Three feet of snow could fall by Sunday |

Three feet of snow could fall by Sunday

Matt Zalaznick
Special to the Daily/National Oceanic and AtmospheA fast-moving storm is moving across the Western United States, and weather forecasters say Vail Mountain could get up to 3 feet of snow over the weekend. Despite the heavy snows, bitter cold temperatures are not expected, they say.

But with the heaps of snow that have already buried Vail Mountain and another few feet possible by the end of the weekend, opening day a week from Saturday is shaping up to be one of the best in a long time, local powderhounds say.

“In the 15 years I’ve lived here, this could rank as one of best opening days I’ll see,” says Randy Braden, a manager at Christy Sports in Vail Village. “There have been some mediocre openings the last few years so the people that have only lived here the last four or five years are in for a real treat.”

More than 6 feet of snow have fallen on Vail Mountain since September and nearly 3 feet of that was in the last week of October. As of this weekend, the resort saw a record amount of snow at Mid-Vail for its 40-year history. A 20-inch settled base beat the previous record 19 inches for Nov. 1. There also was nearly 3 feet measured at the top of the mountain.

“It would already be pretty good if it didn’t snow anymore, but this is going to make it better,” Jensen said. “If this storm comes in, we will probably have one of the better Thanksgiving experiences in history, certainly one of the better opening day experiences.”

The original opening date was Nov. 23. But after almost two weeks of steady snowfall, mountain officials decided to open a week early. Beaver Creek Mountain has stuck to its scheduled opening day of Nov. 23.

The snow-making guns have been firing and Sno-Cats have been grooming the slopes to prepare for skiers and snowboarders. Some more snow on the smoothed-out slopes should make conditions ideal for opening day, Jensen says.

On Nov. 16, Vail Mountain will open 50 trails and 742 acres of terrain accessed by six lifts:-

– Giant Steps, Chair 1

– Avanti Express, Chair 2

– Mountaintop Express, Chair 4

– Born Free Express, Chair 8

– Vista Bahn Express

– Eagle Bahn Gondola.

If you’re gunning to get first tracks, you’ll have to wait and try again next year. Many in the valley have already made some turns on Vail Mountain, says Ethan St. Germain, the manager of Buzz’s Ski Shop in Vail Village.

“People have been hiking up and there’s powder up to your knees,” St. Germain says. “Hopefully, opening day will be like two years ago, where everybody’s busting out and everything’s open.

“Opening day is not going to be slushy this year,” he adds. “It’s going to be powder.”

Drivers who had their snow tires put on this week will be in a little better shape because the storm is already moving into the mountains and the snow is supposed to start falling this afternoon, says Mike Chamberlain, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“This looks like a major precipitation event for western Colorado,” Chamberlain says. “The mountains by Sunday night are going to be measuring in feet of snow, not inches.”

Depending on how the storm moves in, Vail Mountain could get up to 3 feet of snow, though locally mountain officials are only expecting around two feet.

Despite the heavy snows, bitter cold temperatures are not expected. In fact, it should be relatively warm for a winter storm, Chamberlain says.

Last year at this time, local skiers and snowboarders were fretting along with mountain officials, hotel owners and merchants about the springlike temperatures and the dribble of snow that had fallen. It was around this time that both Vail and Beaver Creek pushed opening day back a week.

The slopes didn’t open until Thanksgiving Day, when the valley got socked with a blizzard. It was the first time the mountains weren’t open before Thanksgiving since 1989.

Water experts say, however, the snow and cold does not mean the mountain drought is over. The earliest the drought could end would be this spring, when snow melts and flows into creeks and rivers. And even if the mountains get normal snowfall or even slightly above average snowfall, that won’t completely replenish water supplies after four years of drought, they say.

Chamberlain says while folks can be very optimistic about the short-term skiing forecast, that doesn’t mean they should stop conserving water.

“It seems that right now, for the month of October and November, especially after this storm, we’ll be above normal,” Chamberlain said. “But I’m not ready to forecast the end of the drought or anything like that. There’s still a lot of winter left.”

According to Braden, most folks in town are focusing on the short-term this week.

“Overall,” he says. “The level of excitement around town has turned up a bit from recent years.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at

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