Is Utah’s Snow Really the Greatest on Earth?


Phineas Johnson

Utah is famous for its snow—we even go as far to proclaim that we have “the greatest snow on Earth.” People come from all around to ski in Utah, but is our snow really any different from snow elsewhere?


Well, kind of. The Wasatch mountains are famous for their “lake effect snow,” which is created when cold air moves across a lake, creating large storm clouds that produce large quantities of perfect snow. The Midwest, especially places near the Great Lakes, also have lake effect snow. The difference is that Utah offers infinitely superior terrain for skiing and snowboarding. 


But what exactly is the perfect snow? Well, it is not, as you might expect, the driest. When snow has extremely low water content—less than 3%—skiers simply fall through it instead of getting those beautiful powder turns. On the other hand, when it has high water content—more than 15%—it becomes hard to move in. Utah’s snow hits the sweet spot between the extremes, with an average snow water content of 8.5%.


Unfortunately, we are not the only skiing destination with such a perfect snow water content. Steamboat Springs, Colorado, boasts an average of 6%, and Niseko, Japan, averages around 5%. Perhaps then our claim of having the “greatest snow on Earth” is based on not only the quality of our snow, but also the quantity. The ski resorts in the Cottonwood canyons report an average of 500 inches of snow in a year. Steamboat, their closest competitor, gets only 280 inches. Niseko, however, gets 550 inches. 


Perhaps a more honest slogan for Utah would be the “the greatest snow in the Western hemisphere,” although that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. And it might not be true for very long. Utah’s winters are getting warmer, with ski resorts seeing more rain and less consistent snowfall. The two degree temperature change that Utah has seen in the past century does not create a good looking trend for the future of snowsports in Utah, and certainly puts a damper on an already tenuous claim of “the greatest snow on Earth.”