop and you can leave a message and when we open maybe someone could call you back and help you with information. Other than that I am not really sure when the next good ski day is going to be.
SAM: OK, I will call back on another day to speak to someone in rentals.
Staff: OK, I assume we’ll probably be closed tomorrow looking at the weather. It looks like this weekend it’s going to be pretty sunny, but past that I have no idea what to expect. We should be open Saturday, maybe Friday at the earliest.
SAM: Great, thank you.
Staff: Alrighty. (click)

Rating: 0
Comment: Why is this dudette answering the phone when no one else is there? Please, put her outside, away from people. I’m not asking for a forecast, and don’t offer to transfer me to someone who isn’t there. Ugh.


First contact: Automated machine. Chose operator.
Answering phone: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: I can send you over to the ski school to see if they can help you out, if you like.
SAM: Sounds good. (transferred)
Answering phone: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: OK, um, can you hang on just one second?
SAM: Sure. (holding)
Answering phone (almost 3 minutes later): Male.
SAM: Stated question. (ugh)
Staff: Oh, um, well. First of all we have quite a number of trails that are groomed, as well, so you won’t have to be in all powder. As far as powder technique goes, outside of thinking of your skis as porpoises going up and down out of the water—and I know this is going sound like a sales pitch—really your best bet is to jump in an all-mountain clinic, or take a powder-specific private lesson. It’s much more involved than just a phone conversation. But, if you understand that the best advice I can give you is think about keeping your skis up towards the surface so there’s less resistance, and there are definitely physiological ways in which you’ll do that. And also start thinking about the base of your skis and not the edges. When you’re driving your car down the road and you see a pothole, you know where your tires are and you avoid the pothole with your tires, and you’re thinking about where your tires are going. When you’re skiing on packed terrain, you’re thinking about where your edges are going. In powder, you need to think more about where your base is.
SAM: Oh. That makes sense.
Staff: Yeah. So, depending on the width of your skis, it’s an area one to three inches in from where your edges are. If you try to tip them up on their edge like a racer would, or when you’re carving down groomers, your skis are gonna sink because you tipped them up on their edge and they’re not going to support you in the snow the way a snowshoe does, for instance. That being said, having just spoken with you on the phone and not seen how you ski or the skis that you’re on, or your body mechanics or anything like that, I can give you information that’s maybe one step better than what you’d read in a magazine about how to ski powder (heyooo!).
SAM: Great stuff. I’ve spoken to friends who say it’s awesome.
Staff: It is. It’s what most people who ski live for. There are excellent instructors at any mountain you go to who could help you with this. (He went on to provide some additional advice about types of exercises I could do to prepare for powder skiing, and some tips for the types of clinics to take. As well as tips for exact types of skis to try, which they offer as demos at this resort.)
SAM: Well, thanks so much for all the info. I really appreciate it.
Staff: Yeah, you’re welcome. Be sure to stop by if you come up, even  if you don’t plan on taking a lesson.
SAM: For sure. Thanks again.

Rating: 9.5
Comment: I’m glad I took notes! Covered the gamut, from technique to equipment to lesson options. Minus a half point for the five minutes it took to finally connect with someone. But it was worth it.
Identity revealed: Jay Peak


Mountain 4, CO

First contact: Automated machine. Chose operator.
Answering phone: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Umm, you know. Give me just one second. OK?
SAM: Sure. (Transferred)
Staff: Thank you so much for your patience. My name is X, how can I help you today?
SAM: Re-stated question.
Staff: When are you coming to ski?
SAM: I am not 100 percent certain yet, we are trying to plan something in the next two to three weeks.
Staff: OK, so conditions should be pretty fantastic whenever you are here. I can’t plan that far ahead as far as the powder goes, though. The difference that you’re going to run into, depending on the powder that we get, because there are different types—there’s champagne powder, which is really light and fluffy, we could also get a very deep powder, which is a lot more dense and can make it a bit tougher to get through—the difference you’re going to have is that you’re going to have a lot more control. OK? People from the East Coast are used to skiing on icier conditions, which doesn’t provide you with as much control. The other thing that you are going to be looking at is the type of skis. If you’re used to carving skis or downhill skis, those aren’t going to be a good idea. You’ll definitely want powder skis so you can float up on top.
SAM: OK. Is that something that you offer?
Staff: We do. What you would do is rent our premium ski package, which gives you access to this year’s demo skis and you can switch out as much as you want as long as you purchase the premium. So, if you’re here and it’s not powder conditions you can get some carving skis. If all of a sudden we get dumped on, you can walk back in and switch them out for powder skis. It’s fantastic. The thing that you want to remember up here is: don’t stop. He he. If you stop you sink, and then it’s a pain to get out of.
SAM: He he, good to know.
Staff: The powder that we get you can kinda pop through it a lot easier, a lot faster. OK? So, as you’re going through you definitely want to keep your knees bent. You also want to stay leaned back because if you lean too far forward or if you straighten out, that snow is going to grab your skis and you’re immediately going to sink or flip. It’s very unforgiving in that aspect. The good thing is when you fall in powder, you don’t get hurt. It’s almost impossible to get hurt in powder. But yeah, you’re going stay leaned back a little, that way your tips stay up, and yeah, definitely don’t stop when you’re in the thick of it, ‘cause, yeah, it’s so hard to get moving again.
SAM: Sounds good.
Staff: Yeah, and if you’re out on our groomed runs, like if it’s no powder, we’ve groomed everything. It’s fantastic, the response is great, it’s not icy. The first thing in the morning it can get a little icy depending on how cold it’s been, but once the sun hits it warms up and you’re just going flying right through it. You have so much control at that point and your skis respond so well.
SAM: Sounds like a lot of fun.
Staff: It is amazing. You’ll love it I promise you. We’ve had a fantastic season so far; we’ve just been getting dumped on. I was out last weekend, and I didn’t want the day to end.
SAM: Thank you very much for the information.
Staff: Awesome, well, thanks for calling and we look forward to having you!

