I’m sure more than a few locals have their pet peeves when it comes to the local television’s newscasts and their talking heads. Talking heads who regularly fall victim to mispronunciations, delivery flubs, you name it. No matter the problem they always rely on a perky delivery and a big smile to get them through..
My personal talking head pet peeve is a simple one. It’s the constant reference to any snow that falls at Mount Bachelor as “powder” snow.
For example earlier this week while the daily temperatures in Bend were hovered near fifty degrees and were in the mid-forties at Mount Bachelor, one of the perky evening news reporters noted that we should expect, “at least two inches of fresh powder at Mount Bachelor tomorrow.”
Two inches of fresh heavy wet crud, yes, but powder, unfortunately no.
Skiers and riders love powder and the experienced among them know the difference between the light fluffy powder and wet Cascade Crud. But apparently the dictum at our local television outlet’s news departments is to refer to any form of snow as powder.
How about just saying, “two inches of snow is expected to fall tomorrow,” and calling it good at that? Simply saying snow implies that snow is indeed coming and that’s a good sign, but to imply that the new snow is powder is to imply that epic, once-in-a-lifetime powder that smacks you in the face on every turn is coming. That’s patently false.
Pity the poor unsuspecting tourist tuning in the local news on the television at his or her accommodations and hearing that powder is coming. They race to the ski area the next day only to slide through mist and rain or work hard to push crud around.
This is not to fault Mount Bachelor which does the best it can with the snow delivered them my Mother Nature. And what’s given them isn’t a steady diet of true powder snow. Yes we get powder snow in the Cascades and yes it is great fun to ski, but no we don’t get it all the time.
So, let’s get real talking heads and have some truth in broadcasting. Powder is very cold, almost moisture-less snow. And it falls when air temperatures are cold not when the air temperature is 30, 40 or 50 degrees.
In the interest of understanding snow types, I turn to my longtime colleagues Michael Brady and Leif Torgersen. Brady is widely considered the world expert on the sport of cross-country skiing. Torgersen is the head chemist for the Swix ski wax company and fondly known as “Doctor Wax.”
According to Brady and Torgersen in their book “Waxing and Care of Ski and Snowboards” (Wilderness Press ISBN 0-89997-303-5) there are three things to consider when talking about snow types: grain character, wetness and hardness.
As to grain character, there’s new snow (“falling or new that has not yet changed on the ground”), fine-grained snow (“older snow on the ground with its crystals rounded”), and coarse-grained snow (“snow on the ground that has gone through one of more freeze-thaw cycles so individual grains have formed larger grains”).
Moving onto wetness, dry snow is snow usually, “below OC (32F), and the individual grains of snow stick poorly to each other when squeezed in a gloved hand”). Moist snow is snow that’s “above 0C/32F with no water visible. When squeezed in a gloved hand, the snow makes a snowball”. Wet snow is easy to identify because, “water is visible between the grains but it cannot be pressed out of a snowball squeezed in a glove hand.”
Very wet snow is defined as snow where: “water can easily be pressed out of a snowball squeezed in a hand.” Slush is “snow that is sopping wet.”
As far as hardness goes, let’s leave it with this: powder is easy to make an impression in. Making an impression becomes more difficult the wetter the snow.
This ends the lesson and with it a caveat-beware of TV talking heads yammering on about powder snow. They have no idea of what they’re talking about.