Snowfall varies widely at western ski resorts
December 3, 2003
The snowpack on Independence Pass is about 90 percent of average, according to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS. Conditions were particularly dry until late October. Several storms in November boosted the snowpack closer to normal.
The NRCS collects snowfall and precipitation data from seven computerized sites in the Roaring Fork River basin, including one at the 10,600-foot level on Independence Pass. As of Dec. 2, the conservation service data showed that all three sites in the Fryingpan River drainage were below normal for snowpack while two of three sites in the Crystal River drainage were above normal.
In the Fryingpan, the snowpack at the Ivanhoe site was at 74 percent of average. The Kiln site was at 69 percent of average while the Nast site was well below average at 12 percent.
In the Crystal, the Schoefeld site was only at 88 percent of average but McClure Pass was at 106 percent and North Lost Trail was at 110 percent.
Spotty snowfall has been common so far this winter, according to Brian Avery, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. He said one storm dumped three feet of snow near Steamboat, but only six inches a short distance away.
The NRCS data shows a handful of ski resorts in the western U.S. have benefited from above-average snowfall so far, but the early winter has been drier than normal for most.
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Sites near Wolf Creek ski area were at 138 percent of normal while the Steamboat Springs area boasted a snowpack 116 percent above normal.
Park City, Utah, was about 10 percent above average, while Jackson Hole was right at its average.
California’s resorts were taking a beating as of Tuesday. The Heavenly Valley area was at 58 percent of average snowpack while Squaw Valley was only at 72 percent.
Sites near Sun Valley, Idaho, were suffering through a snowpack of 61 percent of average.
Closer to home, Telluride showed a snowpack of 94 percent of average while Winter Park came in at 93 percent. Crested Butte was at 95 percent.
However, Vail Mountain was at 68 percent of average, the Copper Mountain and Breckenridge areas were only at 65 percent and Keystone was lingering at 73 percent.
Snowpacks were in danger of dwindling due to warm temperatures and lack of precipitation. Avery of the National Weather Service said the latest 30-day outlook forecasts warm temperatures.
“Much of the West is going to be warmer than usual,” he said.
Avery has already noticed inversions, where cold air gets trapped at lower elevations and warm air stays high, that have produced temperatures at about 60 degrees at 9,000 feet.
“The upper snowpack is taking a beating,” he said.
Inversions haven’t been the issue recently. Aspen’s high temperatures were 10 degrees above normal on Sunday and Monday.
Jeff Williams, a meteorologist with Day Weather Inc. of Cheyenne, Wyo., said the jet stream has stayed north of Colorado so temperatures have been higher and conditions dry. But this weather is nothing out of the ordinary.
“I would label this current quiet, mild spell as just an small anomaly in the overall winter weather pattern,” Williams said. “Cold air is currently building in Alaska and should bring a drop in the jet stream next week, leading to an colder and unsettled weather pattern for the mountains of Colorado.”