Rating: 9
Comment: Minus one point for saying it’s impossible to get hurt in powder, because you can. Especially if you lean back. Otherwise, great job!


Mountain 5, UT

First contact: Automated machine. Chose operator.
Answering phone: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Hold on, please. (Transferred)
SAM: Restated question.
Staff: Well, OK, I have two customers here with me, so I have to put you on hold. That’s a pretty broad question, so let me put you on hold and finish with these folks and get back to you.
(Holding. Another staff member picks up.)
SAM: Restated question.
Staff: Well, right now you don’t have to worry about skiing powder, we don’t have any. Ha ha. It’s all packed. It’s not quite East Coast firm, it’s fair to middlin’, the skiing is good but it’s firm down low because it’s been getting warm during the day. Anything southwest-facing is pretty firm because it melts and freezes. All the north and west aspects are skiing really well, nice wind buff, probably like the real soft groomers you might be used to. So unless we get another 10-12 inches tonight, you won’t have to worry about it for a few days.
SAM: Well, we haven’t picked a date to come up yet, so I was more calling for general information.
Staff: OK, are you renting skis or do you have your own?
SAM: I have my own.
Staff: Do you know how wide they are?
SAM: They’re mid-range I think. I think they are technically carving skis.
Staff: Well, we do have some rental places, so I would recommend renting a ski with at least 98 millimeters underfoot as a standard West Coast ski. A 98 is considered an all-around width; it’ll just make skiing in deeper and variable snow more enjoyable. If you have a solid intermediate background, you won’t have any trouble at all figuring powder out if you have the right ski. If you’re still trying to ski on a carving ski you should be a skilled skier because the powder can get kinda grabby. People tend to over turn, you really don’t have to turn at all in powder. You kinda just turn your head where you want to go and your skis will follow you. That’s not a very technical description, but in the light, low-density snow that we get that’s probably pretty true. So what I would recommend is just renting a pair of skis, if you have the time and inclination. I would recommend coming up and renting something that’s 98-110 underfoot and on a soft snow day come up and try it out. I think you’ll have a good time and realize that the ski makes about 90 percent of the difference. It’ll just make the learning curve that much faster for you.
SAM: Thanks.
Staff: We have a couple of places that you can rent when you come up here. They all have brand new, state-of-the-art skis, no more than a year old. We try to rent for the type of conditions that we have here. Does that help?
SAM: Yes, thank you.
Staff: And don’t forget about lessons, too. Get a hold of ski school. We also offer free tours here. So they can show you around the mountain as well. Come up and take advantage of everything we have to offer.
b: Thanks, I will.

Rating: 6
Comment: Tough start, but when I finally got someone who wanted to talk to me, he was honest and informative.


Mountain 6, CA

First contact: Automated machine. Chose guest services.
Answering phone: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Yeah, so it is a little different. But usually right after it snows we have most of our runs groomed. So it’s definitely the kind of thing where you could try it out, but if it’s not your thing we have groomed runs you can stick to, as well.
SAM: OK, cool. I’m used to digging an edge in; is that what you do in deep snow?
Staff: Um, no, it’s a little different than that. Some people use bigger skis for powder, but its not really a necessity, you know, not everyone does. If you want to try them out you can rent them when you’re up here. Um, yeah, it just takes some getting used to, it feels a little different, you have to kind of, you know…I’m not actually a skier so I can’t really speak to skiing on it.
SAM: Oh. Are you a snowboarder?
Staff: Yeah.
SAM: Right on. We’re all friends! (laughs)
Staff: Yeah. (didn’t laugh)
SAM: Well, I look forward to checking it out.
Staff: Yeah, it’s definitely a good place to try it out because if you come right after it snows we’ll have some groomed runs and some powder.
SAM: Sounds great. Thanks!
Staff: Have a good day.

Rating: 5
Comment: Despite the arbitrary description of what it’s like, she didn’t make it sound intimidating. And, yeah, she also didn’t think my joke was funny.


