Among snow scientists, weather watchers and powder chasers, few are as qualified as Dr. Jim Steenburgh. In 1995 Steenburgh received his PhD in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Washington, and used his meteorological senses to take him to some of the lightest powder in North America — the Wasatch. He is currently a professor at the University of Utah, an accomplished backcountry skier and the moderator of Wasatch Weather Weenies, a popular blog bringing in-depth weather reports to the backcountry skiing community of Utah. Through the eyes of both an accomplished meteorologist and backcountry skier, Steenburgh has produced an in-depth book for anyone interested in the science of snow.
The book promises much with its title, Secrets of the Greatest Snow On Earth: Weather, Climate Change, and Finding Deep Powder in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains and Around the World, and that is exactly what you get. Right away Steenburgh jumps into Utah powder and the discussion of if it really does hold the claim to the lightest snow on earth. True to his education, Steenburgh doesn’t linger in speculation either, but instead jumps right into the science, getting down to the nitty-gritty of what makes the greatest snow on earth.
For backcountry enthusiasts that find themselves infatuated with weather patterns, snow water equivalents, micro-climates, and Utah, this book is a dream come true. Steenburgh dives into what he knows best, the Wasatch weather, and explains in great detail how this area of the United States comes up with some of the best powder skiing in the world. With many pictures, diagrams, and an easy to understand writing style, the book is a great starting place for someone to get a more in-depth understanding of weather and snow.
For backcountry enthusiasts who do not find themselves enamored with such things, or for someone not living in Utah, this book falls short. Without a fascination for the details of snow and weather science, the writing comes off as dry and slow moving, and the resounding focus on Utah throughout the book offers little for readers living in different climates. Of the nine chapters that make up the book, only one is completely dedicated to areas outside of Utah. With only 22 pages in the chapter, many popular ski climates are glossed over in much less detail than that of the Wasatch. The book gives the reader an insight of what snow science consists of, but for a person looking to learn the intricacies of ski touring climate somewhere other than Utah, this is not the right book.
The book doesn’t live entirely in the realm Utah or weather patterns though. Nearing the end of the book Steenburgh dedicates two chapters to make statements about a couple important issues plaguing the backcountry ski industry: avalanches and global warming. Keeping in the style of the rest of the book, both of these topics are looked at from a scientist’s point of view, but nonetheless, important information is covered in order to help keep skiers and riders informed and within the realm of safety.
Quibbles aside, overall the book shines for what it is, an in-depth case study of unique Wasatch mountain climate in understandable terms for anybody. There is no denying that Steenburgh knows what he is talking about, and that he has created a successful book, albeit for a small audience. If you are looking for a book to let you in on some ski industry secrets, and don’t want to get bogged down in too much technical talk, this book could be a little much. However, if you are looking for a book to give you an introduction to snow science, and you live in Utah, Steenburgh’s Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth could hit the nail on the head.
Guest blogger Amos Horn is a splitboarder who grew up and originally started his adventures on snow in Vermont. He is now living in the Pacific Northwest where the Cascades mountains have taught him everything he knows about safe and fun travel in the mountains. Recently graduated with a degree in journalism, Amox plans to spend more time adventuring in the mountains. When he is not in the wilderness he enjoys writing, fishing, biking and spending time with friends. Check out more of his fine writing at his website.
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