Why, It Was Definitely the Snow!

Why, It Was Definitely the Snow! "Utah’s Winter King: A Key Individual in the History of Utah’s Ski Industry"
Photo from 1989 Utah History Fair
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes
“Utah’s Winter King: A Key Individual in the History of Utah’s Ski Industry”
Photo from 1989 Utah History Fair
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes

Snow-frosted Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Snow-frosted Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Snow. Tiny specks of dust and other particles in the air that attract water vapor to become ice crystals. That is what fascinated a man named Wilson ‘Snowflake’ Bentley enough to capture thousands of one-of-a-kind snowflake photographs and what drew my friend Alf to Utah. In the winter and early spring of 1989, I sat as a Bonneville Junior High ninth grader with Alf Engen in his office at Alta. As a presenter at the Utah History Fair that year, I was gathering stories and artifacts for my project titled Utah’s Winter King: A Key Individual in the History of Utah’s Ski Industry.

Engen shared stories about building ski jumps over the fences between his home and school and his journey from Norway to America, not to ski but to buy back the Engen estate divided up at his father’s death of the Spanish Flu in 1919. He said, “I was going to make enough money to go back, but I didn’t know how I was going to do that. I didn’t even know there was much snow here, I never read about that.” After sharing stories about arriving in Ellis Island, playing soccer in Milwaukee, scaffold hill jumping on Ecker Hill, and cross-country skiing as a forest service employee over Catherine Pass to imagine Alta as a ski hub, he ended with how he felt about jumping Utah’s snow: “They would say “Send Gummer–that is ‘old man’ in Norwegian–over first,” and I would have to do anything new. I knew I could do it, even if I had never tried it before. Once you are up there, you can fly.”

I had forgotten about that experience chatting about snow with a Utah snow giant until a few weeks ago, gazing out at the snow-frosted hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. I gripe about snow plowing piles and delayed-start school days, and I’d rather cut snowflakes from paper than be out in it most frigid days. Yet, this Christmas a friend gave me a blue and white book titled “The Little Book of Snow.”

For someone who grew up in “the greatest snow on earth,” I thought I knew snow well enough, but in addition to discovering linguistic similarities for the word snow and that some have estimated the number of snowflakes that fall to earth each year to be a number with at least 24 zeroes, I confirmed my suspicions about snow that is not white. I’ve often encountered pink snow patches at the high altitudes of Utah, and with a nudge from the watermelon snow paragraph, I found an intriguing citizen science opportunity online called The Living Snow Project led by Dr. Robin Kodner at Western Washington University. By contributing data about spring snow algal blooms through sample vials or at least observation photographs, scientists can study microscopic snow communities and their impact on snow melt.

Snow. When I asked him what about Utah made him stay, Alf Engen said, “Why, it was definitely the snow.” Snow is the stuff of which stories, science, and wonderful dreams are made.

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Blanchard, Duncan. 1970. The Snowflake Man. https://snowflakebentley.com/snowflake-man-bio

Coulthard, Sally. 2018. The Little Book of Snow. https://www.chroniclebooks.com/products/the-little-book-of-snow

Engen, Alan K. 2001. Alf Engen: A Son’s Reminiscences. https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/uhq_volume69_2001_number4/s/10191712​​

Greene, Jack. 2020. I Love Snow. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/i-love-snow/

Larese-Casanova, Mark. 2014. Utah’s Rich Skiing History. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/utahs-rich-skiing-history/

Libbrecht, Kenneth G. 1999. Guide to Snowflakes. https://www.its.caltech.edu/~atomic/snowcrystals/class/class-old.htm

Liberatore, Andrea. 2011. Snowflakes. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/snowflakes/

Living Snow Project. https://wp.wwu.edu/livingsnowproject/

Local Lexi. 2021. The History of “The Greatest Snow on Earth” https://www.skiutah.com/blog/authors/lexi/the-history-of-the-greatest-snow-on.

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. 1998. Snowflake Bentley. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. https://www.amazon.com/Snowflake-Bentley-Jacqueline-Briggs-Martin/dp/0547248296

Strand, Holly. 2009. A Utah Skier’s Snow Lexicon. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/a-utah-skiers-snow-lexicon/

Rascoe, Ayesha. 2022. Why Snow Is Turning Pink at High Altitudes. https://www.npr.org/2022/12/18/1143929924/why-snow-is-turning-pink-at-high-altitudes

Weller, Kristine. 2023. In a State Obsessed with Snowpack, Finding Pink Snow in Utah Is a Problem. https://www.kuer.org/health-science-environment/2023-01-03/in-a-state-obsessed-with-snowpack-finding-pink-snow-in-utah-is-a-problem

Gratitude is Work

Gratitude is Work: American Robin Courtesy Pixabay, Chakraaphotography, contributor
American Robin
Courtesy Pixabay,
Chakraaphotography, contributor
All y’all, I think winter may be over. Here it is, mid too-early yet again, and it’s thawed even the once. Or is it twice now? Do I have a thrice? Either way: woof. I can’t say I didn’t expect this, given the past 30 years, but I was at least hoping to be in error one of these times. Don’t get me wrong, the interludes are nice, but seasonal consistency would be at least in line with what I remember.

