Next snow in Vail is expected this Friday, but how much is unclear

The peaks above Vail Pass remain snowless Monday, Nov. 13, in Vail. Snow is forecast for Friday.
Chris Dillmann | |

The forecast

• Tuesday, Nov. 14: Sunny, with a high near 52 and low of 24.

• Wednesday, Nov. 15: Mostly sunny, with a high of 49 and low of 29.

• Thursday, Nov. 16: Partly sunny, with a high of 49 and a chance of snow in the evening.

• Friday, Nov. 17: Chance of snow, with a high of 36.

• Saturday, Nov. 18: Sunny, with a high of 40.

Source: National Weather Service

VAIL — It’s been a while since measurable snow fell on Vail Mountain — Tuesday, Nov. 7, to be precise. And while a storm is on the way, it’s too little, too late to allow Vail to open on schedule.

Resort officials announced Tuesday morning that Vail won’t open to skiers and riders until Thanksgiving Day. 

Most of Colorado’s Western Slope has seen warmer-than-normal temperatures this fall. The region is also a bit more dry than normal. In fact, the U.S. Drought Monitor website lists much of Western Colorado as “abnormally dry,” the first stage on its five-step scale of drought conditions.

Still, this fall’s weather isn’t all that far outside the norm.

Andrew Lyons, a forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, said this fall’s weather pattern has been roughly in line with normal conditions: a few storms here and there punctuating mostly clear weather.

One of those clear-sky-punctuating storms seems poised to hit the Vail Valley toward the end of this week. Current forecasts show a system moving into the area late in the day on Thursday, Nov. 16. That system will linger a bit and is expected to drop some snow in the Central Rockies, including the mountains around Vail.

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The National Weather Service’s forecast isn’t yet predicting snow totals for the storm, but somewhere between a few and several inches could fall on Vail on what was supposed to be Opening Day of the ski season.

On the Open Snow website, forecaster Joel Gratz uses a combination of forecast sources to predict somewhere between 1 and 11 inches of snow around Vail Pass. Gratz wrote that an average of 4 or 5 inches could fall in the area.

Lyons said the snow level will drop to between 5,000 and 6,000 feet moving into the early-morning hours of Friday, Nov. 17.

Vail Mountain has opened with more snow, of course. As recently as 2015, the resort had more than 1,000 acres of terrain open in its first few days of operation.

But Vail Resorts in 2016 delayed its Opening Day by a week, from Nov. 18 to Nov. 25. A foot of natural snow fell during that week, ensuring good conditions.

At the moment, Vail Resorts is blowing snow on the Born Free and Simba runs. According to a statement last week from Vail Mountain Senior Communications Manager Sally Gunter, the mountain operations crew at Vail has been focused on getting Born Free ready for skiers and riders.

There may be better news on the horizon.

Lyons said a weak La Nina pattern has developed in the Pacific Ocean this year. La Nina patterns have cooler-than-average water temperatures in the ocean west of Peru. Those patterns tend to bring storms into the United States from the northwest, meaning mountains in northwestern Colorado generally see more snow.

The other end of the scale is the El Nino pattern, with warmer-than-average water temperatures in the same region. An El Nino winter generally sends storms into Southern Colorado and the Front Range.

Lyons said this year’s La Nina pattern is expected to break by spring of 2018, with precipitation coming back to normal levels.

“It’s a very, very weak signal — there’s not a lot of influence,” Lyons said.

Still, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center’s forecast for the next three months shows an above-average chance of warmer-than-normal temperatures, along with an above-average chance of above-normal precipitation.

But climate prediction is different from weather forecasting, which can change rapidly with individual systems. That’s why forecasters rarely go more than 10 days into the future. According to The Weather Channel, the next best chance for snow following Friday’s storm doesn’t come until Monday, Nov. 27.

Of course, a lot can happen between now and then.

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