Rancher came up with 'Champagne Powder' in 1950s

— The quality of the snow in Steamboat Springs is sure to leave skiers and riders thirsty for more.

Champagne powder earned its name half a century ago. Today the term continues to capture the surreal quality of skiing or riding on a surface lighter than air.

"It really is the essence of what skiing is all about," said Rob Hanna, former senior vice president of marketing at the Steamboat Ski Area.

Hanna remembers an early promotional movie for the ski area that described the snow that falls in the Yampa Valley.

"The snow kept falling so lacey and light that they called it champagne powder," the narrator said.

Those words struck a chord with Hanna. "It was such a striking phrase," he said. "The visual that went with it really made a huge impression on me."

Hanna said the ski area has enjoyed so much success with champagne powder because the term forges such a great physical connection between the quality of the snow and quality of champagne.

The snow in Steamboat is soft, fluffy and dry like champagne.

That's what Joe McElroy thought while he was out skiing with friends one sunny day in the 1950s. He coined the phrase champagne powder. The term stuck and has since become a ski area trademark.

McElroy, a rancher from Kremmling, died 12 years ago. His family remembers him fondly talking about the snow that falls in the Yampa Valley. "He always said, 'This is like champagne powder,'" daughter Mary Ellen McElroy said.

Ski areas were not so abundant in the 1950s as they are today, she said, so her family would often travel to Steamboat.

"We used to ski over there quite a bit in those days," she said.

Many visitors to Steamboat come from areas of the country where the snow falls heavy and wet.

Snow that falls in the Yampa Valley is consistently light and fluffy thanks to dry climate and cold temperatures, said Chris Cuoco, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Champagne powder is not a scientific term, he said, but it paints a good picture of the kind of snow that falls in Steamboat, Cuoco said.

"The snow that falls will have less moisture," he said. "It has very little water in it."

But it promises plenty of premier skiing and riding.

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