Vail could see up to 18 inches of new snow by Thursday morning
Winter Storm Warning issued for Vail, Eagle County through Thursday
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect the latest messaging from the NWS that it is now a Winter Storm Warning.
Eagle County will be under a Winter Storm Warning from 6 a.m. Wednesday morning through noon Thursday, according to The National Weather Service in Grand Junction. The NWS forecasts a 40% chance of snow Tuesday afternoon and a 50% chance in the evening.
On Wednesday morning that percentage will jump to 100% as snow will persist throughout the day and be at its heaviest in the evening, before things start to settle early Thursday morning. Total accumulations of 6 to 12 inches of snow with local amounts up to 18 inches are in the forecast.
“Total snowfall will be significant,” Joel Gratz, founding meteorologist of OpenSnow.com, wrote in his blog. “Also, Vail will be right on the edge between a lot of snow to the north and east and less snow to the south and west. If we get lucky, we’ll see the higher-end totals, and we don’t get lucky, the most snow will just miss us.”
As the snow falls, motorists can expect delays and closures on the Interstate 70 corridor throughout the High Country. Wind gusts as high as 50 mph and patches of blowing snow could cause visibility issues for motorists, especially those traveling over Vail Pass.
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Terrain openings not fully dependent on snow
Vail Mountain opened Orient Express (no. 21) and Tea Cup Express (no. 36) over the weekend, granting access to China Bowl and bringing the mountain to 69% open with 219 trails served by 22 lifts, according to Vail Mountain’s terrain report Tuesday.
Vail’s snow water equivalent compared with the 30-year median is currently at 103% according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SNOTEL site, but other factors are affecting terrain openings. Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Beth Howard addressed how staffing issues and the COVID-19 pandemic have also contributed to delayed terrain openings in an open letter posted to Vail Mountain’s Facebook page Thursday.
“The biggest dynamic we are contending with right now is COVID-19. It’s why Pride Express isn’t running, why some of our retail stores are closed, and why some of our food & beverage operations have been slimmed down,” Howard wrote. “The operations team is hard at work preparing terrain. They are performing the careful & meticulous act of snow control — we will never risk their safety or yours in order to open more quickly,” she added.
Speaking of safety
On the same day that China Bowl opened, a large natural avalanche was reported on the nearby East Vail chutes, reminding those venturing into the sidecountry of the area’s deadly potential.
“There is a pretty long history of accidents in that area, and a lot of it is really access,” Ethan Greene, with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, told the Vail Daily earlier this week. “In some ways, what makes it a more dangerous place than other backcountry areas in Colorado is just that there’s easy access to very serious avalanche terrain.”
The warning comes with particular timing. Of the nine people that have been killed in East Vail chutes since 1986, five were lost during the first two weeks of January. The CAIC currently lists Vail and Summit County as a level 3 (considerable) of 5 for dangerous avalanche conditions. Officials urge those venturing into the backcountry and sidecountry to check avalanche.state.co.us for updates before heading out.