Meteor Man

My favorite winter activity is weather dependent in the extreme. We like to say “if it snows, we goes” and that tells you there is always that big “if” about snowing. It doesn’t always snow. Sometimes we get nothing for days. Even weeks. And if we do get something it is mixed with rain or falls in the wrong spots. Mostly not enough of the damn stuff falls.

“Meteor” is Greek in origin and means “lofty places” and thus is the root for words about atmospheric phenomena. Just ask any meteorologist. All of us who like to ski spend the winter with weather reports. I find myself looking at graphs and willing them to change, turn that 6″ into 10″ and that one foot into two feet.

It’s weird. I used to just ski. Then I learned how to ski in the powder: the soft, freshly-fallen stuff, and the deeper the better. Now I’m a snob. I want the good snow every time. For years I skied on the groomed runs like a normal person before I ventured “off-piste” as we North Americans like to say. Piste is French for a groomed slope, so when you venture off the tracks you are off-piste.

Most of the time you get nothing close to the ideal. People who live near the big world-class resorts in Utah and Colorado, for example, get a lot more opportunities, so I imagine they get the primo stuff more often. But out here in the fringes we are more at the mercy of the snow gods. Alta, near Salt Lake City, averages 500″ of snow in a season and the 2600-acre resort spans elevations from 8500 to 11000 feet. My local mountain gets half the snow in one-tenth the space and the summit is just over 7500 feet above sea level.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I love my little local spot. And there’s another one close by, too. Small-time, small-town skiing has great charms. I can drive for less than an hour and be on the chairlift, for one. Lines and crowds, when they happen, are predictable and manageable, for another. I’ve had the good fortune to ski some fancy places and had some great adventures. But the most fun is when it is close to home and I’ve had my fair share of epic days right here in my back yard.

This obsession with forecasts is a little funny. I’m not out there sniffing the breeze, checking my trick knee and saying “by golly, it’ll snow tomorrow” or anything like that. I love to look at the sky but it isn’t much help. I use the National Weather Service website most of the time! Weather forecasting is a tough business because, well, it’s hard, and people only remember when it’s wrong. They get it right a lot, but that’s like background noise. The blown predictions are the ones that stick with you.

Over the next several weeks I’ll be getting my internet feeds (like this one) and scanning the satellite pictures and whatnot and hoping to see the big numbers and the magic words like “powder alert.” The thing is there are a lot of powder-hounds out there and they flock to the big, famous places. They come out of the woodwork here locally as well, and it can be discouraging to see a hillside tracked out before you have loaded on the chairlift, but it never gets to the Carmaggedon status you see in Tahoe. One of these days I’m going to stay at a place where you don’t have to get in a vehicle, you just step outside of your lodging in your gear and you get a lift ride right to the slopes.

Looking ahead, there’s some promising snow activity predicted for this coming weekend:

ski forecasts

The meteorology-types will be updating things of course and those nice little blue bumps could become big stacks or empty nothings between now and then. Mother Nature will make the call and if she starts shouting I’ll be ready.

Happy New Year (and think snow)!

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