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Monday, November 11, 2013

Who has the best snow? Tahoe or Utah?

Last week, I began this discussion of who has the best snow in the US: coastal mountain ranges (CA, OR, WA) or interior mountain ranges (WY, CO, UT)? To answer this question, I started to explore pros and cons of the snow most associated with each region: Sierra cement (coastal ranges) and Champagne powder (interior ranges). Last week’s blog focused on Sierra cement, so this week’s blog will wrap it up with a discussion of Champagne powder.

As a quick recap, last week’s discussion of Sierra cement is summarized below.

Sierra Cement
-         Binds to steep rock well
-        Great for getting an early season base layer down
-         Heavy! You may feel sluggish
-         Lack of face shots – harder to get white-roomed in heavy stuff

Champagne Powder
Champagne powder is a term used to describe the quality of snow that falls in the interior mountain ranges of the US such as the Rockies and the Tetons. Champagne powder is names after the tasty alcoholic beverage because it has a light, airy, and dry feel to it. Unlike its wetter partner to the west, Sierra cement, Champagne powder has very little moisture content. 

Have you ever tried to pack a snowball, but it won’t stick together well and is just too fluffy? Well, that is pretty much what Champagne powder is like. If you can make a snowball as compact and dangerous as a baseball, then you’re working with something more like Sierra cement.

Unlike Sierra cement, which is used as a derogatory term, Champagne powder is used to compliment the snow. Utah has made a business out of advertising the “Greatest Snow on Earth” which is used to describe their Champagne powder. Because Champagne powder is so light and fluffy, it gives rise to the “blower” effect. Meaning, when you ski or snowboard through the snow it will effortlessly “blow” out of the way. This is an AWESOME feeling for those of you have haven’t felt it. It’s what I imagine floating in a cloud is like. Additionally, champagne powder is great for cliff hucking (aka cliff jumping). Since the snow is so soft, it will compress a bunch during your landing which results in pillow soft landings.

What lies beneath? Similar to that trippy suspense movie, champagne powder can sometimes leave you wanting to know what lies beneath. Since Champagne powder is so light and fluffy, it can sometimes leave you more exposed to hidden features underneath the snow. This can be a dangerous situation for beginners and experts alike. Unless you’re real confident of the snowpack underneath, don’t go charging too hard off-piste without a couple feet of champagne powder.