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Ode to the Pow Cam

They tell you where the snow is and when to ski it. Unless you're in Jersey.

Ski Resort Snow Stake Webcam

Refresh. Refresh again. Over and over. We’ve all incessantly visited the “pow cam” web page of our favorite ski area in hopes of seeing the powder pile up in real time. It feels like less of a hoax than the reported snowfall totals compiled—I’m certain—by nefarious marketing interns named Christie or Timmy.  

There’s also a voyeuristic appeal when storms slink in front of the screen and party with themselves. Does that Arctic Front have a Russian accent? “Our web cam visits went up about 10 fold during the mid-December storm that dumped 17 inches here in two days,” says Durango Mountain Resort’s Greg Ralph, echoing trends at the other half-dozen pow-cam employing resorts we contacted. 

But can you trust your eyes, or is all that nubile pow airbrushed and photo shopped in by a 400-pound dude on his couch? And when is the best time to tune in? Pow cam clearing varies from resort to resort, though just after closing seems to be most common time, allowing skiers and riders to see exactly how much snow stacks up from closing bell to first chair. Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin, though (set to install its first snow-stake cam early next month), plans to clear accumulated snow “once before 6 a.m. and then again at 4 p.m.,” like clockwork, says the resort’s Adrienne Saia Isaac. Meaning you’ll need to get up creepy early to catch the action. 

Pow cams typically sit in a sheltered area with a nearby power source and Internet connectivity. Snowmass keeps its cam near the top of the Elk Camp Gondola, which the PR folks say nabs a good average for the whole mountain. Average is the critical word here, though. Wind can scour a snow stake or bury it. It’s smart to check it against the claimed totals. “Our cam is always a great reference,” says Aspen Ski Company PR manager Tucker Vest Burton. “But we tend to receive more snow in other places.” 

So while it’s fun watching real-time snow porn in your footy pajamas, if you want to find the deep stuff it’s best to boot up and chase a local after an overnight nuking. And don’t forget to clear the history.  —Jason Sumner

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