Aspen Snowmass reaps 66 inches of snow over last 13 days |

Aspen Snowmass reaps 66 inches of snow over last 13 days

Francisco Prado, on vacation from Maui, Hawaii, enjoys powder turns on Ajax Wednesday morning.
Lauren Glendenning/The Aspen Times |

It snowed 11 out of the past 12 days as of Wednesday. In the minds of many skiers, the best of the snow came on the last day.

Snowmass and Aspen Mountain reported 11 inches of snow over the past 24 hours as of 5 a.m. Wednesday. Aspen Highlands reported 9 inches and Buttermilk collected 7.

The latest surge was different because temperatures dropped into the teens so Mother Nature bestowed the slopes with a lighter load. Some skiers and snowboarders were calling it the best day of the season Wednesday.

Longtime Aspen resident Randy Woods skied Snowmass and got first tracks on Elk Camp, High Alpine and a run on Sheer Bliss. He said it was best ski day he’s had in five years.

“It was an epic, epic day,” Woods said.

It snowed the first four days of March and seven of eight of the last days of February, according to Aspen Skiing Co.’s records. Snowmass picked up 37 inches of snow in March while Aspen Highlands raked in 30 inches and Aspen Mountain collected 27 inches, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. Buttermilk recorded 18 inches.

Snowmass got a direct powder hit with 10 inches Sunday and another 11 inches reported Wednesday.

The last eight days of February were nearly as prolific. Snowmass collected 29 inches from Feb. 21 through the end of the month; Aspen Mountain 23; Aspen Highlands 20, although the snow measuring system experienced some difficulties; and Buttermilk collected 19 inches.

All told, it has snowed 66 inches on Snowmass over the past two weeks.

“It was well timed before the spring break crowds,” Hanle said. “It sets us up well for the rest of the season.”

The prolific period followed a six-week drought. January snowfall was 20 percent of average, according to Skico’s records. February didn’t start off much better. Then, kapow!

All the fresh, new snow falling on the old, weak base layer has created dangerous avalanche conditions.

Avalanche conditions were rated “high” (four out of five ratings) above and near tree line and “considerable” (third out of five ratings) below tree line, the center said Wednesday.

Blase Reardon, the forecaster for the Aspen zone, wrote that backcountry travel wasn’t recommended Wednesday because of the danger.

“Powerful southwesterly winds moved this snow around at upper elevations Sunday and Monday,” Reardon’s forecast said. “Numerous natural avalanches have occurred, the largest on northerly and easterly slopes where the wind-blown snow formed wide slabs. You are very likely to trigger avalanches (Wednesday) on all steep slopes. That includes slopes accessed from ski areas. Even small slopes and gullies can produce surprisingly dangerous avalanches.”

An avalanche proved fatal early in the storm cycle. Marty Gancsos was killed outside the western boundary of Aspen Mountain on Feb. 23 when he was caught in a slide.

Reardon wrote Wednesday that the avalanche danger was particularly high in the upper Crystal River Valley, where 6 feet of snow had fallen in about one week.

The two-week storm surge has done wonders for the ski area snow bases. Snowmass went from a 41-inch base at the mountaintop on Jan. 24 to 81 inches Wednesday. Aspen Mountain went from 32 inches at the top on Jan. 24 to 59 inches six weeks later. Highlands went from 50 inches to 85 inches. Buttermilk climbed from 28 inches at the top to 46 inches.

If another dry spell occurs, the consequences won’t be so drastic now. “Regardless, we’re looking good,” Hanle said.

Snowmass Sun Editor Jill Beathard contributed to this report.

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