The Pursuit of Powder: Why Joel Gratz of OpenSnow Loves His Job

What do you do when you are in possession of some of the most valuable information in Colorado? In the case of Joel Gratz of OpenSnow, you share it with the world. What began as a pet project and a way for Gratz to capitalize on the best ski days quickly turned into a successful business that is now the most trusted name in mountain weather forecasting.

Gratz’s love for skiing and meteorology was sparked by a childhood fascination with snow. He graduated from Penn State in 2003 with a degree in meteorology and moved to Colorado to “ski big mountains” and pursue graduate work in Environmental Studies and business at CU Boulder. “When I moved to Colorado and discovered powder, it hooked me just like most people,” remembers Gratz, “I wanted to ski more and more of it. So I put my meteorological skills to work forecasting snow so I would selfishly know when to call in sick and go skiing.” Then in 2007, Gratz decided to share his findings with friends in a weekly Thursday night email newsletter so they would know where to chase the powder that weekend. The OpenSnow business took form from there and officially launched on November 1, 2011.

The Pursuit of Powder: Why Joel Gratz of OpenSnow Loves His Job

A perfect day at Copper Mountain. Photo Credit: Tripp Fay, courtesy of Copper Mountain.

The OpenSnow name has since become known for its almost psychic snow forecasting accuracy. There are a few key storm indicators that the OpenSnow team looks for (think: wind direction and temperature), but Gratz says that OpenSnow’s accuracy and success is more closely tied to the increasing availability of worldwide weather computer model data. “There’s always a limit to accuracy, but [weather modeling data] has allowed us to see the data as a whole rather than just a subset,” explains Gratz. “And I think the cool thing is that a lot of other people that aren’t meteorologists, like skiers and snowboarders, are now able to go online, and dig into a lot of the weather model data themselves.” And Gratz is stoked about the community that has begun to form around forecasting. “A lot of people are looking at the data independently and are cross-referencing their understanding of a storm with ours. It’s really exciting.”

The Pursuit of Powder: Why Joel Gratz of OpenSnow Loves His Job

Arapahoe Basin Spring 2016. Photo Credit: Dave Camara, courtesy of Arapahoe Basin.

Snow forecasting can be a tricky business—mountain weather is variable and can change rapidly, but Gratz does not seem to feel the pressure in spite of OpenSnow’s celebrity status. For Gratz, it’s really all about the love of the game. “People ask me all the time where the best place to ski is, and I’m always like, wherever your friends happen to be and secondarily, where the best snow is that day. The days when it’s not snowing and you’re just cruising around the mountain with friends and family, those can be the most awesome ski days.”

Joel Gratz has almost 20 years of forecasting experience. To access his weather forecasts this winter season, check out opensnow.com or download the OpenSnow app. The OpenSnow team has also released a brand new app called OpenSummit dedicated to forecasting weather for Colorado fourteeners.

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