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Ask Josh - February 2003

Ask Dr. Flake
posted: 01/22/2003

I've heard skiers in Burlington and Salt Lake talk about lake-effect snow, but I'm dubious. Are Champlain and the Great Salt Lake big enough for this phenomenon?
-Jed Enton, via the Internet

Your dubiousness is perhaps half warranted, Jed. In brief, when the temperature of a body of water is at least 15 degrees warmer than that of cold air passing over it, moisture will evaporate and rise, cooling and condensing into clouds as it does. If the wind is blowing the right speed (say, 15 miles per hour or so) relative to the width of the lake, snowfall can be increased. The air speed is critical: too fast, and not enough moisture is sucked up to contribute to snowfall; too slow, and the resulting snow will fall in the lake. The Great Salt Lake, which is up to 48 miles wide and which rarely freezes, does fuel storms that hit the Wasatch Range ski areas. But Lake Champlain has far less impact on Burlington and Bolton Valley-the ski area closest to it-because there isn't much of Champlain for storms to pass over: The lake is 120 miles long, but only 10 miles or less wide, and it ices over most years. The fact is, however, Utah's ski areas would get tons of snow even without the lake. The Wasatch leaps up from 4,200 feet to 10,000 plus-wringing gobs of ultrafine flake from the skies in the process. Meanwhile Bolton denizens are left squeezing snow from the muzzles of snow guns.

A friend of mine insists that today's racers are stronger because deep-sidecut skis require that they carve more of the turn, faster-which means they must handle greater g-forces. Any truth to that? How does ski racing compare with the g-forces a fighter pilot experiences?
-Ginny Holmes, via the Internet

Oh, great, a question sure to rile both current and former racers alike. And based on personal experience, there's nothing more uncomfortable for an ill-muscled, snowplowing columnist than facing the ire of a gate basher a decade or more past prime. But my slavish devotion to Mistress Truth draws me on. The fact is that racers nowadays (and we're talking World Cup here, not NASTAR) are stronger than they were 20 years ago simply because fitness training has gotten more sophisticated. And good thing, too, because the new deep-sidecut skis require stronger pilots. Skiers are generating greater g-forces with the new equipment because the radius of a purely carved turn has decreased. But we're talking relatively low g's here to begin with: something on the order of two or less. This compares rather unfavorably to the 9 g's an F-15 is capable of generating.

We are poor Michigan college students who ski on broken gear and sleep in a truck to avoid the cost of lodging. We can only imagine affording a trip out West. Can you direct our search for extremely low-cost lodging and skiing?
-Chad Engberg and Jason Walter, via the Internet

You know those credit card offers they keep sending to your dorm room? Respond to all of them. Then fuel up the truck and drive to Leadville, Colorado (10,400 feet, temps regularly hit 40 below, lots of people with guns), and set up a tepee with an oil-drum stove in the woods on some abandoned mining claim. Use whatever cash you have to purchase about 20 pounds of venison jerky (trust us, that's all you'll need), and then start trading "work" (ask your economics professor to explain what that is) for passes. You might not make it back to Michigan in time for classes. In fact, you might not ever make it back. But you'll be better men, and better skiers, for it. Send pictures.

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