How Colorado controls the climate

Essay by Steve Voynick

Ski industry – April 1994 – Colorado Central Magazine

One of mankind’s greatest dreams — controlling the weather — is coming true in Colorado. From November to April, our mountain weather is yielding to the power of man.

Living in the mountains, I’ve always been intrigued by ski-area snowfall reports. Often, I drive through 3 inches of new snow at Frémont Pass as the morning news gleefully announces 10 fresh inches at Copper Mountain. But at Copper, 12 miles later and 1,000 feet lower, there still seems to be only three inches of new snow. Where’s that 10 inches of new snow you got last night?” I ask the desk clerk. The usual answer is, “Up on the slopes, I guess.”

Putting most of that snow on the slopes where you ski on it and don’t have to drive through it is convenient, thoughtful, and no easy job. It’s a meteorological miracle that occurs often in Ski Country, U.S.A.

Colorado skiing is big business, providing 46,000 seasonal jobs and generating $160 million in annual tax receipts. With numbers like that, weather can’t be left to the whims of God or Nature. All those Iowa farmers and New Jersey clerks aren’t going to fly out here to ski on rocks and drive on impassable highways. Making that weather right is the job of the Colorado Ski Association, the groundskeeper of Ski Country, USA.

And it’s a formidable job. January, for example, was one of the warmest on record. The clear sunny days and lack of snow were creating rumors in the flatlands that Colorado skiing was, well, lousy. Fortunately, the Colorado Ski Association was around to provide expert analysis of the slope conditions. True, there was no fresh powder, but there was great packed powder. Don’t worry about the unknowledgeable sources that had reported hard pack. The skiing is fantastic. Come on out.

When you need snow in Colorado, it even falls from cloudless skies. I was driving west on I-70 one bright, sunny morning in January when Beaver Creek reported a half-inch of new snow. You know things are getting bad when snowfall reports are given in fractions of inches.

Nevertheless, I was grateful for the report. Not being a meteorologist, I had mistaken the snowfall for frost.

Then, in one February, the mountains got some real snow; in fact, too much snow. Now, instead of making snow, the job was to get rid of a little.

On a stormy February Friday evening preceding the big-bucks Presidents’ Day skiing weekend, one Denver TV anchorwoman read a horror story of travelers’ advisories, Chinook winds in the foothills gusting at more than 100 miles an hour, two feet of snow predicted for the mountains, the chain law on the passes, and a multi-car pileup on Floyd Hill. To top it all off, the State Patrol, citing ground blizzards, had just closed I-70 west of Idaho Springs.

She made the transition to the weather announcer’s segment with the logical comment that if you don’t have to drive, stay home.

But no way is the TV weather announcer going to say, “That’s right, you’d have to be nuts to drive in this stuff.” Perhaps the Colorado Ski Association had informed him that most of the snow had again fallen on the slopes, not on the highways. In a smooth, reassuring voice, he spoke to this effect: “Now, just a minute. It’s not really that ad. Living in Colorado, we have to occasionally expect some adverse mountain driving conditions. But one thing is for sure. The skiing is going to be fan-tastic up there.”

The considerable meteorological powers of the Colorado Ski Association are being underutilized. They should be used in all seasons for the benefit of other industries besides skiing. We can end droughts on the plains, route tornadoes through unpopulated areas, control the Mississippi floods, and put an end to those troublesome late frosts in orchard country. And when those chores are done, think what the Colorado Ski Association could do in Antarctica or the Sahara.

God and Nature never have given us the weather we prefer. It’s time for both to step aside and turn the job over to the people who have proven they can do it right — the Colorado Ski Association.

Steve Voynik once earned an honest living as a hardrock miner before becoming a free-lance writer in Leadville.