Toby Talbot  /  AP
JJ Toland, communications director for the Sugarbush ski resort, holds the maple sap bucket used for measuring snowfall in Warren, Vt., on Jan. 20.
updated 1/29/2010 12:32:40 PM ET 2010-01-29T17:32:40

Ever hit the slopes only to find 4 inches of fresh snow instead of the 8 inches you were promised? That may be because ski areas have exaggerated their snowfalls on weekends to entice skiers, according to a study by two Dartmouth College professors.

That depth deception may fall by the wayside, however, as skiers and snowboarders can now use an iPhone application to report real-time snow levels and keep resorts honest, the study said.

Economists Jonathan Zinman and Eric Zitzewitz, skiers who took offense to a fluffed-up claim, studied snow reports from 2004 to 2008 and compared them to area government weather stations. They found that ski resorts across the U.S. and Canada reported more fresh snow — 23 percent more, on average — on skier-coveted weekends than during the week. Resorts with more business to gain were the ones most likely to boast of deeper snowfalls, their study said.

It may not seem like much: a resort's bragging of an 8-inch snowfall when the slopes really got only 4 or 6 inches. But to a skier or snowboarder, those extra inches make slopes more desirable.

The so-called "weekend effects" in snow reporting were larger for resorts with more expert terrain and within closer driving distance to populated areas, Zinman and Zitzewitz said.

"This is consistent with expert skiers valuing fresh snow more highly and with resorts near cities having more potential to attract weekend skiers," the report said.

The resorts question the findings. For one thing, they say, the government's weather stations aren't necessarily in the same snowy spots as the slopes. And they say overreporting snow does them no good if disgruntled skiers and riders find less snow than expected.

"It doesn't serve you to overreport snow," said JJ Toland, spokesman for Sugarbush Resort. "If you do overreport and make a false promise, people show up and they just become angry that you lied to them and they won't come back."

And in the age of camera phones, Twitter, blogs and other social media, they couldn't lie if they wanted to, the resorts say.

"The resorts, now, frankly they can't get away with it," said Parker Riehle, of the Vermont Ski Areas Association. "They won't get away with it because the skiers and riders won't put up with it."

Apple Inc.'s iPhone and the application are apparently helping keep resorts honest, allowing skiers to log reports in real time, from chairlifts or base lodges.

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"Exaggerations fall sharply, especially at resorts where iPhones can get reception," the report said.

Anna Rosenthal, 57, of Portland, Conn., said she wasn't surprised to learn ski areas may have snowed their customers.

"I believe that they want to get people out there to ski," she said, before boarding a lift at Sugarbush resort in Vermont. "As long as the conditions are good when I get there, I'm fine."

And David Ilsley, 51, of Lexington, Mass., who has skied all over the U.S., said he expects some hype.

"I think you expect it, so you kind of plan for it," he said, standing outside a Sugarbush lodge. "So, if they're saying one thing, you know it's probably not quite that good."

He's found resorts in the East tend to exaggerate more than those in the West, which get more snow, but neither do so enough to harm the quality of the skiing, he said.

Some say it's all a bit of a gamble.

"We expect snow, and you don't always get what they tell you're going to get," said another Sugarbush skier, Lou Bizian, 45, of Rutherford, N.J. "But, fortunately, this week, we got what we thought we were going to get."

Other skiers and riders say the resorts' recent snow reports are right on.

"Usually they're pretty accurate," said snowboarder Isabel Beavers, 20, of Northboro, Mass., who reads snow reports daily. "I mean Sugarbush at least is honest because they've been saying they haven't had any snow for the past few days, and it's true."

The report's authors decided to investigate after hitting the slopes at an unnamed Vermont resort that had reported 6 inches of new snow.

"We got there, and there was like 2," Zitzewitz said.

He and Zinman compared new natural snowfall reported by more than 400 ski areas to snow amounts reported by area government weather stations. Their work, presented at a National Bureau of Economic Research conference in July, has not been published.

