Powder forecaster optimistic looking at coming season | SteamboatToday.com

Powder forecaster optimistic looking at coming season

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. employees ski along the Sundial trail bordering Morningside Park.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Colorado meteorologist who specializes in forecasting snowfall at ski areas is cautiously optimistic looking ahead to the coming season.

Joel Gratz runs opensnow.com, a website that offers forecasts specific to ski areas in Colorado and throughout the United States.

His goal has always been to provide fellow skiers with information they need to catch the best powder days on the slopes.

Gratz last week sat down for a live Facebook webcast with a reporter at the Vail Daily.

Gratz pulled up the long-term forecasts he has been closely watching.

"If you just read these models for what they say, we say we are gonna have a banner year this year," Gratz said. "Now, the reality is, seasonal forecasting three to six months ahead is not something to hang your hat on."

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Gratz saw a steady trend of storms and moisture from the northwest December through March.

"I still don't plan all my ski trips on it, but I get excited," Gratz said.

The northwest flow signals it could be a La Niña season.

"So, usually we figure out what the season is going to be like, or at least by looking at El Nino and La Nina, which is water patterns in the central Pacific Ocean, which changes weather patterns and can sometimes make it more particularly snowy or less snowy," Gratz said. "It works some of the time."

He cautioned that long-term forecast can be challenging and inaccurate.

"If this storm track is a little bit this way to the west or a little bit to the east, that makes all the difference, but I'm cautiously optimistic," Gratz said. He added that wind direction is the key component when it comes to snowfall, and Steamboat benefits the most from wind coming from the west and northwest.

With the long-term forecasts signaling a northwest flow, it could bode well for Steamboat.

Also exciting to Gratz is the current weather, though hurricanes are causing great devastation.

Gratz pulled up a satellite images showing the three current hurricanes, with Katia in Mexico, Irma at Florida and Jose still in the Atlantic Ocean.

The satellite image looked strikingly similar to another satellite image from September 2010, with hurricanes Karl, Igor and Julia.

"For people that have been around Colorado for awhile, you might remember that the 2010-2011 season was an off-the-charts, phenomenal La Niña super-snowy season, and so, potentially, if the atmosphere is behaving now like it did in late 2010, maybe we trend toward La Niña and have an amazing season, like we did in 2010-2011," Gratz said.

During that season, the Steamboat Ski Area received 433 inches of snow.

On average the ski area receives 327 inches of snow.

Steamboat received the most snow in 2007-08, with 489 inches of snow.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland