Joel Gratz’s obsession with snow began when he first went skiing at age 4 in Pennsylvania.
“I was hooked, that was it,” said Gratz, CEO and meteorologist at Open Snow. “Most meteorologists love weather because of some childhood event — a hurricane, a snowstorm — for me, it was my love of skiing and love of snow. So I knew from a very early age that I was going to be a meteorologist.”
Gratz’s company, Open Snow, is a group of forecasters like him who are based in ski communities across Colorado, Utah, Tahoe, the Northwest, the Northeast and even the Midwest and who do nothing but predict snow for skiers and snowboarders. Gratz started Open Snow four years ago because he never wanted to miss a powder day.
“When I moved to Colorado about 10 years ago for grad school, I was upset at missing powder days due to bad forecasts,” he said. “So I tried to figure it out for myself. … Once I learned how to forecast in Colorado, I started to do so, and I saw other people across the country that were also forecasting snow in their local regions for skiers.”
Forecasting Summit snow
Gratz will give a presentation about how Open Snow forecasts powder dumps for Summit County on Wednesday, March 19, at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge. He said he’s planning to put the 2013-14 ski season in context to show attendees how it’s been good compared with past seasons.
“I will cover some of the forecasts for the rest of the month, see how March is going to shape up,” he said. “I’ll also talk specifically about Summit County and the tricks of forecasting snow in Summit County — which storms bring us the most snow and which storms will generally be over-forecast, when the snow actually ends up elsewhere.”
Every mountain and range has its own tricks that direct weather patterns, Gratz said.
“Each mountain range forces the wind to go up or down or around it, and knowing those patterns is what helps to forecast snowfall,” he said. “It comes down to knowing the mountain range and the wind direction that brings the most snow to the mountain range, what wind directions favor the most snow for each ski area.”
Double-whammy of challenges
The No. 1 challenge Gratz loves in his job is forecasting snow so he can chase powder.
“The second thing I love are the business challenges of trying to create a new business and figure out how to create a good service for the people who pay us and like us — how to stay in business and grow the business,” he said. “So, the first thing I love is the snow, the powder; the second thing I love is the intellectual challenge of trying to start and sustain a business.”
Open Snow has become a trusted source for many Summit County powder hounds and media outlets all over the High Country.
“I think what we’re seeing is that that very specific, localized information is what skiers and snowboarders crave,” Gratz said. “So while most big cities across the country have many local forecasters covering their weather for TV, very few ski areas and mountain towns have local forecasters covering those areas for skiers and snowboarders, so we’re filling that void.”
People appreciate Open Snow, Gratz said, because the team of meteorologists knows the intimate details of local weather, from overrated snowstorms to those that leave a dusting at Vail or Keystone and dump a foot on Breckenridge.
“We really understand why the snow falls like it does and demystify the crazy weather that can dump a lot of snow in one spot and not a lot in another,” he said. “We want to remove some of the mystery of Colorado and Summit County weather.”
“It comes down to knowing the mountain range and the wind direction that brings the most snow to the mountain range, what wind directions favor the most snow for each ski area.”
CEO and meteorologist at Open Snow