How Breckenridge Ski Resort responds to snowstorms
According to Breckenridge Ski Resort patrol director Hunter Mortensen, there’s no such thing as too much snow.
When a large snowstorm or blizzard is expected, it’s all hands on deck to keep the mountains at Breckenridge safe for all of its guests, no matter their experience or skill. The resort has a team of seven weather forecasters and 15 avalanche forecasters that keep staff and ski patrol informed any time there’s snow on the horizon.
“They are essentially looking at, discussing and planning for every potential tiny little blip of snow we might get to those major storms,” Mortensen said. “Those are constant and ongoing conversations and planning sessions so that whenever it does snow, we’re never caught off guard. We’re ready for it and prepared as ahead of time as possible.”
By 3:30 a.m. every day of the season, weather forecasters are clocked in at locations across the ski area and begin their assessments. The work can include measuring snow temperature and depth, the air temperature and the density of the snow. All of the data is compiled together and ends up as the resort’s snow report that is published every day during the season. By 6:30 a.m., the resort’s avalanche forecasters have arrived, and they create an avalanche mitigation and safety plan for the ski patrol to execute.
Once that’s done, patrol moves in to mitigate any risk.
“Say we get an average of 20 mph winds and 4 inches of snow at a certain density,” Mortensen said. “Through historic knowledge, our education and training we have as professional patrollers, then they can compute that to what the perceived avalanche problems might be and the best way to mitigate those in certain parts of our training for the day. That happens every day from opening day till closing day. No matter what the weather is, we need to do that process.”
Though heavy snow is always celebrated at the resort, it can slow down the process since ski patrollers have to hike to areas that need to be mitigated — specifically in the resort’s high-Alpine terrain, Mortensen said.
“Some days when it’s 3 inches, that’s not a very hard hike,” he said. “But if we have 2 or 3 feet of snow, because of wind or anything else, the normal hike up to the summit of Peak 6 — which usually takes us about 25-30 minutes — with the equipment and all of our explosives and whatnot can easily take 45 minutes to an hour.”
Resort spokesperson Sara Lococo said the main weather-related reason that Breckenridge would traditionally close would be for wind because that affects the safety of the chairlifts. Snow would be more of a problem for skiers driving into Summit County since severe winter weather can close Interstate 70. For those already in town, however, accumulation likely isn’t an issue.
Though it may take longer with heavier snow or faster winds, Mortensen said following all of the necessary precautions to keep all of the resort’s guests safe is always worth the wait. High-Alpine terrain usually takes the longest to open, but lower parts of the ski area will be primed for skiing and riding during that time.
“We want to be skiing (higher terrain) just as much as everyone who comes into the ski area, but we first have to make sure it’s safe,” Mortensen said. “And that is something I think everybody would appreciate us not rushing through. If you think about the vastness of our high-Alpine terrain, we just have to be very thorough and make sure we cover it, have a good plan and see to it.”
This story is from the Winter 2022-23 edition of Explore Breckenridge & Summit County magazine.
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