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What's the best face to build a ski resort on and why?
- Rick Adams
Oh wait you were looking for a more nuanced answer? Let's go with northwest, north, and northeast.
To avoid the number one enemy of all things snow. The sun.
Even though the sun is at its lowest point in the sky on December 21st, the fiery ball of heat can still do a number on the snow by relentlessly melting our precious skiing surface. Since the sun rises in the east, swings around to south during the middle of the day and sets in the west, the only direction that doesn't receive direct sunlight is a slope facing to the north. (This is why if your front door faces north after a snowstorm, ice and snow may linger for days even if the sun is shining.)
I've heard through a source in Colorado that developers once attempted to build a ski area in the central part of the state during the mid 1990s, but the plans fell through. The resort had plans for a south-facing ski area and even in the high Colorado mountains with peaks over 10,000ft, a south-facing ski area just wouldn't survive the suns rays.
But the hard and fast rule of trying to build a resort facing north doesn't always mean the other side of the mountain are worthless. In some areas it's advantageous to face the resort east instead of due north to take advantage of the wind. In general the strongest winds blow from the west and thus can deposit western snow on east-facing slopes. Many resorts -- both in the east and west -- face somewhat northeast to take advantage of both the lack of sun (north) and the blowing snow (east).
Examples? No problem, here's a list of ski areas across the country and which direction they face. I think you'll see a patter emerging!
Sugarloaf, ME - Northeast
Sunday River, ME - Northeast
Waterville Valley, NH - Northeast
Stowe, VT - Northeast
Mt. Snow, VT - Northeast
Gore, NY - East
Hunter, NY - Northeast
Vail, CO - North (bowls face south)
Aspen, CO - North
Telluride, CO - North
Jackson Hole, WY - East
Big Sky, MT - Northeast
Alta, UT - North
Snowbasin, UT - Northeast
Sun Valley, ID - Northeast
Crystal Mt, WA - East
Mt. Hood, OR - Southeast
Squaw Valley, CA - Northeast
Meteorologist Joel Gratz is the creator of www.ColoradoPowderForecast.com and is based in Boulder, CO.