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Vail Daily column: Colorado’s snowpack in good shape

Snow is not just fun to play in, but it also provides a storehouse for the water that our state and its neighbors use throughout the dry summer months.
Rick Spitzer | Special to the Daily |

The scare is over as more snow has been piling up over the past week. An unusually dry and warm February had many of us thinking an early spring. We lost a lot of snow as it melted, but there is still much more to come. March and April will continue to bring more snow, but soon enough we will have to say goodbye to the snow and hello to the mud. It is a sad time; many of us will leave, tourists hold off on their visits, but those that stay make the best of it by enjoying the peace and quiet of the valley during the shoulder season. Let’s take a minute to look ahead at the positives of this coming mud season.

Wishful thinking

As you may know, Colorado is a particularly dry place. Those of you that have spent any time here in the summer months are well aware of the dependable afternoon thunderstorms that put a halt to summiting that fourteener or interfere with your golf game. However, these frequent storms that end just as quickly as they roll in are not nearly enough to supply adequate water for the season. It is our beloved snow that Colorado relies on for the water we need to survive.



Vital Source of Water

How much water do we really receive? Colorado is well below average for yearly rainfall. The median yearly rainfall for the town of Vail is 14.58 inches. That is 63 percent less than the national average, which is 39.17 inches per year. This means that we need to look elsewhere for the water we need, and that’s why snow is so vital for Colorado’s water supply. In fact, roughly 80 percent of our water comes from snow.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.



Hope for more snow

Early on in the season, the rumors of a snowy El Nino year were all around us. But unfortunately, the hopes of an off-the-chart snow year did not come to fruition. November and January brought us above average snowfall, but February was one of the driest we have seen in 30 years. It has been a season full of ups and downs, but in the end, we have been teetering right around the average point for yearly snowfall. It is too early to tell how we will stand by the end of the season, but we can still hope for more snow.

‘Headwaters state’



Vail’s current snowpack equates to about 16 inches of water, already more water than our yearly average rainfall. Some of the water will infiltrate through the ground or get taken up by thirsty plants. But a lot of this water will melt into Gore creek, flow into the Eagle and finally reach the confluence of the Colorado River in Dotsero. Since all of the water in our valley will eventually flow to the Colorado River, we are considered to be part of the Colorado River Watershed. Not all of the water in Colorado makes its way to the Colorado River though, Colorado’s mountains are the source of many of the West’s mighty rivers: the Colorado, Rio Grande, Arkansas, and the North and South Platte rivers. For this reason, Colorado has earned the nickname of the “headwaters state.” Seven Western states rely almost solely on the Colorado River, and our other major river systems provide water for countless more. A substantial snowpack is not only good for us, but is also important for the rest of the southwestern United States.

Powder days good for earth

An average or above average snowfall this season will mean that Colorado is in good standing for replenishing our water supply in the ground, the rivers and the reservoirs. This will also mean we got some great skiing in for the season, and should be able to count on some great whitewater for the spring. So remember: A powder day is good for people and good for the Earth.

Marshall Kohls is a naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center Avon; he is also a skier and all-around outdoor enthusiast.


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