Surprise snowstorm outperforms meteorologists’ forecasts, leading to deep skiing and riding at Summit County ski resorts
Breckenridge Ski Resort sees 15 inches of fresh powder, Copper gets 11, leading to soft turns and shouts of joy Thursday morning
As skiers and snowboarders weaved through runs of snow-laden branches Thursday morning, Breckenridge Ski Resort’s slopes were filled with shouts and joyous screams thanks to 15 inches of powder in a 24-hour period.
Wednesday’s forecast for areas above 9,000 feet in Summit County only called for 1-3 inches of accumulation, according to National Weather Service reports, but Breckenridge’s snow stake continued to fill around 11 a.m. Wednesday, even though meteorologists said most of the now would start to wane around 8 a.m. — the time when most guests at the resort begin to gather at the base area lifts in hopes of securing soft turns.
OpenSnow.com had its pre-storm prediction calling for slightly higher totals at Breckenrdige Ski Resort — around 2-4 inches — but no meteorologists expected the snow to continue to fall at the rate it did Wednesday, continuing into the night as a cloud hung over the mountain, bringing a late Christmas present to those who made their way up the lifts Thursday morning.
However, Mortensen said they were prepared.
“I wouldn’t say it caught us off guard but it was certainly a welcome surprise! But we as a patrol know that regional differences, particularly in the Tenmile Range, can provide opportunities to get far more snow than forecasted like we did with this storm,” Mortensen said. “We are always ready though, and that is part of the responsibility of patrol – whether we get new snow or no snow, we show up early every morning ready to do what we need to do to get the mountain open safely for our guests.”
As early risers drew tracks across the lower parts of the mountain, the avalanche mitigation bombs set off slides in Horseshoe Bowl that made their way down the high-Alpine terrain. Around 10 a.m., the areas above tree line slowly began to open as ski patrol chatter on radios began to report that they were nearing the end of their early-morning work to keep the slopes as safe as possible despite the 15 inches of thick powder.
“I’d equate (preparing the mountain) to being in the locker room of a football team before the Super Bowl — we’re really excited, we’re really focused and know we have an important job to do, and we know we’re going to have a lot of fun doing it,” Mortensen added.
Breckenridge wasn’t the only resort to report higher-than-expected totals. Copper Mountain, which was forecast to receive 3-5 inches, according to OpenSnow, saw its snowpack grow by 11 inches as lifts began to spin.
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, however, saw its slopes blanketed with an amount within the expected range, 4 inches total. Keystone Resort also was within its forecast range at 2 inches since the storm began.
Forecasting snow totals in the mountains is tricky since topography, elevation, wind direction and temperature all need to align perfectly, according to a recent presentation by OpenSnow founder Joel Gratz, and most radar and forecasting models aren’t built for areas like Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
On Wednesday, Gratz said the storm decided to swirl around Colorado, bringing the added powder that fell throughout Wednesday, even after lifts closed for the day.
The conservative expectations issued Tuesday ahead of the storm ultimately resulted in a welcomed surprise for Copper Mountain and Breckenridge, especially for the guests who happened to be visiting from out of state.
As has been common so far this year, another snow-producing system is headed toward the Rockies, and early reports were more optimistic about that storm system than the recent storm.
Gratz said it’s possible to see three snowstorms between the early morning hours Sunday, Jan. 15 before ending on Jan. 20.
“The average of 51 versions of the European model show that there will be significant snow across the western US through next week, with the west coast seeing the deepest totals and respectable amounts across the Rockies,” Gratz wrote.
Most of those storms, however, are favoring the southern parts of the Rocky Mountains.
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