Aspen-area snowpack is well above average |

Aspen-area snowpack is well above average

Michael Faas/The Aspen TimesScott Sinta samples the goods in the Northwoods at Aspen Highlands. The local ski areas' snowpack is well above average so far this winter.

ASPEN – The upper slopes of the local ski areas are racking up significantly better-than-average snowfall even though warm temperatures brought rain to the Roaring Fork Valley floor for almost a full week before Christmas.

The four ski areas are running between 13 and 22 percent above the 30-year average for snowfall in November and December to date, Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said Monday.

Snowmass has received 98 inches of snow in November and so far in December, with another storm forecast to hit before the new year. Many resorts include October snowfall totals in their measurements because it makes for gaudy numbers, Hanle said. The Skico doesn’t believe October snowfall is all that relevant because it usually melts without contributing to the base.

However, when October’s snowfall is added, Snowmass topped 100 inches for the season as of Dec. 11, he said.

Aspen Mountain received 90 inches of snow in November and December.

The December storms that rolled in one right after another before Christmas deposited loads of wet, heavy snow that drastically boosted the ski areas beyond their 30-year averages, Hanle said. Snowfall totals were about average in November, although many locals felt it was wetter because the last few Novembers had been so dry. But December’s snowfall was between 16 and 42 percent above average for all local ski areas, according to Hanle. Snowmass enjoyed a particularly high bounty.

The warm temperatures that produced rain in Aspen last week and throughout the Roaring Fork Valley floor tricked some non-skiing locals into thinking conditions on the slopes must not be that good. They were wrong. The precipitation above about 9,000 feet has fallen as snow, making for superb conditions for what’s still early in the season.

Hanle claimed the perceptions created by the rain haven’t been that big of an issue. Word-of-mouth has reinforced that conditions are good on the slopes, he said, and the Skico is reinforcing that message.

“That’s why we’ve doing everything we can to get video and images out” of powder skiing, he said. “We made a concerted effort to make sure people knew.”

The base depths on the slopes tell the story. The top of Snowmass had a base of 57 inches Monday. Last year on the same date it was 42 inches. The midmountain depth at Snowmass is 33 inches this season, compared to 26 inches last season.

Aspen Mountain had a base of 39 inches at the top Monday, compared to 25 inches a year ago. The midmountain base was 36 inches this year, compared to 25 inches last season on the same date.

The snow depth might be overrated. Skiers and riders just want the rocks and bushes covered.

“For the average skier, it doesn’t matter if you have a 50-inch base or a 100-inch base,” Hanle said. “Once things are covered, they’re covered. It doesn’t matter if it’s six inches or six feet.”

I’s nice to have the 6 feet of cover when warm temperatures prevail, though, as they have for a good chunk of December.

Snowpack figures tracked by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a federal agency, are consistent with the Skico’s findings on its slopes. The agency measures snowpack at seven places in the Roaring Fork River basin, including a site between Aspen and the summit of Independence Pass. That site showed the snowpack was 132 percent of average on Monday.

The sites include three in the Crystal River Valley and three in the Fryingpan River Valley. All were considerably above the 30-year average.

In the Fryingpan, the Ivanhoe site was 136 percent of average; the Kiln site was 139 percent of average; and the Nast Lake site was at 139 percent of average.

In the Crystal Valley, Schofield was at 149 percent of average; North Lost Trail near Marble was at 164 percent of average; and McClure Pass was at 147 percent of average.

As a whole, the Roaring Fork River basin was at 145 percent of average on Monday.

The NRCS data shows other impressive snowpack totals in other parts of the state as well. Rabbit Ears Pass near Steamboat was at 180 percent of average while Copper Mountain was at 191 percent of average. Wolf Creek was at 139 percent of average. Vail Mountain was at 103 percent of its average.

Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District, an organization that leads in protection, conservation, use and development of the river, said this winter is shaping up nicely from a water supply standpoint. The water needed for irrigation of crops and for municipal and industrial uses next spring and summer will come from snow accumulated at 9,000 feet in elevation and higher. The December rain in Aspen and the valley floor created no need to panic, he said.

“The biggest reservoir isn’t any kind of hole in the ground” like Lake Powell or Ruedi Reservoir, Pokrandt said. “It’s at 9,000 feet.”

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