Big snow expected to dump on Vail Valley through the weekend
Vail Resorts opening more terrain at Vail, Beaver Creek, but avalanche danger is rising
EAGLE COUNTY — Snow usually comes and goes in this part of the state. A forecasted storm is expected to stick around for a while.
Forecasters are calling for snow to persist throughout the weekend in the high country, with a prospect of a couple of feet of powder by the time the storm starts to diminish on Monday.
Erin Walter, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said the jet stream has moved over Colorado, with high-elevation wind funneling precipitation from the Pacific Ocean into the state.
Walter said the jet stream will push farther south over the weekend, bringing snow to the southern mountains.
While forecasters don’t make confident predictions more than about seven days out, Walter said the Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is calling for a roughly even chance of average or above-average moisture in the weeks before the end of this year.
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This weekend’s snow is likely to snarl traffic on Interstate 70, but it will also bring a fresh shot of snow to the backcountry in the area. With fresh snow atop old snow, that mean’s the area’s avalanche danger is expected to rise.
It could be dangerous
Spencer Logan, a forecaster at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said he expects the avalanche danger in the central Rockies to rise to the “dangerous” level over the weekend.
Logan said there’s already been one avalanche fatality this season — in the backcountry near Cameron Pass west of Fort Collins. And, he added, that 10 people have been caught in slides so far this year — the most by this time of the season in at least five years.
Among those caught was a backcountry skier near Copper Mountain who was buried in a slide. That person was able to get his arm above the snow and waved. Other members of the skier’s party were able to dig him out.
Another skier in the backcountry near Crested Butte was out alone when a slide buried him up to his neck. Logan said that skier was able to dig himself out.
The snowpack eventually settles, but that takes time, Logan said, urging those heading into the backcountry to know their skills, go in groups and have the right gear.
Early snowpack’s encouraging
As the snowpack settles, it turns into next summer’s water for most of the Vail Valley. At this point — just several weeks into this “water year” — the snowpack in the upper valley is tracking more or less in line with the 30-year median.
The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District measures snowpack at three main locations: Vail Mountain; Copper Mountain, near Gore Creek’s headwaters; and Fremont Pass, near the Eagle River’s headwaters.
As of Thursday, the Vail Mountain measurement site was at 89% of the 30-year median. The Copper Mountain site was at 107% of normal, with Fremont Pass at 96% of normal.
Diane Johnson, the district’s communications and public affairs manager, said those close-to-normal readings are just fine for now, since we’re perhaps a quarter of the way through the snow year.
Johnson noted that the “snow water equivalent” — the amount of water in the snowpack — is only about a half-inch below the 30-year median for this time of year. That small deficit isn’t a big concern, she said.
Johnson said a big shot of snow over the weekend could easily put this year’s snowpack into above-normal territory.
Beyond snow, though, Johnson said these days she also roots for cold temperatures. Warmer winter temperatures can degrade the snowpack, and, ultimately, summer supplies.
“It’s just like summer,” Johnson said. “You can’t keep losing that snow (to evaporation) through the winter.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2930.