Spring skiing in December? | VailDaily.com

Spring skiing in December?

Stephen Lloyd Wood

NWS On the Hill BH 12-5

Doesn’t it seem like ages now since those early season storms dropped butt-high powder on the slopes, assuring exceptional conditions for the Thanksgiving holiday?

Blue skies and warmer temperatures this week, sorry to say, turned that powdery winter wonderland into something more akin to Holiday on Ice on a base of about 20 inches.

“It’s like spring skiing in the sense it’s hard and crusty in the morning and it softens up later,” Paul Bartos, a skier who has spent his winters in Vail for more than a dozen years, said Wednesday. “I think as long as we have sub-freezing temperatures, we’ll hold onto what we’ve got. But those warm temperatures do give cause for worry.”

Spring-skiing mode

Despite it being the first week of December, Bartos was in spring-skiing mode Wednesday, heading for the the long intermediate runs worked overnight into a pristine, unmarked carpet of packed powder. By 9:45 a.m., he said, he’d already been up Vail’s Chair 2 four times, taking long bombing runs down Avanti.

“I actually enjoy this time of year because there’s nobody to pass,” said Bartos as he headed off to his regular late-morning break – to check on the stock market – before re-emerging later for softer snow. “Every year has its patterns; this time of year, you just hope there’s enough snow to ski.

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“Sure wish we’d get more for the weekend,” he added.

With two-thirds of Vail still not open, Bartos said he was sharing a tactic common on days like these: staying on the groomed slopes of the Vail’s Front side – the ones with sun on them – until late morning. Early Wednesday, for example, Mid-Vail Express, a sunny, east-facing intermediate run above Mid-Vail, was heavenly; and Northstar, an expert run the snowcats had combed thoroughly overnight, was a heck of a ride. Another east-facing expert run, the stair-stepping Gandy Dancer, was quite nice, too, its bumps already soft to the touch.

Precision skiing

It was a different story, however, on any run that typically doesn’t see the sun until noon or so – or not at all. For example, Prima, Vail’s famously long, north-facing, double-diamond mogul run, was more of an obstacle course, with the tops of tiny pine trees poking through hard, icy bumps. Prima’s double-diamond cousin, Pronto, though slightly softer, had developed a case of the bare spots.

Indeed, Prima and Pronto combined offered a great lesson in what one might call “precision skiing.”

“Everything’s still pretty covered, though we’re starting to get some thin spots,” said Matt Cain, a Vail ski patroller heading up the Northwoods Express Lift, Chair 11. “We’re still waiting for the next storm to freshen things up.”

Cain said this time of year patrollers spend a lot of their time “spinning tower pads,” “putting up fences,” “constantly fixing closures” and “marking obstacles.” As the level of the snowpack declines, in fact, more and more obstacles need attention, he said.

“Waiting on more snow’

And the Back Bowls, which typically don’t open until mid-December?

“We’re waiting on more snow,” Cain said. “We’ve sent a few people back there to check it out, but it’s definitely not ready for the public.”

Still, for Judi Scott of Baltimore and Lois Flaherty of Boston – who share a condo in Avon – there wasn’t much about which to complain. While most of the mountain remained closed, they adhered to spring-skiing tactics. After all, with all those pristine groomers on Vail’s Front Side, it’s not about what you know, but where you know.

“Normally there’s so much to ski it doesn’t matter, but on days like these you just seek out the corduroy,” said Flaherty.

“Sure, it’s thinner right now than spring skiing,” Scott added as the pair headed up the Wildwood Express Lift, Chair 3. “You get so spoiled here at Vail. When I hear people complain about conditions, I ask them where on the mountain they’ve been skiing.”

Revving up the Riva Bahn

Vail’s Golden Peak Base Area begins operations for the season today.

The Riva Bahn Express Lift, Chair 6, opens at 9 a.m., providing direct access to Northeast Bowl, home to a wide variety of mostly north-facing slopes served by the popular Northwoods Express Lift, Chair 11.

The addition of the Riva Bahn increases Vail’s total number of lifts to 19, serving more than 1,300 acres of terrain.

Other Golden Peak openings include:

– The ticket office.

– Golden Peak Grill.

– Vail Sports retail and rentals.

– Ski and Snowboard School.

– The Nordic and Snowshoe Center.

On the mountain, the Wildwood Pavilion also is open for the weekend.

For more information, call the Vail Activities Desk at 476-9090.

Snow back in the forecast?

By Stephen Lloyd Wood

photo: sw NOAA Infrared.GIF in SAT PHOTOS

cutline: A storm system moving across the West is expected to bring as much as 10 inches of snow to the High Country, beginning as early as tonight or early Sunday. Snow is in the forecast through Monday.

credit: Special to the Daily/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The recent lull in snowfall may be coming to an end.

A cold front is moving across the West, and the National Weather Service is forecasting snow, with a 40 percent chance of snow as early as tonight or early tomorrow – along with high winds, 40 mph or so on ridge tops.

“It’s packing a punch, a good cold one from the Pacific,” Joe Ramey, a forecaster in Grand Junction, said Friday. “We’re due for some snow.”

Temperatures today and Sunday are expected to reach no higher than the 30s Fahrenheit, with chances of snow increasing to 70 percent on Sunday, then 40 percent on Monday. Total accumulations are expected to be between 5 and 10 inches, Ramey said.

Ramey said the progressive weather pattern that sent regular storms to Colorado – while it may have missed a beat last week – is still in full force, bringing regular storms from the Pacific.

“We’ve had some really warm temperatures, but we’re about to cool down,” he said, calling the next week “definitely unsettled.” Mostly cloudy skies return Tuesday and Wednesday, then perhaps another storm will blow in by Thursday or Friday, he said.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Ramey said. “We’ve been blocked with a ridge to the west, forcing storms to the north and south of us. With some uncertainty, we should be back to the progressive pattern through mid-December.”

Jen Brown, spokeswoman for Vail Mountain, said the cooler weather is more than welcome.

“Obviously the warm temperatures have had an affect on snowmaking,” she said. “But the guys should be going full blast again.”

As far as the weather forecast, Brown took a much less scientific approach to calling for snow.

“Maybe we should all get out there and wash our cars and do a snow dance,” she said.