Winter comes early to the High Country
October 2, 2017
Winter came early to Grand County this year after an early October snowstorm deposited multiple inches of wet, slushy snow throughout Middle Park including the low valleys.
A frigid storm front began moving into the Fraser and Colorado River valleys Sunday afternoon, sending sleet down across Grand County as a heavy driving wind pushed many citizens indoors. As night fell across the high Rockies the storm's precipitation shifted from rain to snow. Colorado Department of Transportation snowplows were hard at work on Berthoud Pass Sunday night as the white stuff started piling up in the valleys below.
Officials at Winter Park Resort were thrilled with the preseason moisture. Steve Hurlbert, director of Resort Communications, said Winter Park received a minimum of eight inches overnight into the morning of Oct. 2. Hurlbert noted the Resort is working to get their winter snow stake set up for the coming ski season and as such did not have a precise figure for the overnight snowfall.
"Winter came quicker than we thought," Hurlbert said.
The snowstorm Sunday night marked the second time this fall Winter Park Resort has received snow, though the earlier snowfall was insignificant and melted away quickly.
"This is our first significant snowfall," Hurlbert said.
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This year's early October snowfall beats last year's first major preseason snowfall by more than a month. In 2016 Winter Park Resort's first measurable snowfall occurred on Nov. 6. The late start forced the Resort to push back their opening date by a week.
Hurlbert said the Resort plans to open for the winter season on Nov. 15 this year, but added early season storms like this week's are not necessarily indicators of snowfall patterns for the rest of the year.
"It is so hard to tell with the early season snows," Hurlbert said. "But it is fun to see white stuff on the ground."
Measureable snowfall on October 2 is fairly early for Winter Park Resort, though not the earliest the popular ski destination has ever seen. The Resort has tracked preseason snowfall data since 1999, which was the year that saw the earliest measurable snowfall, on Sept. 20.
Despite the early snowstorm though Winter Park Resort is sticking to its schedule for snowmaking.
"We are getting our ducks in a row," Hurlbert said regarding snowmaking operations. "We are hoping to get them fired up as scheduled in the next couple of week. We are not going to move it up because of this snowfall."
Hurlbert added the forecast calls for warmer temperatures in coming days and that the snow guns required sustained cold temperatures for their operation.
Snowplow operators with CDOT were also put to work because of the storm and were busily scraping Highway 40 on Berthoud Pass Sunday night as the heart of the storm began striking Middle Park.
Officials from CDOT explained the state agency breaks the state's highway system down into regions and sections. The top of Berthoud serves as a dividing line between Region 1, including all of the Denver metro area, and Region 3, all of northwest Colorado including Grand County. Grand County's maintenance unit is called Section 6 and stretches from the top of Berthoud through Kremmling to Rabbit Ears Pass and over to Walden in North Park as well.
For that area CDOT employs 45 individuals who are tasked with plowing and other winter maintenance duties. Those 45 employees work with 28 pieces of snow removal equipment. Each side of Berthoud Pass, the Grand County side and the Clear Creek side, has a dedicated team of three plows that are used to keep the pass clear.