Matt Primomo is an Avalanche Specialist who has worked at NWAC since 2018. Matt lives in Leavenworth and is responsible for writing the avalanche advisories for the East Central, East North, and Stevens Pass zones.
Tell me about your path to NWAC.
I’ve always been interested in snow. I grew up in upstate New York and I definitely remember a couple big Nor’easters when I was about 7 or 8 years old. The wind had made these really high drifts, and left some areas with a lot of snow and some areas with very little. I took interest in the movement of snow at a young age. I started skiing around the same age and started snowboarding a few years after that. In High School ski club, I went to the Lake Tahoe, Kirkwood and Mammoth area. It was the first time I had seen high altitude mountains, blue skies and powder. It got me hooked. So after school, I moved west.
I bounced back and forth between the Sierras and Colorado. I went to Colorado Mountain College in Leadville and studied Outdoor Recreation Leadership. In my second winter there, my friend and I went to ski a nearby 13,000’ peak. It was wind scoured and the snow looked a little funky. We walked on rock along the ridgeline to the top and put on our snowboards. I said it felt a little weird and asked my friend to hold on a minute. I jumped on the very top of the snow and I still remember the sound it made. The whole gully collapsed, fractured out, and slid. It was a D3 avalanche with van sized blocky chunks in the debris. I reported it to the local avalanche center and I knew I wanted to know more about this stuff. I took a Level 2 later that year and started to go to the local avalanche center’s snow and avalanche workshops.
I did an internship with Silverton Mountain, followed by a ski patrol job in Tahoe. I became really interested in climate, climate change, and meteorology. I moved back to Colorado to study Geography. During that time, I worked with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and started guiding on Rainier with RMI. After school I was sort of a ski bum and guide. I took an opportunity to learn Spanish and do avalanche forecasting in Chile. I worked in South America for a total of 5 seasons. After that, I moved to Park City and was ski guiding and teaching avalanche courses and making pizzas. The next year I joined the Utah DOT doing avalanche control. That’s where I met my fiance, at Alta. We really enjoyed Utah, but we wanted to live in a smaller community within the mountains. We moved to Leavenworth in the fall of 2017 and I started working as an Avalanche Control Specialist with WSDOT on Stevens Pass, I met a few people at NWAC through mutual ski friends and avalanche education courses.
What drew you to NWAC?
I had been sharing public observations and I knew some of the NWAC team. I was lucky to get on as an observer mid season last year. From early on, it was apparent that this team is very positive and I was stoked to be a part of that. This organization is starting to make a lot of cool changes. I really thrive on that drive and wanting to do better. Everyone has been super awesome to work with.
What do you hope to bring to NWAC?
I’m a skier, snowboarder and snowmobiler and I hope to help build up, and connect more with all of those communities. It seems there are lots of folks making observations on the NWAC website. It’s so helpful and useful for everyone. I’d like to help develop that platform and database. We can’t do our jobs without the input from other people. Crowdsourcing will help us build our collective knowledge for what is going on out there, as well as enhance engagement amongst the community.
Have you had any early observations of the Northwest snow community?
People get out there. The peaks here may not be super high, aside from Adams and Rainier, but we have big complicated peaks. It’s really impressive to see how many people get out there. There are a lot of people who are working full time during the week, and get into deep wilderness on the weekends.
What about the Northwest snow?
It’s a pretty incredible place. We do get a lot of snow. The weather patterns and how they interact with the mountains can be super complex. The mountains themselves take up such a large amount of area and it’s so diverse. It’s been wild to track and think about snowpack in a spatial sense from the Pacific Crest all the way to the Columbia River. I’m a forecaster for 3 different areas, and some snowpack microclimates are starting to come out, even within those zones. Some places may have 3’ or less of snow on the ground right now and if you were to drive west 20 miles you’d see 10’ of snow at the same elevation. The snowpack in the various ranges on the east side of the crest is really something else.
If you had a bumper sticker or short mantra for the backcountry, what would it be?
Don’t forget to listen. Maybe just, listen. Pay attention. I think observing what nature is telling you is super important. It’s important to pay attention to what’s going on out there- snow, weather, other people, your partners. Be sure you’re listening to your partners and you’re all on the same page.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Follow Matt @mattprimomo on Instagram
Interview by Ashlee Langholz. Follow Ashlee @ashleelangholz