Storm system moving into area for the weekend, but how much snow will it bring?
Lack of snow affecting local ski resorts
As mid-December nears and the official start of the winter season approaches, there’s one question permeating conversations throughout the county and along the Front Range: where is all the snow?
In previous years, residents and visitors alike would already be enjoying the majestic bumps and trees of the Mary Jane, or perhaps shredding some fresh powder at Parsenn Bowl. But with a dearth of snowfall in the area, snow sport enthusiasts are left waiting for Mother Nature to cooperate.
The good news is that the area should expect snowfall into the weekend. The bad news: it won’t be a lot.
According to Natalie Sullivan, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, the area should expect a light dusting late Thursday that is unlikely to accumulate. Though another snow system is moving in for this weekend. Experts, however, aren’t certain how much snow it would bring.
“There is another snow system coming through this weekend which could bring more snow to the Winter Park area, which would be helpful of course for the mountain and the skiers,” said Sullivan. “It looks like we are getting into more of a winter-like pattern.”
The news of precipitation is welcomed by many as it’s been an unusually dry season so far.
Going back to Oct. 1, precipitation is actually just below average. Measuring from the weather service’s co-op site in Winter Park, precipitation is at 4.7 inches, just below the 5.01 inches at average, or about 47 inches of snow compared to about 58.5 on average, according to Treste Huse, hydrologist for the National Weather Service.
Narrowing the timetable paints a more troubling picture, however. Over the last 30 days, dating back to Nov. 13, the site has seen only 1.13 inches of precipitation and 15.5 inches of snow, compared to averages of 2.4 inches and 33.4 inches respectively, about 46 percent of normal snowfall.
Measuring from the Berthoud Summit site, precipitation is still only about 67 percent of average, gathering 3.3 inches of precipitation compared to the normal five inches.
How the resorts are handling the lack of winter weather
The lack of snow is worrisome for resorts trying to draw skiers and snowboarders.
“It has been a challenge for sure,” said Steve Hurlbert, director of communications for Winter Park Resort. “Our snow making team has been working around the clock in order to get as much terrain open as possible. We did more snowmaking this week then we’d ever done before in the history of the system in that timeframe. But that said, there’s a lot of stuff, in particular over at Mary Jane, that we just can’t open without natural snow.”
While snow is scarce, the resort has welcomed the colder nighttime temperatures that allow them to make snow. Hurlbert said the snowmaking team is working efficiently and with a specific plan as to where to attack the mountain. Winter Park Resort currently only has about 157 acres of trails open, in stark contrast to where they would be during a year with normal snowfall.
“Typically around this time of year we would have the Mary Jane open,” said Hurlbert. “Compared to years past there’d certainly be a lot more terrain open. Our goal at the beginning of the season is typically to have the majority open around Christmas, because that’s when the most people are here and the big crowds start showing up. Obviously we’re far short of that right now.”
An early lack of snow may be disappointing for resorts and their patrons, but Hurlbert said it’s too early to start worrying.
“We need Mother Nature to come through, and again for us its been a challenge, but I don’t think anybody’s panicking,” he noted. “We’ve been around for 77 years and winter has yet to skip us. The snow will come. It’s just a matter of when.”
In the meantime Winter Park Resort is opening the High Lonesome Express lift as well as the Lunch Rock Restaurant on top of the Mary Jane.
The story is a bit different for Ski Granby Ranch, which opens Friday.
“Due to a lack of snowfall and unseasonably high temperatures we will be opening with the Milestone Lift only,” said Melissa Cipriani, CEO of Granby Ranch. The Milestone is one of the smallest hills at the ranch.
Though they’re hoping to attract more skiers and snowboarders the first day with a special discounted lift ticket of only $25.
“Our mountain operations team has been working tirelessly making, moving and grooming snow in an effort to get ready for opening. When temperatures allow, they are making snow,” Cipriani said.
While last week the team was able to make snow with consistently lower temperatures, this week it has so far warmed up, making their efforts more difficult.
“Snow dances and snow prayers are welcome,” Cipriani said.
Bryce Martin, Sky-Hi News editor, contributed to this report.
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Winter Park is hosting a dedication ceremony for its new public works building, named after longtime resident and former town official Jim Myers, on Tuesday with tours of the new structure planned.