S2:Ep7. Jim Steenburgh: Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth


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Don't you just love it when you have to pick up your phone to call your boss back home. 'Hey, really sorry, but we just got snowed in with 60 inches of new snow. We can't get back to the airport. We're stuck up this mountain canyon.' Now that's a great ski trip!

For over a half century, Utah has been known to skiers and riders as the home of the Greatest Snow on Earth. But what's the science behind it? Do you know the three ingredients to creating great powder? And what role does Goldilocks play in all of this? Atmospheric science professor Jim Steenburgh is a good guy to know when you head to the mountains. He wrote the book: Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth. And he's ready to share some secrets with host Tom Kelly on Ski Utah'sLast Chair podcast.

Growing up near upstate New York's Tug Hill plateau (think Lake Ontario lake effect snow), Steenburgh was no stranger to snow. In fact, he'll tell you about his powder skiing experiences at tiny Powder Ridge there. But once he sampled Utah powder on a college trip with his father, there was no turning back. Lo and behold, a job offer to teach at the University of Utah set him up. Today, he's the guy you want in your ski group to tell you where to find the snow.

Water content, atmospheric flow, elevation, geography - it all plays a role in the Greatest Snow on Earth. Armed with extensive historical knowledge and real time meteorological data, Steenburgh's computer-like mind plots incoming storms to map out the best lines for the coming days.

And he loves to share! Well, to a point. Join Last Chair host Tom Kelly as he and Steenburgh navigate through deep powder in a fascinating and informative episode of the Ski Utah podcast.


Listen to the Last Chair podcast to learn the details.

What advice do you give Utah visitors in planning?
OpenSnow.com or UtahSkiWeather.com are good possibilities. Let the experts be the ones to guide you. Becoming an armchair forecaster, if you're not in Utah, can be challenging. It takes a while to get used to the meteorology around here. But looking at those forecasts is pretty important. If you're thinking about riding at a resort but going out of bounds, you know, you really want to be looking at what is happening with the snowpack and with avalanches on UtahAvalancheCenter.org. For me, it's one of those things where I try to look at it every day so I'm in tune with what's going on.

So, what's the analysis? Does Utah have the Greatest Snow on earth?
I often tell people there's not a scientific test for the Greatest Snow on Earth - it's in the eye of the beholder. I don't think there's any doubt, though, that that Utah has some of the Greatest Snow on Earth. There are really three kinds of key ingredients for great powder skiing or a great powder skiing climate. But Utah's climatology, especially in the Cottonwood Canyons, is really biased towards lots of pretty good powder days.

Want to know the three secrets?
Listen in to Ski Utah's Last Chair episode with Jim Steenburgh to learn more including:

  • His favorite Utah ski run.
  • How he became a ski racing fan.
  • His secret Utah backcountry line (well, sort of).
  • What tragedy was averted at the 2002 Olympic Closing Ceremony?
  • The deepest powder day of his life.
  • And why depth alone isn't necessarily an indicator of great powder skiing (think float).

Tune in to Last Chair: The Ski Utah Podcast presented by High West Distillery and Saloon on your favorite podcast platform. Subscribe to get first access to every episode.

Utah Powder Fun Facts (from Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth)

  • State Record 24-hour Snowfall: Jan. 4-5, 1994, Alta, 55.5 inches of snow with water content of 5.7%
  • 105-mm howitzers are among the tools used by resorts and highway crews to mitigate huge dumps of snow.
  • Avalanches were commonplace in the mining era of the 1880s, claiming many lives.

Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth

Weather, climate change, and finding deep powder in Utah's Wasatch Mountains and around the world.
© 2014 by the University Press of Colorado
Published by Utah State University Press

You'll want to grab a copy of the book before your next trip to Utah. You can pick it up off Amazon, or support a local Wasatch book store including Dolly's in Park City, as well as The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City.

Powder Skiing for College Credit

Only in Utah can you go to college to learn how to find the best powder skiing. Starting this spring, you can take ATOMS1000 at the University of Utah to learn the science behind the secrets. We suspect there will be field trips.

44 episodes