by Wagner Skis / Dec 01, 2019

Season 2, Episode 8: Joel Gratz – The Powder Prophet

Joel Gratz is the sky-gazing scientist boss of Open Snow who captains a team of meteorologists across the country delivering ski-focused forecasts for millions of powder hounds. In the early 2000s, fledgling weatherman Joel grew irked when he kept missing powder days despite his years studying weather. So, he started writing his own forecasts for powder. In 2007, he started mailing those forecasts to a few dozen friends. Today, close to 3 million people click over to every year. Joel’s years of science-guided powder chasing has given him unique insights into planning extra-snowy ski trips. Listen in as Joel riffs on the good news and bad news behind long-range weather predictions, the importance of wind in planning powder days and the unsung hero of powder skiing on this episode of Next Level Skiing.

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[02:15] Having moderate expectations is important.
[03:00] He’s a skier, so he knows how to speak the language.
[04:05] You can get excited within 3-5 days of a good snow report.
[04:35] A 3 day forecast can be 95-98% accurate in terms of storm tracking.
[05:00] At 5 days out, you are at 90% accuracy and it continues down from there.
[07:50] There is no one who could consistently predict the weather for all the different regions in the U.S. year in and year out.
[09:48] Joel discovered his love of skiing at Shawnee Mountain in Pennsylvania.
[10:20] Joel has loved skiing and weather since he was four years old.
[12:52] When he started out, Joel didn’t have a strategy or business plan.
[13:05] Basically, he was surprised by the weather and found it frustrating.
[13:30] His method was a lot of trial and error.
[15:15] Joel credits his success to his team at Open Snow.
[15:52] When Open Snow started, they didn’t mean to make it a business; it was mostly for their friends.
[19:00] Skiing is better than not skiing, so you can’t wait for perfect weather.
[19:32] If you are on the fence, always choose to ski. Worse case scenario, the conditions aren’t perfect, but you still get to ski with friends and family.
[21:00] All you can say a week to 10 days out is whether there may be storms in a region. It’s very general.
[25:02] Wind direction is a key factor in figuring out the weather in the west.
[27:50] If you want to look at weather maps, look at them at the 700 Millibar level (around 10,000 feet).
[30:48] Open Snow gets a lot of emails from thrilled users.
[34:40] The snow report that you see on most apps is a 24-hour snow report.
[34:57] That 24 hour period usually covers 5am the previous day to 5am that day.
[35:13] So, you have to figure out when the snow fell.
[35:50] Joel yells at himself to keep his hands forward whenever he is tired and not skiing well.


Open Snow


“Science is always advancing and the only way you advance is by trying, failing, trying again, failing, trying again, failing.”
“We write the way we feel.”
“Beyond about 7-10 days, you’re really grasping at straws.”

Listen to other episodes

Lindsay Andersen: Pull Your Toes Up
Evan Reece: It’s Rare to Find a Place That Isn’t Worth Going to at Least Once
Wendy Fisher: Spontaneity is Key
Kim Reichhelm: The Most Important Thing is Having Fun
Hilaree Nelson: The Value of Saying Yes
Jonathan Ellsworth: Lean Into It
Allen Tran: Building An Athlete, One Meal at a Time
Joel Gratz: The Powder Prophet