Oh, well, you probably don't want to know what I'm paying for the AccuWeather feed then! (The AccuWeather feed is actually the single greatest expense I have -- greater than even the server colocation fees.)
I have looked into grabbing data directly from NOAA in the past.. From a programmer's perspective, that would be very easy to do. But their servers simply could not handle the load if commercial sites like DCSki kept pinging on them for weather data, so I decided early on not to pursue that course.
AccuWeather does have their own meteorologists, but their greatest value (to me) is that they do a lot of data massaging to get it in a format that is very easy to parse. I take that raw data and then add my own value to it, for example using it to generate snowmaking forecasts. (I don't know how many of you rely on that, but my pulse quickens whenever the forecast shows lots of snow coming out of the snowguns.
) AccuWeather maintains a number of servers and connects to DCSki every fifteen minutes to upload the raw weather data.
AccuWeather leases a snow condition feed from SnoCountry, which pretty much has a monopoly on condition reporting in the U.S. They gather daily information from all ski resorts and put it into a standard format and also (allegedly) try to verify that resorts are being accurate. I could lease that feed directly from SnoCountry, but when I checked into that several years ago, it would be over $2,500 per year. Ouch! AccuWeather pays that fee and then re-sells the feed to sites like DCSki and CNN.com. (The SnoCountry license allows commercial companies to resell the data.) So it's cheaper to get that data through AccuWeather, even though I don't believe AccuWeather changes the data one bit.
Writing my own scripts to grab weather conditions from individual resorts (e.g., pulling data from their web site) would be nearly impossible -- resorts all use different formats, with different levels of consistency in their reporting, and frequently change the layout of the formats. I could set up a system that allowed resorts to submit their daily data directly to DCSki, but they wouldn't want the extra effort, since they already do it for SnoCountry, which is really the industry clearinghouse. SnoCountry does a pretty good job gathering all the data together and putting it in a structured format. And I think they've got a direct line to resorts; it's definitely in the best interest of resorts to submit their conditions each day to SnoCountry, since that branches out to all forms of print, electronic, and television media.
I couldn't agree with you more that NOAA data should continue to be free to the citizens who pay taxes to make the whole thing possible. As you said, AccuWeather provides a value-added service to me that makes weather and snow condition reports a whole lot easier (and in the case of snow condition reports, cheaper too). To do that they have to maintain a staff of programmers and a fleet of servers. But they have no business saying that NOAA data shouldn't be free -- that reminds me of Microsoft tactics!