COME ON UP, THE WINTER'S FINE
WHEN THE MERCURY DROPS IN THE VALLEY BOTTOM, OCCASIONALLY, THE ALPINE CAN BE BLESSED WITH A TEMPERATURE INVERSION. FOR MARMOT BASIN, GETTING THAT INFORMATION TO SKIERS CAN MEAN THE DIFFERENCE NOT JUST IN LIFT TICKET SALES AT THE MOUNTAIN, BUT IN VISITORS TO THE COMMUNITY
On the afternoon of Friday, December 10, Brian Rode was checking his smartphone even more than he usually does. Rode, Marmot Basin’s VP of Marketing and Sales, wasn’t looking for a text from his boss, a mention on Twitter or even a notification from Jasper Buy Sell and Trade. He was checking the weather forecast—specifically, the alpine weather forecast for Marmot Basin.
“At first they were forecasting a high on Saturday of minus 18, then all of a sudden they were forecasting a high of minus 13.”
“They,” are the folks behind RWDI, a specialized engineering company that designs site-specific weather tools for professional alpine operations. Last season, RWDI set up their flagship weather forecasting system‚ AlpineFX, at Marmot Basin. For Marmot’s avalanche control team, RWDI’s alpine forecasts are more precise than the general Jasper forecast provided by Environment Canada, and therefore more useful when making plans to manage terrain or adjust staffing levels. However, RWDI’s data is also useful for ski area marketers such as Rode. In some instances, if an alpine forecast is significantly different than what is being called for in the valley bottom, the marketing team’s ability to get the word out can have far-reaching effects on the entire community of Jasper.
“Even if it’s an extra 100 people that come to ski that’s potentially an extra 50 hotel rooms, and an extra however many people in the restaurants and shoppers,” Rode said.
On Friday, when Rode saw that the AlpineFX software was predicting temperatures nine degrees warmer than in Jasper and a double digit difference from the deep freeze taking place in Edmonton, he instructed his team to drop everything and get the word out: An inversion was happening.
“As soon as we saw an inversion we immediately pecked out an email, chucked a picture up on the website and started letting our contacts in the media know ‘look the forecast is beautiful, please let your listeners know,’” he said.
A temperature inversion is a weather phenomenon in which air is cooler near the earth than the air above. In the Rockies, this usually happens in the winter, when a high pressure system comes in and the sun, low in the sky, supplies less warmth to the earth’s surface. When there is little wind, warmer air aloft acts like a lid, holding cold air near the ground. Clear skies and long nights increase the rate of cooling at the earth’s surface and rising warm air can make the alpine positively balmy in comparison.
Long-time Jasper mountain guide Peter Amann experienced his fair share of inversions while working as the head of avalanche safety at Marmot Basin for more than 20 years. He remembers inversions creating temperature differences as much as 22 degrees from the valley floor to the peaks of the Rockies and said when inversions do happen, the skiing can be glorious.
“If you have a strong inversion, that’s worth broadcasting,” he said.
Rode apparently agrees. Since the ski area has been set up with the RWDI software, Marmot Basin has featured the alpine forecast on its website—although you have to know where to look for it. Once you do locate the link, the site gives you the option between an alpine forecast—i.e. what you’ll likely experience at mid-mountain—and a valley forecast, i.e., what’s in store for Jasper. And while the difference in temperature between the two isn’t always going to be drastic (inversions are an unusual occurrence, after all) the forecast includes predictions for snowfall, as well. This data is arguably an even more pressing concern for potential skiers from Jasper and beyond.
“There’s almost always a difference in snowfall amounts [between the valley and the alpine],” Rode said.
Importantly, the data generated from Marmot’s new forecasting tools come from a third party, so any suggestions that marketers are cooking the powder predictions don’t hold water.
“I can’t manipulate those numbers,” Rode says with a laugh that tells you he’s been accused of just that.
On December 10, after a Friday afternoon marketing blitz, there was at least some evidence that the word of warmer climes up high was spreading. Whether Twitter user @Christineloowho learned it from the concierge at her hotel or picked it up from one of Marmot Basin’s social media feeds, she announced to her followers that she was happy to have experienced the mountain’s unique weather event.
“The inversion at Marmot Basin is real! Climbed 9 degrees driving up to the parking lot!” she Tweeted.
For Rode, he can take solace in knowing the message he worked hard to send out wasn’t falling on deaf ears. For him, there’s nothing more disappointing than when he learns that a family has travelled all the way to Jasper to ski, but then after seeing the thermometer outside their hotel room—and without investigating any further—gets cold feet.
“It’s about trying to give people the best information we can so they can decide what to do,” Rode said.
Sometimes, however, no matter how much warmer it is in the alpine, when it’s minus 30 degrees Celsius, people simply aren’t interested in starting the car, bundling up the kids and making the journey to go skiing.
“There’s no magic pill for when it gets really cold like this,” he said. “Sometimes you can only do so much.”