First snow teases Vail Mountain | VailDaily.com

First snow teases Vail Mountain

Kevin Kelly/Special to the DailyThere was a nice dusting of snow Monday morning at the top of Chair 5 on Vail Mountain. While it was mostly gone by mid-day, the high-elevation snow, from a storm that developed fairly quickly over the high Rockies Sunday evening, got local residents buzzing about the season to come.

VAIL, Colorado – Vail Mountain got a little snow Monday morning – just a dusting, and it was mostly gone by noon. But in Vail, snow equals excitement.

“There was a real buzz – people were passing around pictures this morning,” said Alex Hutson at Yeti’s Grind in Vail Village. “People are really talking, saying, ‘it’s coming.'”

The story was the same at the Double Diamond in Lionshead.

“Everybody’s itching (for winter) a little bit,” said Matt Carroll at the Double Diamond ski shop in Lionshead. “Locals come in, and they’re psyched for a good snow year.”

But Monday’s dusting was little more than a tease, and a bit of surprise at that.

Meteorologist Joel Gratz, one of the founders of OpenSnow.com, a website dedicated to mountain weather, said Monday’s storm may have provided a taste of winter, but that’s all it was.

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“There’s little correlation between early season snow and how the season turns out,” Gratz said.

And, while many people were surprised by Monday’s storm, Gratz said it actually gave forecasters a little warning. But only a little.

“Even a day or two ago the models didn’t show this,” Gratz said, adding that the jet stream dipped quickly, and just enough, for precipitation to develop over the Continental Divide, and for temperatures to drop enough for rain to become snow at higher elevations.

While Monday’s storm got powderhounds barking a bit – which happens pretty much every time it snows in September – Gratz said the forecast for the coming weeks won’t bring much more to howl about.

“That’s probably the most snow we’ll see for the rest of the month,” Gratz said, adding that his models show little, if any precipitation until early October.

What everyone wants to know, though, is whether Colorado’s mountains will get back to normal, or at least near-normal, snowfall in the coming winter. The answer, now, is, “It’s too soon to tell.”

Gratz said there seems to be a weak “El Nino” pattern starting to set up in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean, along the equator off the west coast of South America. Those patterns bring slightly warmer-than-normal water temperatures to that area of the Pacific, which then influences weather coming to North America. The opposite pattern, called La Nina, brings slightly cooler-than-normal water temperatures to the same area.

The Vail Valley and points south generally benefit from La Nina patterns.

Like so much about the weather, though, it’s hard to tell whether the weather will behave as it has in the past.

“You can still get plenty of great snow from a few storms in dry years,” Gratz said.

In fact, most areas get much of their snow from just a few storms. Gratz did some research on Scofield Pass between Aspen and Crested Butte during the 2010-2011 season, generally regarded as an epic winter. That season, about a quarter of all the snow on Scofield Pass came from just a couple of storms.

For now, though, all local residents can do is wait for the next system, probably next month.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.