Breckenridge sees 116 mph wind gust during recent storm |

Breckenridge sees 116 mph wind gust during recent storm

With little snow in the forecast, area ski resorts have yet to hit the 100-inch mark during a dry winter

It’s been a windy and dry few days in Colorado, with wind gusts closing gondolas at Summit County ski resorts.

Breckenridge Ski Resort saw a gust of 116 mph on Peak 8 at 2 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 14. During the day Thursday, sustained winds were in the 50-60 mph range with gusts up to 85 mph. When the windstorm peaked overnight Thursday into Friday, sustained winds were in the 60-70 mph range with gusts over 100, according to data from the National Weather Service office in Boulder.

The winds are expected to die down a bit as the next storm system moves into the area and brings some snow.

“It’s going to subside somewhat,“ Weather Service meteorologist Robert Koopmeiners said about the wind. ”And there is a little trough that will bring some snow, but nothing substantial for you guys.“

The storm system is expected to drop a couple of inches Saturday and 2-3 inches Monday before the storm moves out Tuesday morning, Koopmeiners said.

“This will be a fast-moving storm with limited moisture, so expect low-end snow amounts, likely just a coating to a few inches,” Joel Gratz wrote about Saturday’s storm in his Open Snow forecast for Colorado.

Gratz was less sure about snow totals from the Monday storm but called for “at least a few inches of accumulation” at resorts.

That’s much-needed snow for ski areas, which have yet to hit the 100-inch mark on the season. Breckenridge is leading the way with 98 inches so far this winter. Keystone Resort is just behind at 97 inches. Both ski areas are reporting a 28-inch base.

A year ago today, Breckenridge was reporting 165 inches on the season and a 45-inch base. Over at Keystone, the slopes had seen a total of 131 inches of snowfall with a 37-inch base.

Both ski areas opened later this year — Breckenridge by five days and Keystone by 25 days — which could account for some of the difference because resorts don’t start counting season snowfall until opening day.

Both resorts had all of their lifts spinning as of mid-January last year. This winter, Breckenridge has 28 of 34 lifts and 99 of 199 trails open as of mid-January. That represents just less than half of the resort’s total terrain, much of which is above tree line with no snowmaking. Copper Mountain Resort is also hovering around the 50% range for open terrain with 21 of 23 lifts and 104 of 152 trails open. Keystone is faring better with 20 of 21 lifts and 109 of 135 trails open, representing 80% of its terrain.

At Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Montezuma Bowl and East Wall have yet to open for the season. Last winter, Montezuma Bowl opened Dec. 19, but East Wall didn’t open until mid-February. Ski area officials have indicated they’re close to opening Montezuma, which has a 33-inch base and typically opens with 40 inches.

The lack of snow is especially difficult for resorts this winter, when ski area capacities are limited because of pandemic-related restrictions. The ski areas and Summit County government have declined to say what exactly those capacity limits are, citing trade secrets.

Those capacity limits also are sending more people into the backcountry in an effort to avoid crowds and find fresh turns. The increase in backcountry users, some of whom are inexperienced, is causing concern among avalanche forecasters, particularly because Colorado is suffering from a persistent slab problem.

A persistent slab is caused by a weak layer of snow buried below a thick layer of denser snow. These conditions can lead to “destructive and deadly“ avalanches, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Although the avalanche danger is currently moderate in the Summit area, “strong westerly winds have formed stiffer slabs of snow at all elevations,” according to the center’s forecast.

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