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Tech startup: OpenSnow


Initial Lightbulb: OpenSnow CEO Joel Gratz started skiing when he was 4 years old and avidly watched The Weather Channel throughout childhood. So, it’s no wonder he became a meteorologist.

He started the Colorado Powder Forecast blog and newsletter in 2007 after a ski trip to Breckenridge in 2005, during which 6 inches at Breck was dwarfed by a storm up north.

“As I was driving home, I heard there was 2 feet at Steamboat and 4 feet from the storm,” says Gratz. “I understand forecasts on big mountains are incredibly difficult, but they shouldn’t be off by 2 feet.”

Gratz started forecasting for Colorado’s ski areas and joined forces with forecasters in Tahoe, Utah, New England and the Mid-Atlantic to launch OpenSnow in 2011 with co-founder and CTO Andrew Murray.

In a Nutshell: OpenSnow outdoes traditional snow forecasts with a narrow focus. “I’m only predicting snow in the mountains and ski areas,” says Gratz. He calls most traditional snow reports “old news,” covering snowfall over 24 hours. The value-add stems from skiing insights, he says, calling it “more than a forecast … We’re providing commentary on how to have the best time in the mountains.” The business model is a hybrid of advertising and newsletters (subscriptions range from free to $45 a year). Gratz says revenue is currently ad-heavy and he’s aiming for “an equal mix.” OpenSnow also offers free mobile apps and widgets – the website garnered about 1.25 million visitors in 2013 – and email newsletters, with an open rate of 45 percent.

The Market: There are about 12 million skiers and snowboarders in the U.S., meaning about 10 percent of the market browsed OpenSnow.com last season.Colorado accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s skier-days annually. He called New England “more challenging,” because fewer skiers play hooky for powder days.

Financing: OpenSnow is 100 percent bootstrapped. Gratz says they “use some savings and build the business based on revenues from the previous year.”

where Boulder    |    FOUNDED 2011    |   web opensnow.com

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Eric Peterson

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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