Now, I’m only a ripe old 31 and the last good winter, true winter, winter like winter should be, I remember is still lodged in that ever-expanding haze of childhood I once thought only existed with fogies. Once you get that haze behind you though, it seems you’re always nostalgic, at least now where winter is concerned, if you are concerned about winter.

But that last ‘normal’ winter I recall, I can’t even give you a year, or my age to be fair. I just feel like it was back there, way back. The kind of winter that used to make glaciers seed and grow, that was more than just some storms. If I remember correctly, I remember remembering. Now that I think of it, it may have actually been a story my parents or grandparents told me about how winters used to be. Cold and snow from stem to stern, pillowy white nivian firmament blanketing every ski hill, and quieting every night, all the way until the very edge of spring when a great melt would rise up and make the world descend into mud. To be honest, I would even expect that my last memory of a good winter was a tale I was told to placate me when we had even poor winters back then that made my folks nostalgic. But even those off winters which rubbed my folks into remembrance it appears take me, too. Even my poor childhood winters are perhaps truer than those I see today. That certainly lifts the spirits. Woof. It makes me miss even more that which I’ve never even had.

But then the better of me gets in, and I look out my window and see that it’s not gone yet, as rickety as it may be. I recall that it is disingenuous to pray for something imagined as gone and not to thank it when it’s actually here. That’s how I was raised at least. Gratitude is not rocket science. But it is work.

By that I mean that work is the greatest gratitude we can show. Work towards winter and water and snow means more than utterances and nostalgia and certainly desperation. And I’m not afraid of the work. I wasn’t raised to be. Work isn’t hard, it’s just difficult. I was taught that just because we do not inherit the blame does not mean that we do not inherit the responsibility. But if we do not take up this effort, then the blame shall be more ours than even those before. Do we want to be the people who could have done something, or those who did?

Now, I know at this point the next generation will likely too only know a world with whatever-we-call-this being considered a “good childhood winter” in their grand arc of life, but I refuse to let them see what could’ve been get in the way of what can be once more. All it will take is many years of nonstop intergenerational gracious work by all of us. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

I’m tired of praying for snow because I remember remembering what it once was. Even though I’d rather see than believe, I’ll be thankful for what is here. From grief there is a pathway to thankfulness, and from thankfulness there is a pathway to action. It may be that you cannot see the way, but that does not negate that it is there. So, even in the waning days of another rickety winter, let’s mold our dourness to be thankful for what we do have, and turn our gratitude into the work necessary to make our prayers increasingly more often in thanks rather than in desperation.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
Images: Courtesy Pixabay, , Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Holy smokes!

Ferguson Fire, Sierra National forest, California, 2018 Courtesy USDA Forest Service: Kari Greer, Photographer
Ferguson Fire, Sierra National forest, California, 2018
Courtesy USDA Forest Service: Kari Greer, Photographer
Holy smokes! Once again, our summer has become a smoke filled world we’re warned against breathing. I often wonder how our feathered friends are weathering the pall.

About a year ago, a mass die-off of song birds was witnessed over parts of the southwest tentatively attributed to the historic wildfires across California, Oregon and Washington, which
may have forced birds to rush their migration. But scientists do not know for sure – in part because nobody knows precisely how wildfire smoke affects birds. With increasing changes to
climate and rising temperatures, we do not have enough time to collect the data – things are changing faster than we can keep up with.

Enter eBird, a popular app for logging bird sightings. This platform, and the citizen birdwatchers who populate them, have become a critical tool for scientists trying to unravel the mysteries at the intersection of birds, wildfires and climate change. Researchers are increasingly relying on data collected by citizen scientists and birdwatchers to better understand the effects of climate change, including intensifying wildfire. The eBird app was created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology alongside the National Audubon society, to crowdsource data on the locations and numbers of bird populations globally.

A leading theory behind the south-west die-off is that widespread smoke pollution may have forced birds to start migration sooner than expected. Most of the birds seen dying were migratory. Migration had just started and they were trying to flee the smoke-filled areas and may have starved to death without an opportunity to add extra nutrients for their epic flights. Beyond the effects of smoke on migration patterns, the rise of megafires is also drawing unprecedented attention to the effects smoke may have on a bird’s delicate breathing. Birds and their lungs are certainly affected by smoke. Most of us have heard the phrase “canary in a coalmine”, which comes from the fact that birds are particularly sensitive to toxins in the air. The sensitivity could have something to do with birds’ unique respiratory system. While humans and other mammals use their diaphragm to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, birds possess a far more
efficient system, essentially inhaling and exhaling at the same time. This allows them to get enough oxygen to fuel near-constant activity and to breathe at much higher altitudes than

To do this, birds have tube-like structures called parabronchi, similar to human alveoli in the lungs, which are covered with sacs and capillaries for gas exchange. And as in humans, smoke damage can burst those bubbles, creating less surface area for gas exchange making it more difficult to breathe.

