Nordic Corner: Atmospheric river of moisture brings relief to snow-starved trails |

Nordic Corner: Atmospheric river of moisture brings relief to snow-starved trails

Jeffrey Russell
Nordic Corner
Headwaters Trails Alliance Executive Director Meara McQuain breaks trail on the Lunch Loop in Fraser. Grand’s Nordic trails have finally gotten a healthy snow coverage and HTA is working to groom options across the county.
Headwaters Trails Alliance / Courtesy photo

What a difference a storm makes!

While the first day of winter reflected the dearth of moisture that Colorado has been experiencing through the fall, what meteorologists are calling an “Atmospheric River of Moisture” has dumped feet of snow on the Colorado mountains, just in the nick of time for Christmas and all the visitors who flock to our valley to experience a white Christmas.

As Dec. 21, the winter solstice and shortest day of the year announced the first official day of winter, it was looking like Ullr, the spirit of winter, was going to be the Grinch this year, until the gift of a Christmas eve snowstorm was presented to us from moist air of the Pacific.

The snow tally keeps growing as the river remains above us, and continued light snowfall keeps the snow globe going in waves. The first major wave of the storms came in warm and heavy, with snow that would provide a good base.

That base was resistant to the winds that were about to follow. Fortunately, the winds came and left without scouring open areas of the new blanket that had been laid down just a day or so before.

Cold temperatures followed and we had some rare snow accumulations with temperatures barely gracing double digits. One of the long-time local proverbial wisdoms is that often in our valley, it is too cold to snow, or at least too cold to produce any high quantities of snow. When temperatures are in the 20s, we tend to see larger snowflakes and higher volumes, but when we see single digits, crystals are very fine and rarely does the cold, dry air provide for snow depths that are meaningful to winter sport enthusiasts.

Nordic Centers have been scrambling to get the new snow packed down so that it stays in place, and so that skiers can enjoy a solid base of snow for some fast gliding. Finally, we can put away the rock skis and bring out our premium gear, feeling safe that we won’t mar our bases, and we won’t have to scan the snow surface for that hidden sub-surface obstacle that could damage our skis.

For off-track skiing, wider skis will perform better until the trails see enough traffic to get ahead of what seems like continuous snowfall.

We can also venture out away from the shadows of hills to the south that preserved what snow had fallen through the fall. The first high school Nordic race of the year relied on those shadows to put on a successful race on an extremely thin snow pack.

Tucked under the north aspect of Sheep Mountain (or Snow Mountain to the YMCA campers) on the south side of the Pole Creek Valley, the course was put on remotely to avoid the nearly bare grounds near the Nordic center, where sun and wind take away from accumulations.

Our local skiers performed well with Elizabeth Hammond taking the top spot for the ladies, and Gray Barker on the podium in second for the boys. All other teammates raced competitively and put our team in very close competition, with the girls just one point behind Poudre Valley and one point ahead of Steamboat. The boys also fell just one frustrating point behind the Poudre schools.

Another opportunity to see our team close up at home will be available when Snow Mountain Ranch hosts the State Ski Meet on Feb. 17 and 18. You can cheer them on sooner Jan. 7 in Gould, Jan. 15 in Steamboat, or on Jan. 22 for a State Qualifier at the Summit/Gold Run trails in Breckenridge.

Snow Mountain will also be hosting a national qualifier on the weekend of the Jan. 22 and 23, so, as sometimes is the case, the team will split to send representatives to both events.

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