Utahn Michael Ruzek began tracking Buoy 51101, a weather buoy moored far off the north shore of Kauai, over a decade ago. He observed that when swells cause 51101 to start climbing—activity he’s dubbed a “buoy pop”—Utah’s Wasatch Mountain Range almost always receives a snowstorm two weeks later. At first, Ruzek kept this intel to himself. But, before long, friends encouraged him to go public. Now, more than 13,000 Instagram and 8,000 Facebook followers later, savvy powder hounds from around the world look to Ruzek’s powderbuoy.com to plan their plunder of Utah’s fluffiest commodity.
Have you noticed any correlation between Utah’s biggest storms and a specific swell height of the buoy? Michael Ruzek:
Size does matter, but so does the length of the swell. The longer the pop, the longer the storm, the steeper the pop, the faster and more intense our storms tend to be. L:
Can buoy pops be applied to Utah’s southern resorts—Eagle Point and Brian Head—or does buoy action primarily indicate impending snowfall in Utah’s northern Wasatch, Uinta and Bear River ranges? M:
Yes to all of the above, but I believe where the storms happen has more to do with El Niño or La Niña patterns, which I consider when making a forecast. Pineapple Express storms, or a southwest flow, seem to impact Southern Utah and Deer Valley more than the typical north/northwest flow storms that were frequent in the 2019–20 season, which tend to drop the hammer, with a side of lake effect, in the Cottonwood Canyons—Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton. L:
Is 51101 a magic buoy or have you ever noticed correlations between other buoys and snowstorms in different regions beyond Utah? M:
It’s definitely magic! I originally tracked a buoy nearby which was knocked off its anchor by a huge storm in late 2009. Buoy 51101—a suitable, close-by replacement—now formulates my forecasts. I haven’t had the time to check out other buoys, yet, but hope to this winter.
I’m guessing that, based on the Powder Buoy logo, you are a big Grateful Dead fan. Any particular show or memory that inspired the iconic Powder Buoy logo? M:
I’ve been a Deadhead since I was in sixth grade. My favorite performance is probably Jerry Garcia’s heartfelt solo of Wharf Rat. I made a Steal Your Face sticker for a monoski I bought back in 1989 and adapted the Powder Buoy logo from that. It just felt natural to me. L:
Have you ever visited the buoy in person? M:
It’s on my bucket list for sure. I need to slap a Powder Buoy sticker on that bad boy. L:
Was it skiing that sparked your storm tracking prowess? M:
Definitely. I’m a wealth manager in my day job and have built my life around a balance of family, friends, work and play. I use the Powder Buoy as one of the ways I achieve that balance and as tool to give me scheduling foresight. L:
How has running Powder Buoy enriched your life or inspired unlikely connections? M:
It’s been the most random and fun addition to my life. I love the stoke that it creates and that I get to share with people. I get so much positive love, kindness and gratitude from people all over the country. I feel so fortunate to track the buoy.
Find Michael online at powderbuoy.com
or on Instagram