Is there another planetary force that influences our lives as much and as consistently as the weather? On a macro level, weather is an all-encompassing phenomenon that exists outside the sphere of our control. Weather dictates what we wear, what we eat, where we go and when we do things. 

On a micro level — at Killington Resort, for example — weather is a friend, a foe and, more simply, a fact of life. All aspects of operations and much of the resort’s decision-making are dependent on weather. Which is why meteorologist Mallory Brooke’s finely-tuned forecasts are so important to Killington and her other clients throughout New England.

I always say that I understand the mountain once I’ve skied it.

Brooke’s company, Nor’easter Weather Consulting, supplies New England ski areas with the most precise forecasts possible. Brooke often works directly with the resorts’ mountain operations teams, including at Killington, where she helps prepare them for everything from icing events to powder days. She has been an essential player in Killington’s World Cup ski races since 2016, forecasting the crucial days leading up to and during the events. 

She’s no “armchair meteorologist” for the mountains — she’s made it a goal to ski all the mountains in her forecast area — and she says she really starts to understand a mountain’s weather once she’s skied it. Brooke took a break from the weather to chat about the unique challenges of mountain forecasting and wax poetic on her passion for storms and snow. —Mike Horn

Mike Horn: I guess can we start maybe with a little bit of your background in weather consulting and forecasting, and where that’s all rooted?

Mallory Brooke: I grew up in New Jersey and became really enamored with weather at a young age. The blizzard in ’96 was my catalyst. Usually every meteorologist has one. That was my “Ah-ha” moment, and I took that love of weather all the way through high school and into college. 

MH: What about the blizzard of ’96 was so memorable and impactful?

MB: I remember the snow being taller than me. Everything just shut down. It was this moment where this weather phenomenon that was so silent and so beautiful — and calming — shut down everything. There was this weird moment where you could just be outside and it’s serene and it’s beautiful, and I was off of school, I was a fourth grader. But it put me in awe: “How does this happen?” It’s not loud like a tornado or a hurricane, and at that point, I don’t remember the winds howling, I’m sure they were in the blizzard, but it was just so silent and beautiful. It took me, even as a fourth grader, to say, “I want to understand how this happens and why it happens.” And that’s really where it took off.
MH: How did weather go from being a childhood obsession to a lifelong profession?

MB: I went to Penn State University and earned my Bachelor of Science in Meteorology. From there, I decided to head into broadcasting. At that point, there just weren’t a lot of other options — or at least reliable options — for females in the industry. It’s a male-dominated industry.

MH: You moved to Virginia for your first job, but something was missing. What brought you to New England?

MB: I love snow. I wanted to ski, so I moved to Maine for an on-air job in 2011, and I haven’t left. 

MH: At a certain point, you started to look for something beyond television and broadcasting. Where did that lead you?

MB: In 2014, I was introduced to Tony Vazzano, who is a very well known ski area forecaster in New England. I really wanted to focus more on the science end of things.

I started working with him in the winters and apprenticing under him and learning the ins and outs of forecasting, which I really enjoyed and loved. He was getting ready to retire, and I was very ready to leave broadcasting, we’ll put it that way. Tony retired and passed on his 17 mountains in New England, and I took them over in the winter of 2018-2019. On top of that, I also do specific forecasting for plow services, utilities and cross country ski areas.

MH: What’s uniquely challenging about forecasting for mountain environments? 

MB: Mountain forecasting is its own beast. Every mountain — especially the higher peaks like Killington — create their own climates and their own weather patterns, and sometimes they are completely different from the observations you see elsewhere. The hardest part of mountain forecasting is that a lot of information we utilize comes from airports.

Every mountain — especially the higher peaks like Killington — create their own climates and their own weather patterns.

You’re relying on airport data, which is a flat land, open space observation. Which is basically the polar opposite of what you’re trying to forecast for. And so you’re trying to take this information from an airport and dissect it and then have it applicable to a mountain side. That’s what really becomes very difficult, because you’re trying to figure out, “What is the mountain going to do with this?” Every mountain is different. The higher the peak, typically the more rapid the changes are, because the higher wind flows at the higher peaks.

You can have something completely different happening at the base. There are mountains that have two separate peaks, and that’s a whole other ballgame. But it makes it … humbling. Mountain forecasting is humbling because you think you finally understand what the mountain will do, and you’ll get a curveball. That’s just the beauty of what the atmosphere can do.

MH: So it sounds like mountains are significant weather shapers and disruptors. How would you describe their influence?

MB: Disruptors, that’s a great way to put it, because they’re these peaks that are sticking up and out into the weather patterns, so a lot of what drives weather is not at the surface. It’s really above us. 
They force the weather to do something different, depending on the wind flow. Will that wind go up and over the mountain? Will it not have enough strength and it’ll get stuck on one side of the mountain? A lot of times in the East, we hear of cold air damming, which is a situation where you have the cold air that just gets stuck in certain valleys and certain mountainsides where there’s a specific wind flow.

That’s because that air just physically isn’t being pushed up above the mountain; it’s getting trapped. It’s dependent on how high the mountain is and what orientation it is and how high it is, how long it is. Every mountain will react differently to a weather situation.

Mountain forecasting is humbling because you can think you finally understand what the mountain will do, and you’ll get a curveball.

MH: How does being out on the mountain, being out skiing, affect your perspective on forecasting?

MB: I always say that I understand the mountain once I’ve skied it. My goal before I took over fully for Tony was to ski all the mountains in my forecast area. When you’re standing on top of the mountain and you see the view, and you feel the wind, it really helps me visualize what is happening at the mountain. 

Like, “OK, well this wind direction is really hard-hitting for this mountain, because of the direction it faces.” Once I see that firsthand, it’s ingrained. I remember it. So, to be skiing at these places that I forecast for, it’s really important. Of course it’s hard because it’s my busy time, but I try to get to two new ones every winter, so that I can get that grasp of the topography firsthand.

It’s probably my happiest place … being on top of a mountain on a powder day, looking out for miles. Just taking it all in.

You can look at a map, but once you’re standing at the summit you can actually see the other mountains and the landscape. Certain types of wind flow will just hit the mountain straight on, or it inverts, because of the little hill that’s off in the distance. It makes a big difference, and on top of that, I love it. I actually love skiing alone. I love going outside and just being one with the snow and taking it in. It’s probably my happiest place … being on top of a mountain on a powder day, looking out for miles. Just kind of taking it all in. Because it’s that combination of work and play that is so perfect in its own way.

MH: What are the most exciting weather events for you?
MB: For me, it’s always snow. Nor’easters and blizzards have always been my favorite and what I love to track and forecast. I think it traces back to that blizzard in ’96 when I was a kid. It’s fascinating what the atmosphere is made of and the energy that it has, and then it can blanket the Northeast in two feet of snow, and everyone’s forced to just stop. I think it’s a wonderful thing. Everyone’s forced to take a breath and not go to work and not go to school. 

You are just forced to be present. That’s what I really love about following those types of storms: seeing it go from a beautiful, sunny day to a rapidly strengthening bombing out storm off the coast of New England, and the whole world has to stop. It’s a really awesome thing to watch from the nature perspective, but also understanding it from the scientific perspective and why it is happening. That was the big question I had as a kid, so now, to be able to watch this and understand why it’s happening, it’s kind of a full circle moment. 
For more of Mallory’s perspectives on the nuances of mountain forecasting and how Killington Mountain creates its own weather, listen to Episode 7 of our Download Podcast.

It’s that combination of work and play that is so perfect in its own way.

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