Has Social Media Ruined The Powder Day?

Finding peace inside a gong show

When it’s good, it’s good.

All time. Epic. So deep. You had to be there. Riding, (or skiing) powder is often compared to good sex. It’s a feeling unlike any other, “the closest thing to flying.” The experience is amplified even further when no one else is around and you find yourself riding endless, untracked lines with only a few other dedicated souls. These are the days we remember forever, because they were THAT good. The pinnacle of the powder hound’s wildest dreams. And they seem to be on the decline as of late.

Less than a decade ago, I could skip class or work on a Tuesday and have days like this. No lift lines, barely anyone else at the mountain besides the locals, deep snow, pure bliss. Fast forward to 2017, and you have parking lots filled, hour long lift lines, fights breaking out, and people generally making stupid decisions in a frenzied pursuit of powder. Two words come to mind, ‘gong show.’ So what changed?

Hungry powder hounds, chomping at the bit on a Thursday morning (an hour before the lifts open).

Not the internet. The internet was alive and well in 2007. Snow reports and weather data did exist. Ski resorts were very much open to the public (minus the ones who didn’t and still don’t allow snowboarders). If you knew how to read the weather, you knew when powder days were going to happen. But not many other people did, and that was the magic of it all. Some ski areas were even known to report less new snow than there actually was (fake news), to purposely deter people from coming up. Less people at the mountain meant a more beautiful experience, and weekdays were the prime time for uncrowded powder days.

Today, the internet has become much more advanced. Social media marketing, real time communication, and FOMO culture are all the rage. Information is readily available, everywhere. Tonight, I went to the website of one of my favorite local mountains to check out an event they were hosting, and immediately got hit with a surprise pop up window. It caught me off guard. POWDER ALERT, it said.

Now, I’m not criticizing anyone for skipping work, school, or whatever else you’re supposed to be doing on a Tuesday. I support those things, 100%. I’ve done my fair share. What I am pointing out is that there seems to be no such thing as a secret powder day at the ski resort anymore. The information is served up to anyone and everyone on a likeable, shareable, commentable, silver platter. This is modern reality. Six inches of new snow isn’t even a proper powder day, but you wouldn’t know it by checking out the Instagram feeds or the Facebook pages of your local mountain’s marketing department. And it makes total sense.

These guys have to make money to survive. Running a ski resort is hard. Straight up. Fluctuations in weather can completely destroy any notion of financial stability. One year can bring record snowfall, the next can be four degrees too warm, all rain, can’t even open the lifts all winter. That’s like saying Apple gets to sell iPhones this holiday season, but if the storms don’t come in right they’re not allowed to sell them next year — yet they still have to invest millions of dollars to make the products ahead of time. If they can’t sell them, too bad. Tremendous losses. SAD! This type of unpredictability as a business owner is horrifying.

Ski resorts are businesses, they have to operate, and operating costs money. So it makes total sense for them to market the crap out of powder days in order to get more people to the mountain to buy lift tickets, and make more money. I work in startups, you have to survive, I get it. But what I don’t get is how some of these resorts have begun to neglect the idea of experience.

As a product designer, ‘user experience’ is something we talk about a lot. Here are some thoughts on user experience:

  1. Long lift lines are a bad user experience.
  2. Huge traffic jams on 2 lane mountain highways, are a bad user experience.
  3. Getting turned around because the parking lots are full is a bad user experience.
  4. The whole mountain getting tracked out in 2 hours is a bad user experience.
  5. Exposing your kids to grown adults fighting in a lift line because one of them cut in front of the other one is a bad user experience.
  6. Going out the backcountry gates and being followed by 10 other people who don’t have avalanche gear or backcountry safety knowledge, is a bad (and dangerous), user experience.
  7. Having small children, beginners, and experienced riders all gunning for powder at the same time, is a bad user experience.
  8. Getting cut off by Joe Selfie Stick when you’re about to drop into your favorite stash, is a bad user experience.
  9. Getting in other people’s way because well, people are everywhere around you, how can you not be in the way?… is a bad user experience.
  10. Paying anywhere between $60 and $150 to be apart of an absolute gong show when all you wanted was a peaceful day in the mountains, is a bad user experience.

Now, how can it be solved? I don’t have an answer. I’m just observing that powder days have gotten out of hand lately, and I think it’s because more people know about them. When an Instagram post tells you to ‘get the powder fever’ and skip work because it’s going to be, “the best day of the year.” Well shit, why not right? You don’t want to miss out on something like that. And neither do the 10,000 other people who double tapped. Little do you know, two Tuesdays from now is also going to be the best day of the year, because it’s going to snow 8 inches again. Everyone already forgot about the last one because it turned out to be super crowded and only snowed 4". But this Facebook post says it’s going to be EPIC, so we must go.

I’m simply putting this up as a topic for discussion within the outdoor community. It is a first world issue and I completely understand that. I love snowboarding, almost more than anything else. I know how good it can be, and the positives outweigh the negatives for me anyday, because I always have fun riding, no matter how crowded it is. I want to see the snow industry thrive and continue to thrive for as long as possible. It brings people a lot of joy, and that’s never a bad thing. But I value the experience too much to ignore the fact that it’s gotten noticeably different within the past 5 years. So I wanted to bring it up:

As with any business, what is the right balance of turning profits vs. providing the best experience?

I’d love to keep the discussion rolling, so feel free to add your thoughts. This article is purely a thought piece, with all due respect to ski resorts and their marketing teams everywhere.

Also, don’t move to the Pacific Northwest because it only rains here, every time, the snow is never good. Anyone who tells you different is spreading fake news. Utah is the best, bigtime ski hills, tremendous powder. Their governor doesn’t care about public lands, no regulations. They win bigly in all the ski polls. Aspen. Alta. Champagne powder. Just tremendous. We love Utah. Go there :)

Definitely Utah