Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Scientist Probes Secrets of Utah's Famed Powder Snow

Jim Steenburgh began probing the deep questions about the Greatest Snow on Earth since he settled in Utah after college.

An atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah, he’s sharing the secrets of the state’s famed powder in a new book. What makes Utah’s snow great for skiing?

“We get lots of these what I call Goldilocks storms that are not too big.  They’re not too small,” Steenburgh explained during a recent interview on KUER’s Radio West. “They produce the right amounts of snow for a good deep powder day. And then the storm comes stacked in the right way.”

Steenburgh also dispels common myths about Utah’s snow -- like the idea it’s dryness that makes Utah’s powder extraordinary. He points out that parts of Colorado and the Great Lakes produce snow that contains even less moisture.

And that “lake effect” we prize for heaping snow on the Wasatch Front? Well, he says its big impact is in October and November at the front of the snow season -- not in the midst of it. A warming planet will mean wetter snow and the ruin of some ski areas, he says.

“I would expect that the quality would decrease some,” Steenburgh said. “However, if you think about it, it’s still going to be better snow than many other places. You know, the upper Cottonwoods, they’re going to be one of the places where the ski industry can continue to survive.”

Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth is available at local bookstores. 

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.