[Editor's Note: OnTheSnow will feature a special question and answer section focusing weather starting today and extending each day through the end of January. OnTheSnow will take a question from a reader and present it to Colorado-based meteorologist Joel Gratz and post his answer on Facebook and OnTheSnow.com. Do you have a burning question you've always wanted to ask? Just post it in a comment here or on our Facebook page and we'll toss your name into the hat.]

Question

What's the best face to build a ski resort on and why?

- Rick Adams

Via http://www.facebook.com/OnTheSnowFan

Answer

North.

Oh wait you were looking for a more nuanced answer? Let's go with northwest, north, and northeast.

Why?

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!

East Coast

Sugarloaf, ME - Northeast

Sunday River, ME - Northeast

Waterville Valley, NH - Northeast

Stowe, VT - Northeast

Mt. Snow, VT - Northeast

Gore, NY - East

Hunter, NY - Northeast

 

Western

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.