Vail Valley snowpack looks good for now, but more is needed | VailDaily.com
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Vail Valley snowpack looks good for now, but more is needed

February snowfall was about 50% higher than the 30-year median

By the numbers Here’s a look at the latest snow water equivalent numbers for the valley’s high-elevation snow fields:
  • Vail Mountain: 18.5 inches, 99% of the 30-year median.
  • Copper Mountain: 17.1 inches, 130% of the 30-year median.
  • Fremont Pass: 16.7 inches, 114% of the 30-year median.
 

Resort skiing is done for the season, thanks to the current COVID-19 virus outbreak. But the Vail Valley still needs snow, and more to come, for adequate summer water supplies.

At the moment, area snowpack as measured in “snow water equivalent” is holding up well, either at or above the 30-year median measurements at the valley’s three main high-elevation snow measurement sites. Those sites are: on Vail Mountain; Copper Mountain, the closest site to Shrine Pass, Gore Creek’s headwaters; and Fremont Pass, the site closest to the headwaters of the Eagle River.

The site at Copper Mountain is in the best shape at more than 130% of the 30-year median. In fact, the Copper Mountain site is currently above the peak of that 30-year median.

The graph lines are still climbing toward the average seasonal peaks at Vail Mountain and Fremont Pass.

More snow on the way?

That means more snow is needed. There should be more on the way in the coming days.

The Vail forecast from the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service shows cooler temperatures and snow, or a chance for it, over the next several days.

Scott Stearns, a forecaster at that office, said the current pattern is fairly typical for this time of year. March is historically the snowiest month of the year, followed by April.

This year, February was the biggest snow month so far. Looking at the graphs for all three sites shows a near-vertical spike during that month, with accumulation flattening out in March.

Diane Johnson is the communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. Johnson said that February’s snow was about 50% higher than normal. March’s accumulations have actually been a little below their historic levels, she said.

Still, the current snowpack is holding up well, for now.

Eye on the summer

Johnson said what’s needed now, besides more snow, is cool weather and less wind than the valley’s seen the past couple of days.

That’s not great news for people out on recreation paths and other non-skiing activities.

“It’s a bummer that we’re not playing (in the snow),” Johnson said. “But we absolutely need the weather to do what it normally does this time of year.”

Johnson noted that based on historic weather patterns, the valley needs more cold weather and snow. Dry, warm weather this time of year means snowpack starts going backward, and that isn’t good.

Snowpack generally peaks toward the end of April. After that, a slow, steady melt is the best thing for ample water supplies through the summer and fall.

May of 2019 may have been bad for cycling, golf and other activities, but it was great to preserve snowpack.

And, when the COVID-19 virus outbreak passes, good streamflow will be a great way to bring visitors back to the Vail Valley.

“We’d really like to have normal summer operations,” Johnson said. “We really don’t need a drought after COVID.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.


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