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Lack of early snow in Vail, Beaver Creek isn’t without precedent

Don’t expect much of any fresh accumulation for the next week or so

Fresh corduroy and snow-covered trees greet the first guests Nov. 12 in Vail. While Mother Nature hasn’t helped much with precipitation, snowmaking crews at Vail and Beaver Creek have been working around the clock to cover terrain.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

In Vail’s first season, the fledgling resort called in Ute Indians for a snow dance to powder up the slopes. Beaver Creek’s inaugural season was put on hold due to dry conditions.

It’s the same story all over again for the start of the ski season.

Vail this season relied on snowmaking at higher elevations that allowed that resort to open on time Nov. 12 — one of the resort’s earliest start dates in its history. Beaver Creek needed several days after its scheduled Nov. 24 opening to get a bit of terrain ready for guests.



That isn’t all that rare.

Josef Staufer arrived in Vail in January of 1963, so he missed that first snow dance. But he’s seen plenty of dry early seasons.



Around 1976, Staufer owned the Vail Village Inn. Over the Thanksgiving holiday that year, he chartered buses to haul guests to ski at Arapahoe Basin.

The cost for the buses was about equal to the revenue from the deeply discounted rooms at the hotel. But, Staufer added, those guests came “year after year” in the wake of that move.

Staufer said snow over Thanksgiving used to be a pleasant bonus in those days. The true winter season didn’t start until mid-December.

Still, he added, “That time of year I didn’t sleep very much. We had all those (room) deposits to send back.”

Waiting for Christmas

Longtime local resident Harry Frampton agreed that the true Vail/Beaver Creek ski season didn’t start until just before Christmas.

“The real key is for us to have good snow by Dec. 20,” Frampton said.

That means the weather has to get busy.

Joel Gratz, co-founder of OpenSnow.com, reported Monday that Vail won’t see its next chance for even light snow until Sunday. The next chance for any accumulation won’t come until Dec. 7.

There might be a bit of hope in the long-range prediction. Forecasts aren’t made more than a week or 10 days ahead with much confidence, but the U.S. Climate Prediction Center shows a chance of above-average temperatures and near-average precipitation over the next three to four weeks.

Frampton arrived in the Vail Valley in 1982. Frampton said he remembers one year in that decade there was essentially no snow until Thanksgiving. But the snow came shortly after the holiday, and stayed through the winter.

“If we get (snow) soon, we’ll be fine,” Frampton said.

Seeding the clouds

Snow in the forecast will also aid cloud-seeding efforts. If the right system tracks over the right area, propane-fueled burners will shoot small crystals of silver iodide into the clouds. Those crystals will make water droplets heavy enough to precipitate out as snow.

Joe Macy helped start Eagle County’s first cloud-seeding efforts, which began in the first weeks of 1977.

Macy said the first cloud-seeding effort came in the 1960s, when longtime local Allan Nottingham scattered crystals into the clouds from his small airplane. That effort probably didn’t bear much fruit.

Macy was in charge of Vail’s cloud seeding program until the early 2000s.

Needing the right kind of weather means tracking storms, wind direction and other factors. The best systems for Vail and Beaver Creek come up from the southwest, Macy said.

In addition, Macy said he sometimes stopped the cloud-seeding efforts if nature was providing ample snow. Those halts to the program came when there was a possibility of putting even more snow on local roadways or in wildlife winter range.

Vail Resorts last year stopped funding the seeding program, which has been taken over last season and this by a consortium including Denver Water, the Colorado River Conservation District and the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.

Until the snow does fall, Frampton said snowmakers at local resorts really need colder weather. That hasn’t happened either, he noted.

“Of course, we’re late in snow,” Frampton said. “With everything else that’s gone wrong this year, why not that?”

The forecast

Here’s the National Weather Service forecast for Vail through Saturday:

Tuesday: Sunny, with a high of 47 and low of 25.

Wednesday: Sunny, with a high near 50 and a low near 28.

Thursday: Sunny, with a high near 54 and a low near 27.

Friday: Sunny, with a high near 50 and a low near 25.

Saturday: Sunny, with a high near 49 and a low near 25.


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