The New Year brought a “cease and desist” letter from a Colorado attorney who works for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation.
We were to stop referring to “champagne powder” snow without referencing it as a trademark of his company.
At first I thought it was a joke.
On Dec. 9, one of the moderators of our ReaderRant discussion forum posted the “Round Table” opener with an essay about snow. At one point she noted that fine, powdery snow is sometime referred to as “champagne snow.”
This didn’t sit well with John Maas, corporate counsel for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation of Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Maas sent an eight-page letter, complete with a demand that we use a (TM) symbol whenever using the term “champagne powder.” He included copies of ads by the company that use the phrase and a complete history of the application with the feds for use of the trade mark.
But there’s the rub. The application is “pending.” Maas is demanding we recognize his company’s trademark claim under “common law” because of its widespread usage.
My attorney tells me that “common law” usage is about as valid as a common law marriage — in other words, useless.
Maas is right about one thing: “Champagne Powder” enjoys widespread usage and most of that usage is both common and without any use of the (TM) symbol that Steamboat demands.
For example, Wikipedia has a whole section about “champagne powder;”
Champagne powder is a very smooth and dry snow, which is great for skiing. The term originates from the ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains, which often have these snow conditions.
The term Champagne Powder snow was coined in Steamboat back in the 1950s by a local rancher to describe the light, dry quality of the snow in Northwest Colorado.
According to scientists from the Desert Research Institute, who operate a climate laboratory atop the resort’s Storm Peak, there is a good scientific basis behind the name. The abundant snowfall is a result of Steamboat’s location within the Park Range, which is the first significant barrier in the Northern Colorado Rockies to storms arriving from the Pacific. Although the moisture from these storms has been depleted after passing the Wasatch Range in Utah, the Park Range causes a so-called ‘feeder’ or orographic cloud to form. The orographic cloud is primarily filled with tiny super-cooled droplets, which cause the ‘white-out’ one sometimes experiences while on the mountain. It is this rare combination of feeder and seeder clouds that is responsible for the frequent occurrence of rimed crystals resulting in the formation of Steamboat’s famous Champagne Powder snow.
The main cause of the formation of champagne powder is the arctic high pressure areas that turn up over the Pacific Ocean and transport cold air into the south. This produces the high volume of snow and powder.
The snow in the Rockies is a bit warmer when it snows, what is important for the development of the snowflakes. As a result of the cold air at an altitude of 3000 to 4000 meters the snow cools down immediately and freezes. Also, due to its altitude, the snow also remains extremely dry and doesn’t get wet and heavy.
The climate in the European Alps is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, which provides humid air but doesn’t normally become cold enough. This produces a large amount of powder as well, but not quite as much as in the Rockies.
Also in The Iran mountains, there is Champagne Powder, also known as Persian Powder.
The Aspen Times in another ski resort doesn’t much care for Steamboat’s trademark claims either. On December 12 of last year the newspaper published an article with the headline “Champagne powder and caviar smiles.” Oops! They forgot the trademark symbol.
Google “champagne powder” and you will find about 42,500 articles. Nearly all use the term without any reference to trademark. That alone could cause a court to rule the term is subject to widespread usage and acceptance and not subject to trademark.
One final question for Mr. Maas. The term “champagne powder” was, legend says, coined by a Steamboat Springs rancher. If the term is subject to trademark, I wonder how much the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation has paid that rancher or his heirs for the rights to that trademark?