December 22, 2020

Exploring snowfall in ski season with visual analytics

Porter Thorndike

Topic:   Analytics

Friends, it’s that time of year when the temps drop and the snow starts flying. It is my favorite time of year. Not only that, others’ complaints about how cold it is and how they hate winter are like oxygen to me.

My excitement about ski season led me to play investigate and analyze snowfall data from four of the best ski areas in the world: Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Snowbird, Utah; Telluride, Colorado; and Whistler-Blackcomb, BC, Canada.

The data included 24-hour new snow, season snowfall, and base depth by date for the October–May timeframe over the course of 10 ski seasons: 2008–2017. I wanted to understand what all skiers want to understand: Which area had the most snow? What was the biggest powder day? What was the single-best winter?

To find the answers, I used WebFOCUS Designer to visually explore the data in a number of ways. WebFOCUS Designer is a fast, interactive, visual analytics environment. I could rapidly visualize, filter, and understand the data using simple and advanced visualizations. In a short time, I had arrived at the key insights I was looking for and used the same environment to communicate my findings. Here’s what I discovered.

The most snow across all four ski areas was in 2014 when a whopping 1,663 inches of snow fell.Most snow 2014 chart.The best winter I’ve ever experienced in my life was 2017 in Stowe, Vermont when 330 inches of snow fell. The data revealed, however, that in 2014, Jackson Hole had a ridiculous 614 inches of snow.Best winter chart.

Last winter, I was fortunate enough to find myself in the middle of a multi-day 32-inch snowstorm in Vail, Colorado and a 40-inch snowstorm in Stowe. In 2014, Jackson Hole saw 33.6 inches of snowfall in a single day!  Biggest storm chart.

To communicate the entire dataset, I wanted to find an interesting visualization that could show all of the data in a beautiful way. The ring chart is a very cool visualization that represents time-series data in a series of rings. In this case, each resort occupies a ring and displays all 10 years of data. The ring data can be communicated via standard charts such as bar, area, or bubble. This visualization allows you to quickly see things such as storms that hit all of the ski areas at the same time, big storms, months or periods of high snowfall, and cadence of snowfall across entire seasons.

Snow fall chart.

So much more than snow

Playing around with the data surrounding snowfall patterns appealed to my skier’s heart, but it’s really about more than that. Visualizations such as these are a wonderful way to bring data to life, and that is an important thing to do in the context of business today.

We’re faced with mountains of data, and making sense of it with powerful visualizations helps business leaders make smart decisions that lead to better business outcomes.

Porter Thorndike is the director of Analytics Strategy at ibi. His roots are as the principal engineer on many large-scale, embedded analytics deployments that featured data science and data storytelling. In his current position, Porter works closely with research & development and our most innovative customers to provide thought leadership on the use of our data and analytics product.



Explore 10 years of snowfall data.