In calculating average daily snowfall, the researchers considered a wide range of snowfalls over time — as deep, for instance, as the 29 inches recorded on Feb. 14-15, 2007, in Waitsfield, about 5 miles from Warren, as well as mere dustings of snow. The report did not break out individual daily reports or name resorts.

Ski areas complain there can be big variations between the amount of snow at the mountain and the amount at a weather station in a different spot.

But that's not the point, Zitzewitz said. The average match weather station was 26 miles away and 160 feet below the summit in the East; in the West it was 52 miles away and 280 feet below, he said.

"In general, if all we were finding was the resorts were reporting more snow than the weather stations, we'd probably say, well, that's because they put ski resorts in good places for snowfall. But that's not what we're finding," he said. "What we're finding is that the difference changes with the day of the week, and so that's got to be due to something man-made."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Popular ski and snowboard playgrounds in America

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  1. Heavenly run

    Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., offers skiers 91 trails and 4,800 acres of terrain. (Corey Rich courtesy of Heavenly Ski Resort ) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Busy at Beaver Creek

    Colorado's Beaver Creek Snow Resort averages 311 inches of snow per year, gets 300 days of sun and offers more than 1,800 acres of skiable terrain. (Jack Affleck courtesy of Beaver Creek Snow Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Oh boy, Alberta

    Whiskey Jack Lodge is pictured at the foot of the ski hills in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. Lake Louise Ski Resort is one of the larger ski areas in North America with 4,200 acres of terrain. (Andy Clark / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 2-mile-high club

    Looking for a high-elevation rush? The base center at Utah's Snowbird Ski Resort sits at 8,100 feet. The resort's highest point, Hidden Peak, climbs to 11,000 feet. (Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Va-va-va-Vail

    Vail, Colo., located west of Denver, is one North America's better-known ski towns. Vail Ski Resort features more than 5,200 acres of skiable terrain over 193 trails. (Jack Affleck courtesy of Vail Ski Resorts) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Après ski

    Skiers and snowboarders can do more than hit the slopes in Vail, Colo. Visitors can visit spas, go shopping and enjoy nightlife, festivals and family-friendly activities. (Jack Affleck courtesy of Vail Ski Resorts) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Take a Telluride

    Also located in Colorado, Telluride Ski Resort has 18 lifts, 120 trails, more than 2,000 acres of terrain, and features "Galloping Goose," the resort's longest run (4.6 miles). (Telluride Ski & Golf) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Road trip!

    Ski and snowboard enthusiasts can easily drive to Telluride from the Four-Corner states. Located in Southwestern Colorado, the drive time is seven hours from Denver and Phoenix, 2 1/2 hours from Grand Junction, Colo., and 2 1/4 hours from Moab, Utah and Durango, Colo. (Telluride Ski & Golf) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Stowe away

    Stowe Ski Resort is smaller when compared to competition west of the Mississippi, but it is a hot spot in the Northeast. The area offers 485 acres of terrain, but an average trail length of 3,600 feet -- longer than any other New England resort, its Web site boasts. (Stowe Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Great spot for beginners

    Buttermilk Ski Resort is small compared to some of its Colorado neighbors. Located just outside Aspen, Buttermilk has carved out its niche by focusing on snowboarders and beginners. Buttermilk offers 435 acres of terrian over 44 runs. (Hal Williams Photography Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Experience required

    Aspen Mountain is the backdrop for a horse and carriage ride in downtown Aspen, Colo. Aspen Mountain features 76 trails -- 48 percent considered "more difficult," 26 percent "most difficult" and 26 percent "expert." If you're a beginner, you probably want to get your feet wet some place less daunting. (Hal Williams Photography Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Take a hike

    Members of Aspen Center for Enviromental Studies (ACES) take a snowshoe tour in Ashcroft, Colo.Ashcroft Ski Touring/Cross-Country Area offers about 22 miles of groomed trails, and is located 11 miles from Aspen. (Courtesy of ACES) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Lock and Keystone

