Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative. — Oscar Wilde
Well, Oscar Wilde never lived in Utah, where the discussions can become spirited, even spiritual when it comes to frosts, fronts and forecasts. Weather prognosticating is akin to following sports teams. Everyone has favorites, and most bookmark the calls made by weather all-stars, Evan Thayer and Mike Ruzek. In winter, topics in their huddles go beyond snow totals, covering orographics, density amounts and Hawaiian buoys. Yes, buoys. In Hawaii. How imaginative is that!
Three thousand miles from Utah in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, buoys bob in the waters off the Hawaiian Coast. Their ebbs and flows are continuously monitored for coastline residents and eager surfers, both groups looking to this perpetual force from nature for guidance, enlightenment or just a good ride.
The buoys measure wave heights, which pulse and build across the surface, foretelling storms from above or earthquakes below. Powder Buoy (aka Mike Ruzek) and others have also noticed these anchored floats can often predict powder days in the mountains of Utah a fortnight later.
What began as a conversation between friends nearly two decades ago has developed into a website, Facebook page and Instagram account (@PowderBuoy) displaying two-dimensional line graphs dissected and discussed by its 38,000 followers.
Ruzek is not a meteorologist; he’s a wealth management professional in Utah. One of his Park City clients, an engineer, moved to Paia, Hawaii, where he surfed, monitored buoys and mused to Ruzek that approximately two weeks after buoys “popped” in waves of Hawaii, storms would occur in the mountains of the Wasatch.
The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last. —O.W.
Amusement fueled anticipation, which transformed into astonishment as the correlation occurred again and again. And while their desire to believe in the unexplainable (and possibly not wanting to jinx it) finally collided with their need to test their hypothesis, these numbers guys eventually looked at data from several years of bobbing buoys and discovered that Utah experienced these lagging snow days approximately 70% of the time.
Even after years of posting the Powder Buoys reports on Facebook and Instagram, Ruzek cannot rationally explain the phenomenon. Low pressure, amplitude, duration of the blue line, models…it always returns to head shaking when discussing the buoys. No one knows why they are such good predictors, and surfers and skiers seem to like it that way.
When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers. — O.W.
Ruzek described skiing and surfing as ‘soul sports,’ pursuits that are “bonded with nature and the enjoyment of some bounty” — waves or snow. When you’re riding atop the waves or snorkeling deep powder, in that singular moment, nothing else matters. That feeling of flow fills and tingles, and this ‘stoke’ lingers hours and days, even seasons later, eventually making us greedy and wanting more.
The historic nature of the 2022–23 ski season has only supercharged this desire.
Utah skiers and snowboarders scour the internet where they quickly find Evan Thayer. He’s been featured in traditional media and social media outlets, including on-mountain updates for Ski Utah, for years. He’s also the principal Utah forecaster for OpenSnow, the app every winter outdoor enthusiast should have on their phone.
Thayer studied meteorology and computer science at Colorado State University. Despite leaning into the latter while friends kept inquiring about the former, avocation eventually overtook vocation, and Thayer was offered a way to make winter vacation weather forecasting his calling. [Note: Like the energizing charge and unavoidable glow from St. Elmo’s fire, transforming passion into purpose is a frequent phenomenon in Utah.
Thayer translates complicated models and forecasting jargon for the masses. In his summary and longer posts on OpenSnow, he can go beyond a three-minute weather segment found on local television and explain not only what will likely happen in the Intermountain West but also why.
Utah’s snow machine is fueled by its unique geography. Its 15 ski resorts are dotted throughout the Wasatch and Tusher Mountains and trailing down to the Markagunt Plateau. These peaks are situated between the Great Basin and the rising western edge of the Rockies. As storms move eastward across the arid expanse and greedily absorb moisture from The Great Salt Lake. These bulging systems then meet the headwalls of the giant mountains, slide up the canyons and dump inches, feet even, of The Greatest Snow on Earth®.
Thayer dives deep into the American and European weather models, explaining them all and letting audiences know where and when to expect the biggest powder stashes. He humbly admits that he relies on publicly available data, but he’s able to wade through it far better than dilettantes on a high-speed six-pack. That said, like a proud dad getting his shredder on a magic carpet for the first time, Thayer gets excited about introducing kids to weather science (you suspect that he caught the weather bug and powder flu early). His enthusiasm seeps into his charts and descriptions, which feel like IRL video games.
Thayer’s reports are also a masterclass in weather forecasting. He goes beyond the total inches expected in the Cottonwoods to discuss the type of storm (we like ‘right side up’ ones) and timing (night storm followed by bluebird day makes for great photos), density (less water = more powder, maximum float) and so much more.
An All-Access Subscription to OpenSnow provides users with Thayer’s reports and unlocks some of the app’s best features, including Forecast Anywhere, custom forecasts across the U.S. using its proprietary algorithm. For $39.99 annually, subscribers and up to three other “members” of their group (powder posse) can track the weather for all of Utah’s and the country’s ski resorts. The only other thing you’ll want is a Ski Utah Yeti Pass (or a Ski Utah 4th, 5th, 6th Grade Passport for the groms) so you can go anywhere in the state while chasing the snowfall.
OpenSnow and Powder Buoy are some of the best tools to find the goods on a powder day. Still, both Thayer and Ruzek agree that what they hope to bring to skiers and snowboarders beyond great information and entertainment is a connection to the mountain and this place, the feeling of flow and stoke and, most importantly, to friends and family. Imagine all that…and so much more.