Why Summit County is specified as ‘northern’ | SummitDaily.com

Why Summit County is specified as ‘northern’

Graphic by Elusia Andrus

Looking at the map of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s (CAIC) layout of the three primary zones for avalanche risk assessment, it might seem perplexing as to why Summit County is grouped into the same zone as Steamboat Springs.

It becomes especially vexing when Vail sits in a different zone than Breckenridge, even though Vail is just 10 miles farther north in the state than Breckenridge. Vail is grouped with Aspen, which is 80 miles southwest of Vail Pass.

The three zones are not based solely on their location in the state, but rather, they’re based on prevailing weather patterns which are influenced by Colorado’s topography.

According to CAIC’s Brad Sawtell, looking at the way rivers flow downhill in between the mountain ranges shows how weather patterns flow uphill.

As such, the Blue River of Summit County flows north, eventually meeting the Colorado near Kremmling. This produces weather patterns that tend to match the rest of the northern zone of the CAIC forecasts.

Vail, on the other hand, sits on the Eagle River which flows west and pulls in parts of the same storm systems which march down the Roaring Fork Valley to Aspen.

The theme continues geographically as the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado separate Durango and Telluride from the rest of the state and force rivers to flow southwest out of Colorado.

Many times, in reports published by the CAIC, though, Summit County seems to receive special treatment independent of Steamboat Springs.

Summit’s terrain is much steeper than Steamboat’s while, at the same time, being more accessible with four major high passes, Sawtell explained.

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