Powder keeps piling up
March is picking up right where February left off, plastering the Vail Valley with piles of powder snow.The last week of February, typically a fairly dry month, saw nearly 4 feet of fresh snow coating Vail Mountain. So far in March, over 2 more feet has fallen, culminating with an 21-inch dump Tuesday night, March 4.One of the biggest overnight powder pastings of the past three seasons had snowriders rollicking on Vail and Beaver Creek mountains.”It was really good,” says Glenn Wible of Edwards, who spent Wednesday, March 5, getting faceshots at Beaver Creek. “It was the best day of my year.”But Wible says Sunday, Feb. 23, when 25 inches fell over two days at Vail, was a close second. Since then, Vail has been hit with 71 inches, or nearly 6 feet of snow. Wednesday, March 5, was the capper. Beaver Creek, where it snowed 22 of 28 days in February, recorded 19.5 inches March 5.”We skied the bottom of Goshawk glade and every turn seemed like a faceshot there,” Wible says. “Then we went straight to Grouse (Mountain) and skied Bald Eagle, which was pretty effortless, because it was so deep you could go straight down the bumps.”And forecasters say more is on the way.Brian Avery, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, says spring provides the bulk of the moisture in the Central Rockies.”The long term models are indicating a wetter than normal March and April,” Avery says. “February tends to be one of the drier months of the year but (in March and April) storms come up from the south and clash with cold air and you tend to see some of the biggest storms.”February was anything but dry this year though, as Vail recorded 80 inches and Beaver Creek received 72, putting both mountains well ahead of their annual averages. Vail has an 86-inch summit snow depth, and Beaver Creek isn’t far behind at 79 inches.Avery says areas of the Continental Divide southeast and southwest of Steamboat Springs (just north of Vail) got 15 feet of snow in the past two weeks.”It’s been a real big shot in the arm to the snowpack,” says Avery, though he cautions the drought is far from over. The upper Colorado River basin is still only at 91 percent of its annual average snowpack, but Avery says recent storms have obviously helped significantly.”That’s some of the best numbers we’ve seen in a long time, but even with average snowfall it wouldn’t break the drought cycle,” Avery says. “We still have four years of deficits to make up.”Short-term, Avery says the next two weeks won’t be quite as powdery as the last two, but overall, he says the final month and a half of the ski season should be fairly wet and wild.Beaver Creek is scheduled to close April 13, and Vail is set to close Easter Sunday, April 20.Regardless of how much snow falls between then and now, Vail Resorts officials say the mountains won’t stay open any later in the season.”The volume of business that occurs starts to decline after the first week of April,” says Vail Chief Operating Officer Bill Jensen, noting that Vail stayed open until the second week of April last year and is closing a week later this year because Easter falls so late in the month. “The business just drops off throughout the month of April to the point where it’s not economical to operate.”That’s particularly true, he says, because 70 percent of Vail’s guests are destination skiers, and 85 percent of Beaver Creek’s, meaning they lock in vacation plans well in advance of Front Range day skiers.He adds that the late Easter vacation is not a plus for the ski industry.”When Easter is early in April, it becomes a winter ski vacation, and when it’s late, it becomes a Mexico beach vacation,” Jensen says. So get the fresh snow while the getting’s good, adds Jensen, who skied at Vail on Wednesday.”It was of epic proportions,” he says.
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