We can all help by joining eBird and reducing our heat trapping emissions. Go to our Bridgerland Audubon website for more information.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society and I’m wild about Utah, but not its smoke!


Nest Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

eBird, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://ebird.org/home

Hellstern, Ron, Wildfires, Wild About Utah, Oct 8, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wildfires/

Boling, Josh, Fire, Wild About Utah, Aug 13, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/fire/

Strand, Holly, Investigating the Causes of Wildfires, Wild About Utah, Aug 15, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/investigating-the-causes-of-wildfires/

Mack, Eric, California Wildfire Smoke Could Explain Thousands Of Dead Birds In The Southwest, Forbes, https://wildaboututah.org/investigating-the-causes-of-wildfires/

I Love Snow

Snow at Bryce Canyon National Park Courtesy NOAA, Mark Stacey, Photographer
Snow at Bryce Canyon National Park
Courtesy NOAA, Mark Stacey, Photographer
I love snow! It began when I was old enough to know the difference, and has continued since. We kids always celebrated the first snow of the year at our home in northern Wisconsin. We waded through it, ate it, made snow angels, looked for the most beautiful snowflake, dug snow caves, and waited for a warm up so we could make snowballs, snow people, and snow forts. Once it got deep enough, we broke out the 6-person toboggan and trudged up the biggest hill we could find. And we couldn’t imagine a Christmas without snow!

When we moved to Cache Valley Utah 34 years ago, I was delighted to learn of its superb snow, reminiscent of N. Wisconsin. Further, I learned of its life and death importance for wildlife. Too much, or too little could spell doom for many of our critters. In a heavy snow year, our deer fawn crop may take a major hit- up to 80% mortality, while small mammals can thrive. Snow is an excellent insulator when deep enough- 8 inches or so will maintain a subnivean (beneath the snow) temperature of 32 degrees when the ambient temperatures plunge well below zero above. Further, they are better protected from predators. Too little snow tells a reverse story- great for predators, but disastrous for their prey.

Snow isn’t just snow. According to those who live in the high latitudes- Eskimos, Siberians, and Scandinavians, they have between 180 and 300 words for different types of snow. As a skier, I have a few myself- powder, crusty, gropple, corn snow, and slush. I’m sure you can guess which of these I prefer.

Utah is world renowned for its extraordinary, low moisture powder- less than 8% water. You’re basically skiing on air. I’m aware of only one other location that beats us- Japan’s Hokkaido mountains with only 4% water content.
Another element of snowfall for the Wasatch front results from the very large lake to our west. Thanks to the Great Salt Lake, our snowfall gets a considerable boost from latent heat and added moisture from this great lake. Additionally, airborne salt particles enhance the formation of snow producing clouds.

I must share an extremely strange and rare phenomenon referred to as “thundersnow”. While skiing the North Ogden bench many years ago, an approaching ominous cloud delivered lightning and thunder, shaking the ground enough to bring up swarms of worms to the snow surface. It took a double take to realize what I was witnessing!
Another strange snow phenomenon is an avalanche. This once soft, pliable medium instantly transformed to cement as the avalanche settles. The friction of sliding snow removes the snowflake crystalline structure, changing it from fluff to a high-density medium. The friction generated heat melts it enough to form the deadly tomb that has encased many.

As the Great Salt Lake shrinks from stream diversions and a warming climate, combined with a dwindling winter season, I cannot help but wonder what will become of our indispensable mountain snowpack, essential for Utah’s water supply and our winter recreation.

Jack Greene for the Bridgerland Audubon Sociey, and I’m wild about Utah’s Snow!


Images: Courtesy NOAA, Mark Stacey, Photographer (2011)
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright Friend Weller
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability and Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Boling, Josh, Snowshoes and Adaptations, Wild About Utah, February 17, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/snowshoes-and-adaptations/

Cane, Jim, Kervin, Linda, Graupel Snow, Wild About Utah, March 3, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/graupel-snow/

Cane, Jim, Kervin, Linda, SNOTEL Snowpack Recording Stations, Wild About Utah, February 7, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/snotel-snowpack-recording-stations/

Liberatore, Andrea, Snowflakes, Wild About Utah, March 10, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/snowflakes/

Mahoney, Ru, Best Snow, Wild About Utah, November 24, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/best-snow/

Strand, Holly, Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Wild About Utah, January 17, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/baby-its-cold-outside/

Strand, Holly, Colorado vs. Utah Snow, Wild About Utah, December 16, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/colorado-vs-utah-snow/

Thundersnow, Weird Weather – NOAA Satellites Keep Watch When Weather Gets Weird, March 26, 2018, National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce, https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/content/weird-weather-noaa-satellites-keep-watch-when-weather-gets-weird