Cease & desist

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.

It wasn’t.

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.

Steamboat cease and desist letter

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

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?

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  1. colocritic


    Hi Doug, I’ve lived in Colorado since 1956 and this is all news to me.  I don’t ski but you hear the term “champagn powder” all the time in connection with Steamboat Springs.  Just like you hear the mountain air described as crisp, cool and clear.  Can they trademark that, as well?

    Me thinks someone has too much time on their hands and is cruising the websites in order to push their weight around!  At least they are reading the website!


  2. keith

    No, Marilyn, it’s not that people have too much time on their hands. 

    It’s that there are too many lawyer-politicians making too many useless laws, so that too many of ther damned lawyer buddies can line their pockets at your and my expense.

    These people are nothing but worthless leeches on our society.  I shudder to think about the billions that are spent annually in our country trying to defend ourselves against frivilious lawsuits from such clowns.


  3. Sandra Price

    What the Monitor who used the term champagne ice, should give the corporation credit for the use of the word.  I would do a tribute the brilliance of the term and hope people would visit the facility to see the ice for themselves.  Come on, I am a wonderful marketing manager and can call attention to anything. 

  4. Warren

    I found a satire on “Inuit 100 Words for Snow” by Phil James, published in Word magazine at some time or other. Take a look (it’s funny) and then see bottom for a proposed addition.

    tlapa – powder snow

    tlacringit – snow that is crusted on the surface

    kayi – drifting snow

    tlapat – still snow

    klin – remembered snow

    naklin – forgotten snow

    tlamo – snow that falls in large wet flakes

    tlatim – snow that falls in small flakes

    tlaslo – snow that falls slowly

    tlapinti – snow that falls quickly

    kripya – snow that has melted and refrozen

    tliyel – snow that has been marked by wolves

    tliyelin – snow that has been marked by Eskimos

    blotla – blowing snow

    pactla – snow that has been packed down

    hiryla – snow in beards

    wa-ter – melted snow

    tlayinq – snow mixed with mud

    quinaya – snow mixed with Husky shit

    quinyaya – snow mixed with the shit of a lead dog

    slimtla – snow that is crusted on top but soft underneath

    kriplyana – snow that looks blue in the early morning

    puntla – a mouthful of snow because you fibbed

    allatla – baked snow

    fritla – fried snow

    gristla – deep fried snow

    MacTla – snow burgers

    jatla – snow between your fingers or toes, or in groin-folds

    dinliltla – little balls of snow that cling to Husky fur

    sulitlana – green snow

    mentlana – pink snow

    tidtla – snow used for cleaning

    ertla – snow used by Eskimo teenagers for exquisite erotic rituals

    kriyantli – snow bricks

    hahatla – small packages of snow given as gag gifts

    semtla – partially melted snow

    ontla – snow on objects

    intla – snow that has drifted indoors

    shlim – slush

    warintla – snow used to make Eskimo daiquiris

    mextla – snow used to make Eskimo Margaritas

    penstla – the idea of snow

    mortla – snow mounded on dead bodies

    ylaipi – tomorrow’s snow

    nylaipin – the snows of yesteryear (“neiges d’antan”)

    pritla – our children’s snow

    nootlin – snow that doesn’t stick

    rotlana – quickly accumulating snow

    skriniya – snow that never reaches the ground

    bluwid – snow that’s shaken down from objects in the wind

    tlanid – snow that’s shaken down and then mixes with sky-falling snow

    ever-tla – a spirit made from mashed fermented snow, popular among Eskimo men

    talini – snow angels

    priyakli – snow that looks like it’s falling upward

    chiup – snow that makes halos

    blontla – snow that’s shaken off in the mudroom

    tlalman – snow sold to German tourists

    tlalam – snow sold to American tourists

    tlanip – snow sold to Japanese tourists

    protla – snow packed around caribou meat

    attla – snow that as it falls seems to create nice pictures in the air

    sotla – snow sparkling with sunlight

    tlun – snow sparkling with moonlight

    astrila – snow sparkling with starlight

    clim – snow sparkling with flashlight or headlight

    tlapi – summer snow

    krikaya – snow mixed with breath

    ashtla – expected snow that’s wagered on (depth, size of flakes)

    huantla – special snow rolled into “snow reefers” and smoked by wild Eskimo youth

    tla-na-na – snow mixed with the sound of old rock and roll from a portable radio

    depptla – a small snowball, preserved in Lucite, that had been handled by Johnny Depp

    trinkyi – first snow of the year

    tronkyin – last snow of the year

    shiya – snow at dawn

    katiyana – night snow

    tlinro – snow vapor

    nyik – snow with flakes of widely varying size

    ragnitla – two snowfalls at once, creating moire patterns

    akitla – snow falling on water

    privtla – snow melting in the spring rain

    chahatlin – snow that makes a sizzling sound as it falls on water

    hootlin – snow that makes a hissing sound as the individual flakes brush

    geltla – snow dollars

    briktla – good building snow

    striktla – snow that’s no good for building

    erolinyat – snow drifts containing the imprint of crazy lovers

    chachat – swirling snow that drives you nuts

    krotla – snow that blinds you

    tlarin – snow that can be sculpted into the delicate corsages Eskimo girls pin to their whale parkas at prom time

    motla – snow in the mouth

    sotla – snow in the south

    maxtla – snow that hides the whole village

    tlayopi – snow drifts you fall into and die

    truyi – avalanche of snow

    tlapripta – snow that burns your scalp and eyelids

    carpitla – snow glazed with ice

    tla – ordinary snow

    Now the proposed addition:

    bublytla™ – Champagne Powder™ snow from Steamboat Ski and Resort Corporation®

    (sorry, I can’t make this single-spaced with the tools available.)

  5. Carl Nemo

    Thanks Warren for this sobering article concerning “tia” in all its variations along with your creative version; ie.,  this “forbidden word” that best not be bandied about without ‘just’ compensation… : ) 

    Carl Nemo **==

  6. Warren

    More seriously – I completely understand the concept of taking something that one makes or does, giving it a unique name, and creating an identifying trademark (™ or ®) or service mark (℠). But the incredible hubris of taking something that falls naturally from the sky over a large area and, with no value added, attempting to trademark it for personal gain just blows my mind. If I owned land near Steamboat Springs and the same snow fell on my land, would it not be the same champagne snow with no capital letters and no ™?


  7. Carl Nemo

    Yep, we can all thank our reps at whatever level to pass laws that would allow for the protection of an adjective and a noun; ie., ‘champagne snow’ into the Trademark Protected zone !

    Ooops I keyboarded the word without due credit.  Seemingly I’m “toast”.  : ))

    Carl Nemo **==

    p.s. Pornography has little status in the courts along with its purveyors being protected from copy infringement…NOT!  Most judges at all levels laugh them out of the courtroom.  This is snowbased pornography as far as I”m concerned.