You are in for a treat this week with this guest post from Veronica Asmus. As we wait for the next storm cycle to hit Alta, we thought now would be the perfect time to break down exactly why Alta snow is the “Greatest Snow on Earth”. It gets even better as Veronica put together so much content for this post that we are going to break it into two posts. Today, you will learn about the science of Alta snow. Next week, you’ll learn a few tips on how to make the most of storm skiing in Alta.
Veronica Asmus is a surfer-turned-skier born and raised in Santa Cruz, CA. She is celebrating her sixth season living and working up Little Cottonwood Canyon. You may find her tending bar in the Goldminer’s Saloon when she’s off the slopes.
Without further adieu…The Science of Alta Snow –
Skiing powder at Alta is what it’s all about. The dry, light flakes we get here are unique to this area, containing a mere 8.5% moisture density. Those of us who are lucky enough to ski this place during a powder cycle can tell you about the bottomless powder, the face-shots, and the hero snow that make Alta the heralded powder mecca we’re known for being.
Aside from the light water content in our snow, there are three other key elements to understanding why our snowpack is so plentiful and light.
The most common wind cycles we get come from the West, leaving Alta in a downwind shadow from the Great Salt Lake. Our wind pattern allows us to enjoy a phenomenon called lake-effect snow. Essentially, storms blow over the Great Salt Lake and collect the moisture rising off of the water’s surface. Since the vapor is warmer than the wind, it rises up into the storm, freezing as it travels and joins the preexisting precipitation. The storm then dumps all of its powdery white goodness on us! So, when we expect a few inches, due to lake-effect, we often receive significantly more snow. Piling light snow on top of a heavier accumulation is what gives us that bottomless snowpack we yearn for.
The second unique aspect of Alta powder is the actual shape of the snowflake. The environment incubates a particular snowflake formation called a dendrite, a thin, relatively large and (usually) symmetrically branched snowflake. These snowflakes are what glom onto one another, making it look like a down puffy coat that is split open pouring its contents out onto the snow. So light and fluffy, this is what Alta is all about.
Finally, according to the author of the Powder Hound’s Guide to Skiing Alta, armchair scientist, and rippin’ skier Brad Asmus (my dad- hey Dad!!), “The perfect Alta fluff falls at ten degrees. That’s all there is to it.”
Now that you are educated in the science of our snow, we highly recommend sharing some of this new knowledge with your chairlift partners or ski buddies. They’ll gain new respect for your knowledge of Alta snow from the scientific level.