VAIL, Colorado - Weather forecasts are predicting a white Christmas for many mountain resorts in Colorado, including Vail and Beaver Creek. The National Weather Service forecast for the area shows a chance of snow beginning Sunday and continuing through Christmas, with the highest chances for the most snow falling sometime late Monday and into Christmas morning. Forecasts a few days in advance are still relatively early, but certainly show promise across many forecasters.At the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which forecasts avalanche danger around the state, the Monday forecast shows "a more defined trough," but the forecast is too far out for any details, wrote Scott Toepfer, a forecaster at the avalanche center.The news is a sharp and welcomed turn around at Vail Mountain, where December's snowfall to date is already 52 inches. The average for the month of December over the last 12 years is 43.8 inches, said Vail Mountain spokeswoman Sara Lococo, putting the current snowfall tally up about 18 percent over that 12-year average."Another interesting fact worth noting is that over the last 12 years, Vail has averaged 18 inches of snowfall between Dec. 22-31, so hopefully that's something to look forward to next week, as well," Lococo said. "The forecast is looking favorable so far."Powder forecaster and Meteorologist Joel Gratz, who runs www.opensnow.com, is predicting a few inches Sunday afternoon and evening, with the more intense storms coming through on Monday and Monday night. "Open your presents early then hit the slopes," Gratz wrote in his forecast Friday morning. "I think a responsible forecast for this storm would be about 4 to 8 inches for many areas, though some places could get a foot if all works out perfectly."The Open Snow forecast for both Vail and Beaver Creek shows 1 to 2 inches Sunday, 0 to 1 inch Sunday night, 2 to 4 inches Monday and 3 to 5 inches Monday night. The largest forecast as of now is for Wolf Creek, with 5 to 10 inches expected on Monday and another 2 to 4 inches Monday night. Another storm looks like it's on schedule for later in the week, around Thursday or Friday, which Gratz predicts could bring another 4 to 8 inches to many ski areas. As more terrain opens at many resorts - Beaver Creek's Larkspur Bowl opens today and Grouse Mountain opened Friday, while Vail opened Chairs 5 and 17 on Friday and could open more terrain this weekend - the new snow will only help put such terrain in better shape."The next seven days are going to be fun for all areas of Colorado, so after a very slow start to the season with almost no snow for a month at the end of November and beginning of December, the holiday week looks fantastic," Gratz said in his latest forecast. "Get out and enjoy."The new snow, however, brings more backcountry dangers. The avalanche center is reporting considerable avalanche danger around most of the Colorado high country. Backcountry travelers triggered several slides this week, especially on northeast aspects near treeline in the backcountry near Vail, the center reported. "Avalanche mitigation work with explosives produced even larger avalanches with crowns up to 8 feet deep in wind-loaded areas. Most of these were soft slabs that released in a layer of faceted snow just above the ground and some stepped down to the ground itself," reported forecaster Tim Brown.The concerns Friday and into the weekend were for persistent slabs that are a few feet thick and overlie persistent weak layers of depth hoar. Those traveling into the backcountry this weekend need to keep the avalanche danger in mind as the snowpack changes. The center warns anyone entering the backcountry to pay careful attention to warnings and to be prepared. The snowpack is very "touchy," Brown reports.Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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