Joel Gratz didn’t grow up in a skiing family, but his parents got him on skis at a young age at Shawnee Mountain in Pennsylvania. “I’ve loved it since I was four years old,” he says of skiing.
As a kid who was obsessed with skiing, Joel started paying close attention to the weather reports on the evening news to see when it was going to snow next. “I loved it because I wanted snow for skiing and I wanted snow so we didn’t have to go to school, of course,” he says.
Joel went onto study meteorology at Penn State and ski raced on the side. After graduating, he moved out to Colorado to get a master’s degree in environmental studies and an MBA from the University of Colorado at Boulder
Living in the Rockies, he became a storm chaser, as dedicated skiers often do, but since Joel knew the science of weather, he took storm watching to another level. He was always bummed when he missed a powder day because the weather forecast he’d read wasn’t accurate. He wondered, “Can I forecast powder better than other people? I want to forecast powder as accurately as I can because I don’t want to miss a day.”
In 2010, he quit his full-time insurance job, drove to Silverton for a massive 70-inch storm, then loosely started piecing together what would eventually become OpenSnow.com, a weather forecasting site built for skiers, by skiers. Now, Joel’s the founding meteorologist and CEO of OpenSnow.com, which is used by about 1.5 million skiers looking for weather predictions across North America.
“It is now my career to forecast snow for skiing,” he says. “Every day, I wake up with new ideas.”
When the mountains call, you must answer. Or at least that’s what happened to the four characters profiled in the newest season of Flylow’s webisode series, Westward, produced by KGB Productions and now in its second season. Westward follows the life stories of four unique individuals who’ve chosen to forgo traditional lives—like desk jobs in skyscrapers and 9-to-5 commutes—for alternative paths in the mountains. They have ventured out on their own, choosing to risk it all to follow their inexplicable devotion to snow-covered peaks. Through that leap, they have become their own bosses, setting their own destiny and breaking their own trail in a world that’s rugged, wild, and beautifully unknown.