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Alta Is For Skiers
Alta Is For Skiers

Johnny B Podcast
An AltaCam Exclusive!

Bill Harrison MP3
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Why Ski Alta?
Dr. Bill Harrison, a snow science pioneer, is our next featured Alta personality. If you have ever had the privelege of talking to, or skiing with Bill, it's easy to see that he's been using the Wasatch as his play ground and snow study lab for decades. A true class act, as well as a world-class water skier! Listen to or read the transcript below of Johnny B's interview with Bill.

Johnny B: Hello powder skiers. Welcome to AltaCam.com. My name is Johnny B. And today, I am with a very special guest, Dr. Bill Harrison - a long-time Alta legend. And it is a real pleasure to be here with you today, Bill. Good to see you.

Bill: Good to see you, John.

Johnny B: How's everything been?

Bill: Oh, no complaints.

Johnny B: Did you have a good summer?

Bill: I had an excellent summer.

Johnny B: What did you do?

Bill: Oh, same thing; water-skied mostly every day that it wasn't raining or windy. And I got the chance to qualify to ski in the U.S. Nationals and went down to the Nationals in Florida. And with a little luck, I took first place, Division 10.

Dr. Bill Harrison National Waterski Championships

Johnny B: Nice work, Bill. So you got first place and I see you brought back a medal.

Bill: Oh, yeah. We've got the Gold medal here and I'm going to hang it up somewhere and probably retire.

Johnny B: Nice work, Bill. So while our Olympic team was winning medals in China this summer, you were down in Florida winning a Gold medal on your own.

Bill: That's correct.

Johnny B: So you left Michigan, and then you started doing your project and you're studying - your snow study here in Alta after you left the Sierras.

Bill: Yes.

Johnny B: You studied snow in Michigan, in the Sierras, up in Canada, up in Washington, here in Alta, what makes the Wasatch snow so unique? What separates it from the other snow that you've studied?

Bill: Well, the Wasatch snow. Let me back up and tell you that first winter that I was out there that what impressed me the most was that of all of the different places that I had been running my tests and everything, including the Sierras, the snowpack was the most consistent. It was almost like laboratory-made snow.

And it would have deep layers but very seldom would you have any ice crust. Through the years, we've wound up with crusts here and there. But usually, they are not the main part of the picture. Whereas in the other parts of the country that I had been, there had always been an ice layer a foot or so down and the structure of the snow was not uniform. So for what I was doing, it was just perfect conditions.

Dr. Bill Harrison Skiing Alta Powder

Johnny B: My question was what makes the Wasatch snow so unique compared to those other places?

Bill: So now, as many people know and as I learned, the storm patterns that come from the northwest and sometimes the southwest, but mainly from the northwest, pass over the Great Basin.

And when they approach the Wasatch front, sometimes they do pick up warm air and moisture from the Great Salt Lake. And then through orographic rising of the winds when it hits the front, the air becomes cooler. Cooler can only hold so much moisture so it starts dumping it out at Alta.

And this phenomenon is basically why we get the type of snow that we get. Every now and then, you will get something that blows in off the desert and will come then dark and brown, and they will have a dark-brown layer or something.

I remember one thing, and this is probably something else that I don't know if anybody else has examined, but during that first year we scooped up a lot of snow and put it on the stove and melted it to make soup. It turned out to be the worst tasting stuff. It was full of salt.

Johnny B: Yes, horrible tasting snow.

Bill: So probably that has something to do with also the way the snow does not melt or why it stays so dry all of the time and just builds up into the type of layers that we have up here. So it's kind of a unique situation. The location of Alta, the Great Salt Lake, the Great Basin, and the northwest flow.

Johnny B: There you have it folks. There's a reason why we get such good powdered Alta. Bill Harrison knows why. Bill, knowing what you know about snow, what's the one place at Alta where I can go to get a really good indication of what the conditions are like throughout the mountain? Where's one of your test spots?

Bill: Vail Ridge.

Johnny B: Vail Ridge. I believe you told me that one time.

Bill: Yes. You can go up one side and go up the other, and generally tell whether it's safe.

Johnny B: Because you've got an east face, you got a west face, and you got a north face on Vail Ridge.

Bill: That's right.

Johnny B: And at the same time, it's a good, safe place to go find out.

Bill: Well, if you got caught in avalanche here, you got a good chance because you;

Johnny B: It's not going to run too far.

Bill: Even though the ridge got its name for Vail patrollers who got buried there.

Johnny B: Oh, is that right? I never knew that.

Bill: And they got caught in the slide on the east face there right above where Ed Lachapelle was conducting a little avalanche seminar on how to dig pits and all of that. And his class went in and dug these guys out.

Johnny B: Wow!

Bill: It was always a neat place for me to take the class up there sometimes.

Johnny B: So Vail Ridge pretty much the classroom.

Bill: It was the classroom, yes. It's a good classroom. And I think the patrol still uses it a lot to check out what's going on in the snowpak.

Johnny B: I want to talk about when I first came to Alta and I met you. Several years went by before you knew my name. And I felt like I hadn't arrived until you did know my name. And you and Shirley were great. And last year, it wasn't the first time but one of the times, I had the good fortune to ski with you. Do you remember that?

Bill: Yes, okay.

Johnny B: And we went in and did a third entrance and lower Greely. And I remember it was kind of a stormy day. And I just got to tell you. I got to tell you Bill. I skied with a lot of people since I've been here. That was a great privilege to get to ski with you and I hope we get to do it again this year. Can we do that?

Bill: I hope so, Johnny. You would just have to put up with the fact that I'm on the other side of the hill now and I ski a lot slower than I did back in the early years.

Johnny B: Bill, I'll ski in the other side of the hill with you any time. It was my pleasure.

Bill: Let's go out and take a couple.

Johnny B: All right, sounds good. Well, this is Johnny B for AltaCam.com with Dr. Bill Harrison. Thank you very much for tuning in. We'll see you out there.

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