Summit County ski areas heading out with a bang |

Summit County ski areas heading out with a bang

CVR Powder Face DT 4-7-10

SUMMIT COUNTY – As local ski areas begin to wind down, with some closing up shop after Sunday, skiers and riders are enjoying some of this season’s most outstanding conditions.

“That last storm dumped about 8 inches over 48 hours, and we’ve had 13 inches during the last week,” said Copper Mountain spokesman David Roth. “It’s skiing great out there. Today, I skied in some places out there I wouldn’t expect to this late in the season.”

The snowpack level for the northwest corner of Colorado has increased in the last week – good news for ski areas and water suppliers.

“The Colorado Basin is now at 85 percent of average,” said Mike Gillespie, the snow survey supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “It’s a pretty remarkable turnaround in a very short time period. It will definitely make a positive impact on the water-supply forecasts.”

Early-April precipitation put local ski areas in good shape for spring, with many reporting mid-mountain base depths of more than 60 inches. Breckenridge is heading into its second-to-last weekend with a 74-inch base.

“We had 19 inches out of the last two storms, and we have some of the best skiing we’ve seen all year,” Arapahoe Basin general manager Alan Henceroth said. “And now we have a bluebird weekend coming at us.”

Keystone spokesman Ryan Whaley said there are still stashes of deep snow in the Outback, where skiers and riders can take advantage of cold, north-facing slopes in the trees for their final runs of the season.

“There are some nice, fun groomers out there too, for folks who like to stay on the front side of the mountain,” Whaley said.

Vail just experienced its biggest single-day snowfall accumulation since the 2000-01 ski season. The resort reported 19 inches of new snow Wednesday morning and 48 inches of new snow in a seven-day period.

The new snow is encouraging, but Gillespie said things can change quickly, and the recent series of storms weren’t enough to bring the state’s snowpack levels up to average. However, a wet, cool April could help.

“We still have a ways to go, and time is essentially running out,” Gillespie said. “But the recent snow is really a welcomed relief for many folks.”

Unfortunately for water managers and late-season skiers and riders, recent weather events have also brought along a layer of red dust from the Colorado Plateau. At least two dust storms have traveled from the Four Corners region up to the north-central mountains since March 30.

“By changing what is otherwise a highly reflective surface – snowpack – to a surface that is absorbing as much as 50 percent of the solar energy, you add a considerable amount of heat,” said Chris Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton. “In the broadest sense, the net effect of dust is to advance the timing and rate of snowmelt.”

According to Landry, human development and droughts are major contributors to dust events that make their way into the mountains. In the San Juan Mountains, dust deposition has increased almost six-fold since Western settlement.

“Disturbance of desert soil is a primary factor in making dust available for wind transport. And the extent to which the Colorado Plateau is in a drought does inhibit the survival and/or recovery of plant communities that might help pin down the dust.”

For now, the recently deposited dust layer is covered by snow, so it isn’t accelerating snowmelt.

“Everything still looks pretty darn white,” A-Basin’s Henceroth said.

When the dust layer is revealed, however, the snow could start going fast. Dust events have been known to advance snowmelt by as many as 50 days.

“Advancing timing can affect irrigators – it means water is arriving sooner than it may be useful to their crops, and it may run out just when they need it,” Landry said.

Earlier and faster snowmelt can also affect reservoir operators, river rafters, skiers and anglers. Snow leaves the mountains in one big, early rush, rather than feeding rivers and streams more gradually over several months.

“One of the effects of this dust can be to make a mess our of spring skiing,” Landry said.

Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or

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