Lots of open water this winter | VailDaily.com

Lots of open water this winter

Tom Wiesen
Special to the Daily/Tanya WiesenThe Colorado River upstream from State Bridge has more open water than in other years. Clouds and snow keep temperatures higher, allowing less ice to form.

It is a record year for depth of snow, and this season’s daily snowfall is not normal weather for the early winter.This year there also has been an unprecedented amount of open water on local streams and rivers. I’ve noticed that both springs and creeks seem to be running with more gusto than in other years.Let’s think back to how this winter unfolded. It started like so many others before it – a surge of snow in October followed by a warm, sunny spell. “Oh, it’s going to be another drought year,” cried the doomsday weather predictors.

The early snow melted, but the tide turned on Nov. 10 – a good 1-foot snowstorm followed by a second, followed by relentless accumulations of 2 to 4 inches each day. The low-light days of the holiday season still seem a blur, I think, due to poor visibility from blowing snow and the mist on the highways. And then of course there was the 10-day cold snap in early December that thickened our blood, and strengthened our collective winter resolve to keep on going. Gnarly winter driving became the norm, and those poor souls without snow tires flailed along the roadsides.The rivers and creeks became almost completely covered with ice and snow overnight, and only a small amount of flowing water could be found. During this time I saw five American dippers working a small 30-foot stretch of open water on the Eagle River.And then came the brief respite between the storms. Warm sun created melt water that was everywhere, and became hazardous on roads and later turned to ice in parking lots. The water level rose in the creeks and rivers, saturated the snow, and broke up much of the ice. Beaver ponds, for instance, are now as soft and treacherous as ever.

Because we got so much early snow, the ice surface of the creeks and rivers has been insulated from cold freezing temperatures. We lacked the typical cold-dry early winter cycle, and consequently the ice seems to be poorly developed in many wet areas.Our major creeks and rivers have lots of open flowing water for this time of year. This benefits ducks, dippers, eagles and fly-fishermen, as all take advantage of open water. Kayakers, skiers, snowshoers and ranchers alike can cheer with each newly fallen inch of snow, knowing that these record years come around only once in a while.

Tom Wiesen and his wife Tanya are the owners and lead guides of Trailwise Guides, a year-round Vail Valley guide service specializing in providing quality experiences. Private snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and wildlife-watching outings are offered daily. Contact Trailwise Guides at 827-5363.Vail, Colorado

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