Note: A special thanks to Dan Michaeli, Minitab’s Vice President of Data Protection and Intellectual Property (and avid skier!), for his collaboration on this blog post.
Where should I ski this winter?
If you’re an avid skier or snowboarder, you almost certainly have been asked where you think the best place to hit the slopes is, and when. You may have a personal preference or idea about when to go, but more likely than not your answer will not be grounded in data.
Here at Minitab, we attempt to weave data into our everyday decisions and recommendations, and when Dan recently encountered this question it was no different. So, we decided to approach it thoughtfully through a data-driven lens.
For the sake of this post, we didn’t gather data from all every ski resort from all over the United States. Rather, we looked at the list of the twenty most popular places to ski and picked two of the most popular in the western United States and the largest ski resort in New England. The resorts we selected for this analysis are Park City (Utah), Breckenridge (Colorado) and Killington (Vermont).
Then, we had to choose why someone would want to visit a certain resort. Was it ease of access? Resort amenities? Cost?
While there are plenty of variables to choose from, most of the skiers we talked to for this post agreed that fresh powder (total snowfall) was most important to them. A resort can have all the amenities in the world, but if the slopes are bare and icy... your trip will likely be a bust.
We accessed historical weather data from weather.gov as our primary data source. From there, we gathered historic snowfall data from the 2002-03 winter all the way through last season (2022-23). Since snowfall is less common in May through November, we focused our analysis on total snowfall for December, January, February, March and April.
What we Found
We revealed some interesting trends through our analysis! Overall, we found that if you are looking for the most total snowfall during any of these months, Breckenridge is your best bet (with a peak in March).
If you want to make sure to hit Park City sometime during the year, consider going in December or January when snowfall amounts are at their peak. If you are looking for the best month to head to Killington, you should go in February, which is the only month the eastern resort outperforms Park City. We used Minitab’s graph builder to help us pick the best types of visualizations to communicate our data. Here is a line graph of the total mean snowfall by month over the past 20 seasons:
The graph demonstrates a consistently strong snowfall performance for Breckenridge with faster tapers in March and April for the other two resorts.
Another way to visualize this data is a heatmap. We also generated a heatmap so you can easily compare each month at each resort side by side:
If you’re looking for late season skiing, the heatmap clearly shows a winner: Breckenridge is the best for skiing over spring break. Both Killington and (to a lesser extent) Park City have steep drop offs in total snowfall in April.
We also ran time series plots of the total snowfall by month (December – April) for each resort. This enabled us to see how snowfall amounts have changed over time due to weather patterns, climate change and season to season minor variations. It also allows us to see how much snow has fallen in the most recent years. Here are the results for Breckenridge:
You can see that total snowfall exceeded sixty inches per month during several of the points during our analysis. Snowfall rarely dropped much below ten inches per month—even in April.
As for Killington:
The time series showed predictable peaks and valleys. January and February regularly approached thirty to forty inches per month, but March and especially April frequently approached (or actually was) zero. Also notably, total snowfall amounts have generally been lower the past four seasons compared to the sixteen prior years.
If you want to dig into the data deeper, you might consider isolating El Niño vs La Niña winters to determine the best location for your ski trip based on the yearly weather pattern (spoiler: we found Breckenridge to be the snowiest place to go during both El Niño and La Niña seasons).
You could also include other ski resorts to see how California, Utah or New York skiing compares.
It’s long been known that if you want the best skiing in the United States, go out west. But the data shows that the time of the year that you visit does indeed matter.
And if you’re local to the northeast or eastern United States and don’t want to hop on a long plane ride during the holidays or cold and flu season, there are options for resorts with plentiful snowfall, albeit with a shorter season of prime skiing.
So the next time your friend asks you, “Where should I take my family skiing this year?” You can answer with confidence, “Good question, let me fire up Minitab Statistical Software.” And if you ever need help with the challenge you are facing, our team of experts is willing and able to assist you, whether your problem is big or small.
Happy ski season!