There’s a buoy off the coast of Kauai that apparently is the most accurate predictor of storm cycles in the Wasatch. Every time the average wave heights in that patch of ocean jump, you can start waxing your pow skis, there will be a storm front coming through the Wassach in two weeks.

People take the buoy very seriously, it’s got its own website, and all sorts of fancy data analysis going on. Me though, I don’t need a buoy, I’ve got a dog that can predict if it’s worth heading up to the ski hill on any given day.

In my backyard, I can judge how good the skiing’s going to be based on the dog poop. The dogs head out to the yard to take care of their business roughly every morning and evening. I clean up all the dog poop most days around midmorning. So if I wake up and head out to clean the yard and can’t find any, that means it snowed enough the night before to hide all the evidence. Or the dogs are seriously constipated. Either way, if I can’t see poop, I’m going skiing.

But occasionally I’ll wake up and walk to the back window to be met by a nightmarish scene that forces me to make sure I’m not still dreaming. A midafternoon thaw that takes just an inch or two off of the yard’s overall snowpack is plenty to reveal every poop pile I’ve missed all winter. They pepper the once perfectly white backyard, stinky reminders that the dog needs to eat less human food.

The first time this happened I imagined that maybe every dog in town had snuck into the yard the night before to relieve itself. The amount of waste was incredible. I looked accusingly at my dog, Jolene.

“Did you do all of this when we let you out last night?”

She didn’t have a plausible response, but that’s typical for her. Then I remembered the incessant dripping the evening before. The frustrating sun on my computer screen all afternoon, the brief episode when I considered taking off my shirt and trying to tan a little while I worked. I apologized to my dog for overestimating the power of her digestive system and resolved to be more aggressive with the pooper scooper the next time it warmed up.

Since then the visibility of canine fecal matter has proven to be a more reliable indicator of whether I want to go skiing than any online snow report. The only time it’s faulty is when someone else in the house decides to go rogue and clean up the yard. Then I’m left thinking it’s been snowing so fast the dog doo was covered before I even let her back in. That sort of misassumption leads to short and disappointing days at the ski hill.

This winter I tried shoveling a path from the porch to behind some trees so the dog would poop there instead. But no. She stops halfway along the path and makes eye contact. So now I’m left shoveling the path, and her poop.

Every January I spend a week or so staring at the brown piles in the yard, shaking my fist at the sky and screaming “Why won’t it snow!?” and “Why does Jolene go to the bathroom so much!?” She has no answer, instead she sniffs one of the piles inquisitively, pretending that she isn’t intimately acquainted with its composition.

In midwinter you can tell it’s really gotten cold and inhospitable up high when the deer start leaving droppings in the yard. The neighbor’s chihuahua screams his protest at them from the window and Jo chews on an antler they left.

Inevitably, though, our midwinter warm spells snap. Snow returns, the incessant dripping from the roofline turns to icicles overnight and the backyard turns back into a blank canvas, just waiting for me to lose the dog’s Frisbee in it. The holiday crowds dissipate and all returns to how it should be in the mountains.

Of course, as the season goes on that yard matrix has to shift a little to adjust. At some point in March or April the grass will probably start showing through a little, and we’ll start getting rain down low as it snows up high.

We’ll look forward to sunny afternoons and slushy snow as onesies and straight skis appear from closets. Eventually I’ll have to move to other indicators, start checking webcams instead of just looking at the backyard. The yard will be bare of snow, slowly greening, and my ski boots will stink with that unmistakable spring funk. My mind will drift to bikes and long days in the sun, and every passing day will make it a little harder to motivate myself to go skiing.

Until then, though, life is good. Every night I go to bed, hoping to rise to another morning of no dog poop to be seen in the yard, just perfect, untracked snow. And with any luck, we’ll have a few more days of that this week. I don’t need a buoy off the coast of Kauai, or some complicated weather model. I’ll ski pow until the dog poop shows