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Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Fri Mar 14, 2014 8:59 am

In our recent Euro TRs, Tony and I once again mentioned the perception that compared to North America a much larger percentage of the overall skiers stay on the groomers -- which is why, one could conjecture, ski areas there measure their size based on trail length, rather than the U.S./Canada custom of skiable acreage. You can sometimes find that stat in hectares or square kilometers on their websites, but it's often buried.

This news is already six months old, but journalists and ski industry watchdogs were shocked! shocked! to learn via a study by a German cartographer that most of the resorts pad their numbers. The resulting Pistegate scandal has led to calls for industry standardisation.

Since you have to pay 99 euros for the actual report, here are a few of the revelations that were excerpted by online publications (1 km = .62 mile). Apparently, Austrian resorts were the most honest in their claims.

Largest Ski Resorts in the Alps
1. Les 3 Vallées (France): claimed 600 km/actual 493 km: exaggeration +22%
2. Les Portes du Soleil (France/Switz): claimed 650 km/actual 425 km: exaggeration +53%
3. Paradiski (France): claimed 425 km/actual 378 km: exaggeration +12%
4. Sella Ronda (Italy): claimed 360 km/actual 309 km: exaggeration +17%
5. Matterhorn (Switz/Italy): claimed 313 km/actual 252 km: exaggeration +24%

Ski Resorts that Exaggerated the Most
1. St Moritz-Celerina (Switz): claimed 163 km/actual 64 km: exaggeration +156%
2. Les 4 Vallées (Verbier, etc. Switz): claimed 412 km/actual 164 km: exaggeration +151%
3. Monterosa (Italy): claimed 180 km/actual 73 km: exaggeration +146%
4. Isola 2000 (France): claimed 120 km/actual 54 km: exaggeration +123%
5. Les Sybelles (France): claimed 310 km/actual 141 km: exaggeration +120%

Ski Resorts that Exaggerated the Least
1. Vier Berge Skischaukel (Austria): claimed 121 km/actual 131 km: underestimation -8%
2. Kitzbühel (Austria): claimed 164 km/actual 164 km: 0%
3. Lech/Zürs (Austria): claimed 122 km/actual 118 km: exaggeration +3%
4. Espace Diamant (France): claimed 185 km/actual 178 km: exaggeration +4%
5. Baqueira-Beret (Spain): claimed 131 km/actual 124 km: exaggeration +6%

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Fri Mar 14, 2014 9:28 am

That's a bad measure of size anyway, makes flattish areas look better than they really are. Better to add up the vertical of the trails since that's what skiing is more about.

With respect to Matterhorn, I wonder if the yellow ungroomed "skiroutes" are counted in those km totals. How common is it for Euro ski areas to mark ungroomed skiroutes on trail maps?

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Fri Mar 14, 2014 10:08 am

Interesting.

As those who have been to Europe can attest, nearly all of the resorts are WAY bigger than anything over on this side of the pond to start with, so we'd likely never be able to notice most or even any of the piste length discrepancies.We are there so infrequently as well, which adds to our own perceptions as to how LARGE all the resorts seem to be. Piste length is not a measure I'd ever look at anyway as I prefer off-piste of course.

I note that some Eastern NA resorts like to publish miles of trails numbers too. I wonder if those are equally as exaggerated as the trail counts already are in the East? Where is the standardization for that metric, lol?

I would note that there are major discrepancies in the west too. Just because I know it so well, I can tell you all about Eldora's fake marketing numbers; like a claimed 300" annual snowfall (actually ~230" annual average of usable snow from Nov 1-April 15), as well as the claims of 680 skiable acres or 1,600 vertical feet (actually only 1,350 per their own master planning documents). You can also see in their master planning documents that Eldora actually has 188 acres of cleared trails and 164 acres of official named glades. So only 352 acres of skiable terrain by their own measurements. Of course if you ski with me, I'll show you quite a few extra acres 8) . But 99.999999% of visitors will never find or have an opportunity to ever ski "680 acres" at Eldora. So lets see, that makes for: 30% overstatement on snowfall, 93% overstatement on acreage, 19% overstatement on vertical. YIKES!

Not just to pick on my own home resort, I have to wonder how much over exaggeration there is at many, many more resorts all over the world.

At least with near real time web trip reports and even real time snowstake cameras, much of the snow reporting is getting better over time at a lot of places (Breckenridge excluded).

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Fri Mar 14, 2014 10:48 am

EMSC wrote:Not just to pick on my own home resort, I have to wonder how much over exaggeration there is at many, many more resorts all over the world.

Miles of trails is probably one of the more accurate metrics since it can be relatively more easily measured than some of the others, with vertical probably being the easiest. Total acreage is also pretty easily calculated, but that number is always skewed since it includes all the unskiable acreage as well. Alta UT claims 2200 "skiable acres" but I've often wondered if they really did subtract out the cliff areas of Baldy and Devils Castle, the low angle terrain trap under much of the Cecret lift, the permanently closed Snake Pit, etc.

