By Sally Francklyn
It’s 4:23 am: I meet ski patroller Kylie Petras in the Lower Patrol Room (LPR). We walk out to the snowmobile (or as patrollers call it, the doo) and ride it up to the weather station at mid-mountain. Kylie looks at the stakes, and check the snowfall accumulation in the past 12 hours, 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days, and the season total. We also look at a gauge that tells the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE), or the wetness/density of the snow. Kylie has a little notebook in the pocket of her ski pants where she’ll write it all down. We ride the doo back down.
Down at LPR, Kylie pulls out the notebook, and types in how many inches Copper tracks. We enter the snowfall total on the DOM, or the backend of Copper Mountain’s website. Although Summit County has gotten a ton of snow already this season, only a dusting has fallen overnight, so 0” are reported and logged. On mountain, the 24-hour snowfall board is cleared off at 5 am daily. There is also a 12-hour board, which is cleared on sweeps (around 4:45 pm) and checked in the morning. There’s also a Storm Board, which shows the total snow height of the current storm. Patrollers wait for the storm to pass over before they clear this board. Knowing that these are each cleared off after they’re checked and after a storm means Copper is always accurate with their snowfall reporting.
Next, we report the information that Kylie’s written down from the glass tube that measures the snow density, or the snow water equivalent (SWE). This density gauge is also kept at mid-mountain, and recorded in the DOM as a percentage, or in inches. A formula calculates the density of the snow, based on the height and weight of snow. There are two Height of Snowpack stakes (HS) that are checked daily: one is at the mid-mountain weather site, and the Upper Stake is in Spaulding Bowl, below Patrol Headquarters (PHQ).
This quantitative data is used in meteorology to determine the atmosphere of a given place, based on the density and amount of snow. In skier-talk, that’s how much snow will fall. Colorado is known for its dry snow, so the density plays a huge role in the reporting. The lower the number recorded for the SWE means the drier, fluffier it will be. The weather sheet shows all the recorded numbers, and is emailed to the forecasters on patrol (who are in charge of planning the early-morning avalanche routes). It’s also goes to the Colorado avalanche Information Center, or CAIC.
Kylie logs this weather-reporting information on many different external sites. One of these sites is OpenSnow. It was created by a meteorologist who’s obsessed with skiing, and wanted to make a career out of his passion. With multiple certified meteorologists across the country, those meteorologists report the snowfall for different ski resorts. At Copper Mountain, the weather team takes into account the current weather conditions, cloud cover, and barometric pressure to predict the future snowfall. When we wake up and check the Copper Mountain site for the snow report, the weather team beginning work at 4:30 am is worth it.