    Another popular ski option in Colorado is Keystone Ski Area, located about 90 minutes from Denver International Airport. The area features 20 ski lifts, two gondolas and more than 3,100 acres of terrain. (Bob Winsett courtesy of Keystone Ski Area) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Grab a six-peak

    Vermont's Killington Ski Resort stretches across six peaks. Skiers and snowboarders can reach the area's 752 acres of terrain with 22 lifts. (Killington Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Beautiful Breckenridge

    Big crowds may descend on Colorado's ski resorts, but that shouldn't be a problem at Breckenridge. The resort has two high-speed SuperChairs, seven high-speed quad lifts, a triple lift, six double lifts, and others, giving it the ability to move nearly 38,000 people per hour. (Carl Scofieldd courtesy of Breckenridge) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Bring the family

    Smuggler's Notch in Vermont bills itself as "America's Family Resort," and offers services, activities and education aimed at making sure everyone in your clan has fun. (Smuggler's Notch Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. 63 years and going strong

    Colorado's Arapahoe Basin has been operating since 1946. "The inaugural season opened with a single rope tow and $1.25 daily lift tickets," its Web site reads. Prices and equipment surely have changed, but "A-Basin" offers the skiers and snowboarders 900 acres of terrain -- more than half above the timberline. (Arapahoe Basin) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Long way down

    Utah's Alta Ski Area is scheduled to remain open through April 18, 2010. It features 2,200 acres of terrain, more than 100 runs and an average snowfall of 500 inches per season. It does not, however, allow snowboards. (Alta Ski Area) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Not for the faint of heart

    Of the 116 runs at Jackson Hole Ski Resort in Wyoming, 50 percent are "expert" and 40 percent are "intermediate." That's great news if you pass up the bunny slopes for some challenging skiing and snowboarding. (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. On -- or off -- the beaten path

    Jackson Hole Ski Resort offers 2,500 acres of terrain, plus an open backcountry gate system that offers access to an additional 3,000 acres. (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Sun Valley -- how original

    Seriously. Idaho's Sun Valley, started in 1936, claims it is the original ski resort. "Born out of a desire to bring the magic of the European ski resorts to America, Sun Valley quickly became a phenomenon without peer on this continent or any other," its Web site boasts. (Sun Valley Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Do you believe in miracles?

    American Shaun White is pictured competing during the Nokia Halfpipe Snowboard FIS World Cup on March 4, 2005 at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, N.Y. Lake Placid has hosted the Winter Olympics twice -- in 1932 and 1980 -- and offers a variety of activities, including downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, ice skating and more. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Old West reminder

    Seven thousand feet up in the Colorado Rockies, nestled quietly below one of the largest ski mountains in North America, sits a small ranching community that serves as a constant reminder that the Old West is alive and well. Never far from its ranching roots, Steamboat remains firmly linked to a Western tradition that sets it apart from every other ski resort in the world. (Larry Pierce courtesy of Steamboat) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Big skiing in Big Sky Country

    Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish, Mont., collects 300 inches of snow each year and features 3,000 acres of terrain, 94 marked trails and a 3.3-mile run called Hellfire. (Donnie Clapp courtesy of Whitefish Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Sweet on Sugarloaf

    Sugarloaf Ski Resort features 1,400 acres of skiable terrain, including Tote Road, a 3.5-mile-long stretch running from summit to base. Sugarloaf's redesigned terrain park features the 400 foot long Superpipe, a magnet for snowboarders throughtout the region. Portland and Bangor offer airport service to Sugarloaf, and Boston and Montreal are four short hours away. (Grant Klene courtesy of Sugarloaf Ski Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Crossing borders

    With more than 400 inches of snow per year, nearly 8,200 acres of skiable terrain and 200 trails, Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort in British Columbia, Canada, is an outdoor enthusiast's paradise. (Randy Lincks courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb ) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Carrying the torch

    Some athletes will become world champions of their sport on the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb when the Winter Olympics roll into British Columbia early next year. (Paul Morrison courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb ) Back to slideshow navigation
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