Follow the Snow with OpenSnow

Skier backdropped by mountains

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There’s nothing worse than a ski or snowboarding trip ruined by lack of snow. Stumps and rocks and unforeseen obstacles can bite into snowplanks’ edges, sending the winter sports enthusiast off-balance and off to the ski shop for some expensive patchwork.

Enter the Meteorologist Ski Bum
Joel Gratz, the meteorologist behind, has felt this pain. Maddened by mis-forecasts and missed powder days, the Pennsylvania-born Colorado transplant started an e-mail list five years ago, sending out handcrafted Colorado powder forecasts to 30 of his closest ski bum friends. Within two years that list had grown to 500 lucky recipients, and the following year Gratz started his blog, Colorado Powder Forecast. Gratz has ivory tower cred, having studied meteorology on both the undergraduate and graduate levels at Penn State and the University of Colorado, Boulder, respectively. Gratz and his meteorologist-ski bum compadres handcraft powder forecasts in Colorado, California, Nevada, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina.

What, Exactly, is the Jet Stream?
Gratz has been studying the skies since he was four, and knows all about the ever-elusive jet stream. The jet stream exists because of the temperature contrast created by the colder air from the North and South Poles and the warm air from the equator. In the winter, this temperature contrast is (usually) greatest along the middle latitudes of the United States. Early in the season the jet stream was jutting north, bringing snow to places like Jackson Hole, Grand Targhee, Sun Valley, Bridger Bowl, and anywhere in British Columbia. When the jet stream headed far south early season, the Land of Enchantment was also a lucky recipient of the white stuff, with Taos Ski Valley, Ski Santa Fe, and local hills Angel Fire, Sipapu, and Pajarito boasting snowpacks on par with Utah monster Park City and Colorado’s Vail Resort.

The Truth About Snow Reports
Unfortunately, the only thing predictable about the jet stream is that it exists. Which latitude it will travel along is up to Mother Nature and Zephyr, the mythological west wind. Anything longer than a five-day forecast is likely to be inaccurate, so planning a ski trip months or even weeks in advance becomes risky business. But as any powderhound will tell you, when you hit the powder just right, and you’re sailing over the snow on a snowboard or pair of skis, there is no feeling more surreal.

By Tracy McCormick