Have you ever wondered how ski areas get their weather forecasts? Do they watch the Weather Channel or the evening news like you and I?
According to a story by Lynne Tuohy of The Associated Press, “Ski area operators throughout Northern New England for more than three decades have relied on one New Hampshire man to help them plot when to make snow and how many loaves of bread to buy.”
Tony Vazzano is a meteorologist and owner of North Winds Weather, which supplies ski areas with daily, individualized weather reports before the chairlifts begin their ascent.
Except for two days for heart surgery in 2010, Vazzano says he hasn’t had a day off in winter in 33 years.
“My last day off was Oct. 16. My next day off is May 1,” Vazzano said.
But his workload is getting lighter by the day, as ski areas crippled by unseasonably warm weather begin closing earlier than anticipated. Temperatures surpassed 80 in many places last week, and one town in Vermont lost 20 trails in two hours, he said.
Mike Wing, surfaces manager at Vermont’s Sugarbush mountain, said Vazzano’s report is the first thing he looks at in the morning and a constant source of reference throughout the day.
“It’s like the holy grail of my whole winter operation,” Wing said. “It’s a must-have.”
Vazzano, 58, is headquartered in the attic of his home in Center Sandwich, N.H., in a tiny office. On one wall is a yellowed map from the 1970s, pushpins marking the ski areas he services. On his desk is a laptop, the only tool he needs to compile his reports from a variety of websites, a change from when he started his career and was printing out yards of weather charts on thermal fax paper and hanging them on his wall.
He used to read each ski area’s forecast and its more than 100 numeric entries over the phone; now he emails them on spreadsheets to the nearly a dozen ski areas that have used his services for 30 years or more, including Sugarloaf, Saddleback, King Pine, Mount Snow, Stratton, Bromley, Killington, Okemo and Waterville Valley.
Vazzano starts his day at 4:30 a.m. He does a broadcast for a Brattleboro radio station at 5:25 a.m.
He emails first reports to ski areas at 6:35 a.m., interpreting the data and tailoring his forecasts to each mountain’s altitude and climate. He provides forecasts for the nighttime as well, which operators use to make decisions about snow-making and grooming. Wind forecasts are vital to positioning snow guns and preparing for possible lift shutdowns.
“It’s also about marketing and knowing how much to buy for their kitchens,” Vazzano said. A rainy weekend means a resort will serve less food, he said.
Barring fluctuating forecasts or major precipitation, his workday usually is over by early afternoon.
Vazanno charges ski areas $375 to $475 a month. Wing, who says he’s talking with Vazzano every winter day for the past 23 years, called his forecasts “spot-on.”
Vazzano said he’s wanted to be a meteorologist since he was a boy growing up in Trumbull, Conn., fascinated by the weather.
In college, he and other students did forecasts for some Vermont radio stations. An operator at Sugarbush who listened to those forecasts found them more accurate than the service the ski area was paying for and hired the group. That launched Vazzano’s career. He founded North Winds Weather in 1983.
“When I was 9, I wanted to be the weatherman for northern New England,” Vazzano recalled with a chuckle. “At 19, I was.”
Only two clients retain Vazzano year-round: Stratton Mountain Resort and the radio station in Brattleboro.
“In summer, I get in at 4:50 a.m. and I’m done at 6 a.m.,” said Vazzano, an avid birder who turns his sights to feathers, not weather, as the slopes turn green.