Vail melt is upon us after snow-water peak occurs in March this season |

Vail melt is upon us after snow-water peak occurs in March this season

Readings top out 3.5 weeks earlier than average

Areas of low snow present challenging conditions in lower elevation areas of Vail Mountain on April 5, 2021. The peak snow water equivalent occurred March 31 on Vail Mountain.
John LaConte/

Vail Mountain has seen quite a melt over the last two weeks, and snow telemetry data shows the area snow water equivalent to have peaked on March 31.

While there’s more moisture on the way, it’s unlikely to push the readings on the Vail Mountain snow telemetry site back over the March 31 recordings at Vail, said Eagle River Water and Sanitation District spokesperson Diane Johnson.

The Vail Mountain site is located at an elevation of 10,300 feet, and peaked March 31 at 14.6 inches of water within the snowpack, known as snow water equivalent.

The March 31 peak at 14.6 inches is 65% of normal peak SWE and 3.5 weeks ahead of the normal April 25 peak, Johnson said.

Johnson said while the rain and snow in the forecast is very welcome given the conditions, “it’s unlikely to affect the peak since Vail has already dropped so much.”

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The April 12 reading on Vail Mountain is 11.5 inches, down 3.1 inches in two weeks.

Local headwaters

At nearby Copper Mountain, a similar story can be seen in the SWE graphs, but just as has been the case with Vail’s neighbor to the east in recent years, snowpack isn’t quite as far below average at Copper again this season.

Copper Mountain’s SWE peaked April 2, nearly four weeks ahead of its normal April 28 peak. The site recorded 12.4 inches of water within the snowpack, which is 80% of its normal peak. The Copper Mountain snow telemetry site is at 10,550 feet and is the closest official measurement site to the headwaters of Gore Creek, which runs through Vail Village.

At Fremont Pass, which is the site closest to the headwaters of the Eagle River, an April 5 reading shows 13.4 inches of water within the snowpack, which could be the peak, although it’s still too early to tell, Johnson said. The April 12 reading at Fremont Pass shows 13.2 inches.

Graph courtesy Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

Extreme drought

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District says the extreme drought which started in August 2020 is likely to continue into this summer.

In a letter to customers issued April 1, the district said a much drier-than-normal summer and fall contributed to low stream flows.

“Flows matter because our local streams are the supply for us to provide you with clean, safe water for drinking, indoor uses, irrigation, and fire protection,” the letter states. “Your water use is directly linked to stream levels; when streamflows are low, high water use compounds the negative impact on local streams.”

The district has asked all customers to try to reduce the amount of water they use.

“Making those changes now means you’ll be prepared for dry summer conditions and will be helping to preserve our environment,” the letter states.

The district recommends everyone examine their water bills, attempt to lower their bill by lowering their usage tier, and use the free WaterSmart account to track and manage water use.

Regulations in effect

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District’s water use regulations require all residences within the district to avoid outdoor irrigation every Monday. Addresses that end in odd numbers may water on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Addresses that end in even numbers may water on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Properties served by the district may water between midnight and 10 a.m., or 4 p.m. and midnight on their designated watering day; no watering is allowed between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.”

All water district customers using hoses must have water-saving shutoff nozzles to prevent free-running water, as well.

Guess the peak

The Eagle River Watershed Council has launched its annual Peak Flow Prediction Contest, where river watchers can guess the day and time of peak flow at the Eagle River’s Gypsum gauge.

Sponsors will give away about $3,000 in prizes.

“We’ll be sharing more soon about these prizes — but trust us, they’re spectacular,” the council shared on its Facebook page.

Visit to become a contestant by purchasing a ticket and making a prediction. The contest will be open through April 22.

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