Amazing video shows whirling snow devil at Colorado ski resort – but what caused it?

Skiers on chair lift at Breckenridge ski resort
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Breckenridge Resort in Colorado has seen 40in of snowfall in the last seven days, with temperatures dropping as low as 4°F (-12°C), and last Saturday skiers brave enough to confront the cold witnessed something amazing – a towering column of powder known as a 'snow devil' whirling at the base of the Five SuperChair lift.

A video of the rare phenomenon, shot by visitor Bree Kinder, was shared on X (formerly Twitter) by the Weather Channel this week. The clip, which you can see below, shows the snow devil moving swiftly past the watching crowd, lifting a spinning cloud of powder into the air.

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A snow devil, also known as a 'snownado' is very similar to a dust devil, with the only real difference being the material picked up. They can vary in height, but the diameter of the vertical column is always quite small.

According to the World Meteorological Association this phenomenon is very rare, and "occurs when surface wind shear acts to generate a vortex over snow cover, resulting in a whirling column of snow particles being raised from the ground." In other words, they can occur when cold air passes over a slightly warmer surface, creating an updraft. This can start to rotate, pulling snow up with it.

When snow is warmed by the sun it starts to melt, becoming wet and heavy, so snow devils are much less common than their dusty counterparts. They are rarely caught on camera, but last year Scottish farmer Michael Peterson shared a video of one he spotted one while feeding his sheep.

 “It was a nice enough day at that point so me and my wife went outside to feed the sheep," Peterson told BBC Radio Shetland. "What looked like a cloud of snow was coming up next to us and it came up past where we were and it just started forming into this whirlwind tornado type thing. Thankfully Frances started videoing it.

"“It formed right where I was going to feed the next lot of sheep. We have never seen that before but that is why it is spectacular.”

Cat Ellis
Editor

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.