Vail Valley snowpack holding steady
March 9, 2017
VAIL — Before the ski season ends in Eagle County, long range weather models are showing the possibility for a few more snow storms. But even if those storms don't happen, then the snowpack should be sufficient to keep the groomers running nicely through the end of the season.
"From a skiing standpoint, even if it doesn't snow much more, as long as it stays relatively cold there will likely be ample snow, especially for in bounds skiing," says Karl Wetlaufer with the Colorado Snow Survey.
The Snow Survey is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colorado. A skier and a whitewater rafting enthusiast, Wetlaufer follows the snow-water equivalent — the amount of water in fallen snow — closely throughout the season. He echoed a statement powder hounds have been saying since January — in the Eagle River Basin, this has been a good season for snow.
"Many sites in the Eagle River Basin have already reached their normal peak (snow-water equivalent) or snowpack values, or if they are not, they are very close to it," Wetlaufer said Thursday. "At many of those sites those don't usually occur for at least another month or so."
“Many sites in the Eagle River Basin have already reached their normal peak (snow-water equivalent) or snowpack values, or if they are not, they are very close to it. At many of those sites, those don’t usually occur for at least another month or so.”Karl WetlauferColorado Snow Survey
Good snowpack doesn't just mean nice skiing on groomed runs through the end of the season. It usually makes for a nice whitewater season on the local creeks and rivers, as well. Wetlaufer said this spring looks promising.
"Currently, the Eagle River at Gypsum is forecasted to have 115 percent of its normal volumetric summer stream flows," Wetlaufer said. "A lot of it depends on the timing at which the snow melts and translates to stream flow, but it looks like pretty good flows in the rivers for the whitewater enthusiasts."
For anglers, however, "it could be a longer period of time before the river clears up for fishing and other more relaxed activities on the water," Wetlaufer added.
BEAV' RECORDS MORE THAN VAIL
On Vail Mountain, where the average snowfall for a season is 350 inches, a total of 190 inches has been recorded this season. Resort workers look at the mid mountain snow stake camera to record the new snow each day, and that number is then uploaded to Vail.com, onthesnow.com and other snow recording sites. The platform in front of the camera is brushed off at 5 a.m. each day and the cycle repeats.
This week was an interesting one on Vail Mountain, as the resort has only reported one inch of new snow received. This was curious to locals, who found themselves dusting off at least a few inches off their cars after work Monday.
"We definitely received more than an inch, no question," said Vail skier Cesar Hermosillo, who tries to get out on Vail Mountain every day. "But I know there's winds and everything else; that's what's great about having a live camera view of the snow stakes, you can watch what's happening for yourself. Sometimes I look at the Blue Sky cam for a more accurate reading, sometimes I look at the front side cam."
Beaver Creek has reported a total of 236 inches this season and on Tuesday morning, Beaver Creek reported 6 inches of new snow. Sally Gunter, Vail's senior communications manager, said the winds were to blame for Vail's zero-inch reading on Tuesday morning.
"While the Blue Sky snow stake cam showed 4 inches of snow from Monday at 5 a.m. to the next snow reporting time of Tuesday at 5 a.m., the mid-mountain snow stake cam, where we take the official snow total, showed zero inches for that same time period," Gunter wrote in an email. "For consistency across the season, we followed our normal snow reporting protocol of using the snowfall total shown on the mid-mountain snow stake cam."
The Colorado Snow Survey follows snow water equivalent through snow telemetry, or Snowtel sites, where an automated system of snowpack and water measuring sensors send information to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Last year, the Snow Survey program visited one of its snow telemetry sites on Vail Mountain to look at how the pine beetle has affected the snow recordings on that site. That snow telemetry site is very near to Vail's mid mountain snow stake cam.
Looking at the site, snow survey worker Brian Domonkos said the area is now subject to more wind scour than in years past.
"The small group of trees that are behind (the Snotel site) are some of the few remnants of a slightly forested, more dense area that used to be here some five-plus years ago," Domonkos said. "But those trees have since been removed and we believe that we're seeing more windy conditions that have an effect on the snowpack … We believe that we're seeing scour."
After examining the station and taking some readings, the officials say their suspicions were confirmed.
"The readings were pretty much in line with what we had suspected when we were there. It looks like there is some scour," Domonkos said.