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Fri Mar 14, 2014 1:16 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:I wonder if the yellow ungroomed "skiroutes" are counted in those km totals. How common is it for Euro ski areas to mark ungroomed skiroutes on trail maps?
I assume that would be part of the standardisation project -- to decide whether to include ski routes across the board in the km count. It obviously varies from resort to resort. Anecdotally, all three Austrian regions I visited (Arlberg, Ischgl, Kitzbuehl) had them marked both on the hill and on the map; however, as the Ski and Snowboard Worldwide people have complained for years, they mean different things at each resort and can lead lower-level skiers into places they have no business being. The Portes du Soleil marked them on the hill, but not on the map.

EMSC wrote:I note that some Eastern NA resorts like to publish miles of trails numbers too.
I've seen East Coast areas count only the acreage of their groomed trails (no off-piste), but never the length.

Marc_C wrote:Total acreage is also pretty easily calculated, but that number is always skewed since it includes all the unskiable acreage as well.
Agreed. This ^^^ should be Tony's next project for bestsnow.net: determining the legit acreage at western ski areas (with indecipherable Excel tables as an added bonus).
:-D

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Fri Mar 14, 2014 1:26 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:EMSC wrote:
I note that some Eastern NA resorts like to publish miles of trails numbers too.
I've seen East Coast areas count only the acreage of their groomed trails (no off-piste), but never the length.


I know I've seen a bunch of other resorts with similar 'milage' info in snow reports. Not sure if they advertise a 'total miles' that the resort has in brochures though:
Capture.JPG
Big K snow report

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Fri Mar 14, 2014 1:27 pm

I stand corrected!

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Fri Mar 14, 2014 7:53 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:This ^^^ should be Tony's next project for bestsnow.net: determining the legit acreage at western ski areas

I've said before that an "adjusted acreage" is the best measure of ski area size. The main discussion was with respect to Stowe, which counts 500 acres of trail acreage but JSpin determined from a Google map that it has 2,500 acres boundary to boundary. My opinion is that an "adjusted acreage" for Stowe should be something like 1,500. While I think 500 is a ridiculous underestimate I also believe Stowe skis some what smaller than a 2,000 acre western area like Alpine Meadows or Kirkwood for example.

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Fri Mar 14, 2014 11:08 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:I've said before that an "adjusted acreage" is the best measure of ski area size. The main discussion was with respect to Stowe, which counts 500 acres of trail acreage but JSpin determined from a Google map that it has 2,500 acres boundary to boundary. My opinion is that an "adjusted acreage" for Stowe should be something like 1,500.

I seem to recall that back in the 90's when Stowe instituted their "boundary to boundary" ski policy, they quoted 1200 acres for skiable terrain.

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Sat Mar 15, 2014 5:15 am

Marc_C wrote:I seem to recall that back in the 90's when Stowe instituted their "boundary to boundary" ski policy, they quoted 1200 acres for skiable terrain.

Ten years ago, I had a group lesson led by Ski Magazine's Stu Campbell -- who lived in Stowe and knew the place as well as anyone -- and I remember him saying 1,200 as the skiable acreage as well.

I'm interested to see what happens with the calls for uniform measurement in the Alps. As EMSC points out, it won't make any difference to North Americans because most of the ski regions there are far bigger than anything here East or West; however, standardised stats will have a major impact on the buying habits of Europeans and especially to the enormous British market, which, as a group, includes a very high percentage of casual skiers, uses tour operators extensively, and for whom trail kilometers is a key determinant in their comparison shopping.

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Tue Sep 29, 2015 7:21 pm

I should have seen this coming down Broadway -- the German cartographer who wrote the original report about Euro resorts padding their figures has apparently gone into business as an independent certifier of piste length.
http://www.pistelength.com/seal-of-approval.html

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Tue Sep 29, 2015 7:45 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:I should have seen this coming down Broadway -- the German cartographer who wrote the original report about Euro resorts padding their figures has apparently gone into business as an independent certifier of piste length.
http://www.pistelength.com/seal-of-approval.html


Seems sort of like light-handed blackmail, doesn't it?

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Wed Sep 30, 2015 8:32 am

It's actually a good idea. Whereas North American resorts often play fast and loose with snow totals, across the pond you have "brochure quotes" for trail mileage. The obvious question is how much he charges for his services. :-k

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Wed Sep 30, 2015 1:42 pm

It's still not a very good metric.
http://www.pistelength.com/seal-of-approval.html wrote:Length of pistes, ski routes and catwalks as well as parks, fun slopes etc.

Catwalks??? That's a great metric for ski quality. :^o "Skiroutes" are the more interesting issue, as this is the terrain perhaps of most interest to North American visitors. As noted in numerous TR's, the boundary between skiroutes and off-piste is far from well defined. Hopefully the pistelength site plans to break down the mileage among the types of slopes enumerated above rather than lumping them together in one uninformative total.

Re: Measuring Ski Areas in the Alps: Pistegate

Wed Sep 30, 2015 2:03 pm

His e-mail is right there -- let him know your concerns!
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