Storms roll through Summit County, boosting snowfall totals, avalanche danger
May 10, 2016
The Ides of March arrived to Summit County with a plonk of fresh snow, happily welcomed by both spring breakers and locals who hit the area slopes.
Almost every nearby resort received double-digit snowfall overnight Monday to Tuesday, with Breckenridge Ski Resort the lone holdout at a still healthy 9 inches. Keystone Resort reported 14 inches to top the state's 24-hour totals, with both Copper Mountain Resort and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area approaching double their respective snow for the entire month of March to-date — 7 inches of new powder at the former and 10 inches at the latter.
"Our high elevation kept us from experiencing true springtime conditions over these past couple weeks, but last night's storm is what we've all come to expect from March," said Adrienne Saia Isaac, communications manager at A-Basin. "The wind has been kind to us too and is blowing snow on our trails as quickly as we can ski them."
March is historically the region's snowiest month, but that's been far from the case so far this year. Resorts had barely eclipsed double digits during the month's first two weeks before this latest storm, and most were behind their annual averages even with its emergence. Even so, trade association Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) announced on Tuesday that its 21 member resorts statewide, which do not include the four Vail Resorts, Inc. locations, saw skier visits through February rise by almost 4 percent from the previous season.
Still, A-Basin, which routinely stays open into June — the latest of the area's ski hills — averages 350 inches per season, but currently stands at 191 inches. Copper is also presently off the pace of hitting its expected total of 305 inches before anticipated closure on April 17, now reporting 196 inches on the 2015-16 season.
"Anything can happen," said Stephanie Sweeney, public relations for Copper. "April has proved to be quite snowy as well, so we will see how the next several weeks play out."
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More snow may also be on the way. Forecasts for the county for Tuesday evening into Wednesday called for between 4 and 9 inches depending on the locale. Daily incremental snowfall is expected throughout the rest of the week as well to bolster some of the overall accumulation.
The initial storm had no impact on the Summit School District, with all buses and schedules running on time Tuesday morning, and with no after-school activity cancellations, either. A spokeswoman said the district will keep a close eye on the weather Wednesday morning for any potential delays and cancellations.
There were, however, closures to some of the High Country's major roadways, with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) shutting down Loveland Pass along U.S. Highway 6 overnight for avalanche mitigation at about 10 p.m. Monday night and not re-opening until Tuesday afternoon. Also closed Monday night for approximately three hours were both eastbound Interstate 70 at mile marker 147 near Eagle and U.S. Highway 24 between Minturn and Redcliff, due to multiple accidents.
CDOT had crews mobilized in preparation of the storm, but the wet and heavy, low-visibility storm moved quickly and caught several commuters unprepared. This resulted in a number of spinouts due to a lack of traction on the road.
"It's a good reminder for people that we live in Colorado, and, even if there are sunny, bluebird days, it's still winter," said Tracy Trulove, spokeswoman for CDOT. "We have winter a lot of times until May, it blows in fast and, if you're not looking for it, it starts to muck things up."
The sudden and hefty storms just as the spring equinox approaches on Saturday, March 19, at 10:30 p.m., also bring with them increased avalanche danger for those looking to take advantage of the expansive backcountry. The Vail-Summit County area saw one observed slide of unplanned origin on both Monday and Tuesday, and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) issued a 36-hour special avalanche advisory at 6 a.m. on Tuesday running through Wednesday at 6 p.m.
"Strong winds combined with 8-to-14 inches of new snow have conspired to increase our avalanche danger for Tuesday," CAIC forecaster Scott Toepfer wrote on the center's website for the region of the Level 3 (Considerable) danger. "The danger will remain elevated into Wednesday at least. These conditions will not allow for an easing in the current avalanche danger any time soon."
With more snow likely in route for Summit County, even as the calendar soon shifts to spring, the prospects for avalanches will remain steady, just the same as lift lines on the area's groomed peaks.