Mountain 7, NM

First contact: Automated machine. Chose guest services.
Answering phone: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: He he he … that’s a very good question, and I can’t answer that because I don’t ski! Sooo, let me get you somebody that can help you, OK?
SAM: Terrific, thank you.
Answering phone: Male.
SAM: Restated question.
Staff: (Interrupting) Well, typically, a wider tip and tail will keep you afloat. For the most part, there’s really not a ton of real, true powder days here, I guess I’d say. Unless you catch it the day it snows, I mean, most of the powder gets groomed or skied off within a day or two anyways. You’ll still be on some packed stuff, but more groomer-type stuff.
SAM: OK, gotcha.
Staff (Interrupting): You don’t need as much of an edge to get into a hard surface like you would out East.
SAM: Right, yeah, I—
Staff (Interrupting): You’ll mostly be skiing on packed powder anyways. Unless you come out on a day it’s snowing, then it’s not a whole lot different, kinda quicker, shorter turns to stay afloat. Um, and um, usually a wider ski would fix a lot of the issues you’d have there cuz that would keep you up top anyways.
SAM: So that’s the goal, to stay on top of the snow?
Staff: That’s it. Yeah, on a big powder day, too wide of a turn you’re definitely gonna sink. You want to do shorter, quicker turns.
SAM: Well, hopefully there will be many powder days to come.
Staff: Well, it’s been kind of a rough year for us so far. Good thing we have snowmaking.
SAM: Bummer. Yeah, well, we’ll see. Thanks for the time.
Staff: Sure. Have a good one.

Score: 3
Comment: Thanks for the advice to ski your snowless, powderless mountain. Minus points for continuously interrupting.


Mountain 8, NC

First contact: Automated machine. Chose snowsports.
Answering phone: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Right now, all our stuff is relatively groomed. But we have gotten some good snow, and more is coming. So really the biggest difference is you’re still holding your stance the same, you’re just adjusting a little more of your weight into the backseat so you don’t bury your tips down into the powder.
SAM: That makes sense. So you don’t get sucked right into it.
Staff: Yeah. It’s very similar to what you’re used to. You do a couple runs, you’ll probably figure out the adjustments you’ll need for yourself.
SAM: Gotcha. My friends have said it’s a bit different than digging your edge into corduroy.
Staff: Well, if you’re going out West, into their powder, that’s where it really gets different. Here in the East, a lot of it is going to be pretty well compressed, unless you go off slope like some people do, you’ll have to adjust there. But otherwise, you should have no difficulty.
SAM: OK. Sounds like nothing major.
Staff: Yeah, you should be fine. Take a couple runs to get used to it, and get your legs about you and it’ll be fun. Honestly, after people ski over it by midday it’s back to your typical eastern skiing.
SAM: Alrighty, sounds good. Hopefully it keeps snowing.
Staff: Yeah! Right.
SAM: Have a good day.
Staff: Thanks! You, too.

Rating: 5
Comment: Sounds easy! But the thing is, it is different, no matter where you are.


Mountain 9, MI

First contact: Automated machine. Chose snowsports.
Answering phone: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Umm, let’s see. Sometimes, usually, wider skis are better in powder. They make powder skis if it’s deep enough, but you can still ride it on normal skis, as well. Also you kinda lean back a little more, not much, you kinda feel it a little bit too—it’s kind of a floating feeling. You still stay in the middle and balanced, but you do lean back a little more to kinda stay on top, so you’re ski tips stay above. It’s almost kinda more like water skiing, I’d say, like on the softer water. Kind of, not like, quite exactly. It’s just more of a floating feel, kinda. I enjoy it. A lot of people enjoy it too once they do it. Once you do it to you’ll kinda know what I’m saying.
SAM: Yeah, totally. I’ve heard it’s awesome.
Staff: Normally you don’t sit back on your skis, but normally in powder you sit back a little bit. But not much. Wider skis will help keep you on top.
SAM: Cool. I appreciate the insight. I need to keep the floating in mind.
Staff: Yeah, that’s what I think about. I love powder days. I just put the music in and just get lost in the song.
SAM: Right on. Thanks again for the info.
Staff: Yeah, hopefully we’ll see you soon.

Rating: 5
Comment: He was pumped to answer the question, but I’m kinda almost sorta dizzy now.


Mountain 10, ME

Answering phone: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: It is different. But I wouldn’t be able to tell you if we’ll have a storm when you come here. But I would suggest if there is a storm and there’s powder that you just jump into, like, a group lesson for a couple hours. Everything over in the beginner area is completely groomed anyway. So either way, you won’t have to ski on stuff that isn’t groomed.
SAM: I’d really like to ski powder, I’ve heard it’s awesome. Do you use different equipment?
Staff: Well, some people use powder skis and some people use normal skis. It just depends on your experience and style of skiing. I’ve been skiing since I could walk so it’s kind of hard to explain. If it’s something you’d like to experience you can always either do the lesson, or go out with some people who are experienced with skiing powder.
SAM: Are there powder specific lessons if it snows that day?
Staff: Um, you can always just book yourself into a private lesson and ask them to just take you in the powder.
SAM: Sounds good. Thanks so much.
Staff: Alright, well, good luck!

Score: 3
Comment: Points for suggesting a lesson. But it’s not good when everything she said could’ve finished with “duh

Read 4574 times Last modified on Wednesday, 08 March 2017 00:22

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