(CN) — There is nothing like riding a good powder day in the Rocky Mountains. There are countless tales of people moving to Colorado after falling in love with one ski run or another. The Centennial State is generally known for its loose, dry snow, but different topographic conditions create variations in water content and depth.
That, along with a trademark stamped by the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, is why Steamboat Ski Resort in Steamboat Springs claims to be the only place in the world with "Champagne Powder" snow.
Local lore has it that rancher Joe McElroy coined the phrase in the days of barrel-stave skis with beartrap bindings. The story goes that on a particularly beautiful powder day, he said the snow tickled his nose like champagne.
While the patent office generally rejects descriptive trademarks like “green grass” or “blue sky,” the phrase “champagne powder” was deemed quirky enough to slide.
“When you have a mark that is somewhat descriptive of the beautiful fluffy snow that we get here, everyone wants to use it,” said Tamara Pester Schklar, a Denver trademark attorney who runs Snowgrrl.com. “In order to prevent other entities from using it, their attorneys would have to send a bunch of cease and desist letters.
“For skiers, a powder day gives you that light, fluffy feeling like you're floating on the snow. There's really nothing like it. That's why so many of us live in Colorado and love our Epic passes or whatever ski passes we've gotten for the season.”
Her favorite place to ride is Powder Mountain in Eden, Utah.
“It was literally the deepest powder I have ever experienced, and it was falling as we were skiing, and I had never had a day like that before,” Schklar recalled.
It will always be debatable whether the best snow falls in Utah, Colorado or elsewhere. Not even science can settle it.
In a paper published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in 2009, researchers at the University of Utah’s Storm Peak Laboratory concluded, “it is not possible to show that the snow in Utah is the greatest on Earth, [but] nonscientific skier surveys do indicate that Utah's Wasatch Mountains have a strong powder skiing reputation."
The researchers described the properties that made the Utah mountains famous.
"We propose that this reputation is not based on unusually dry snow but a high frequency of days on which both the water content and quantity of freshly fallen snow enable deep-powder skiing,” the researchers wrote. "So-called bottomless powder in which the skier is floating in the new snow, does not feel the underlying snow surface, and experiences 'face shots' (i.e., powder lofting onto their body and face) represents the apex of powder skiing."
The study estimated the water content in Steamboat snow averages 7.2%, making it drier than many surrounding areas. In advertising, Steamboat Ski Resort cites earlier work published by a Storm Peak researcher in the 1990s documenting the area’s snow density at 6% water.
Located in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, Steamboat is 100 miles north of the popular Interstate 70 corridor ski areas. As air travels east from the Pacific Ocean, it loses significant moisture over the Mojave Desert. When an air current hits the Park Range, orthographic lift forces it upward, causing the mass to cool and, under the right conditions, release extremely dry snow.
Steamboat Springs is also home to one of America’s oldest ski areas — Howelsen Hill, founded in 1914. While Howelsen arguably gets the same dry precipitation as Steamboat Ski Resort, it can only be called generic “sparkling wine” snow.