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Groomers rob snow stashes to keep terrain open

By Matt Stensland | Steamboat Pilot and Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With about 2 1/2 weeks left in the ski season, the patches of brown at Steamboat Ski Area are growing larger, but veteran groomers are fighting to keep terrain open.

A warm and dry February and March have resulted in endless weeks of spring skiing conditions, but the base is shrinking.

“We’re staying afloat for now,” slope maintenance manager Stuart Hassell said. “We focus a lot on egress routes and limiting snowcat traffic to minimize impact. It keeps snow from deteriorating faster.”

The warm weather and bare ground have some recalling the dreaded season of 2011-12.

That season, the ski area was able to stay open until the scheduled April 15 closing day, but the lower mountain was closed two weeks early.

Snowfall during the 2011-12 season was sparse during December and January before rebounding in February with 93 inches. Despite that, only 21 inches fell in March and 4 inches in April. The ski area ended the season with 228 inches, well below the average of 340 inches.

The ski area this year has already surpassed that season with 276.75 inches. After a strong start to the season, Mother Nature turned off the snow machine in March.

As of Tuesday morning, 10.25 inches had fallen. On average, about 50 inches of snow falls in March.

That has led to experienced groomers robbing snow from wherever they can and pushing it onto areas that see heavy traffic.

At the base area, snowcats have been robbing snow from the halfpipe.

Slope maintenance director David Crisler said there are some areas that groomers will not bother to patch. Instead, they groom the snow around the exposed dirt.

There have been some trail casualties. Upper and lower Valley View are closed for the season as are Swinger, and ironically, Mother Nature.

“Dropout’s on the bubble,” Crisler said.

Those are typically some of the first trails to go.

“We’re actually holding up better than I thought we would,” Hassell said.

The mountain is still scheduled to close April 16.


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