Wind<it1s the new rage in evil winter weather
It1s not official, and it brings me great sorrow and pain to write this, but the East Wall at Arapahoe Basin may not open this season.That would be a first, and for fans of Summit County1s only down-home skiing holdout, it would be a bitter first.What went wrong at the Basin this year? What caused it to set a record for latest opening ever, to be unable to drop the ropes on some of its best terrain and, barring miraculous April snowfall, to fall hideously short of its July 4 closing goal?A-Basin won1t yet release this season1s snowfall numbers; it hopes it1s not done accumulating. But ski patrol director Tim Finnigan said this winter is on pace to rival the legendary snow-starved winter of 1980/1981.Yet that season, the Basin at least opened all of its terrain. Today, Basin skiers find themselves in the midst of a two-year cycle of unprecedented bonyness and record-setting late openings (the East Wall opened March 8 last year, the latest ever until this year).But, in terms of inches of snowfall, last year wasn1t near the shallowest on record, and this year won1t be too much worse than O80/181, if it1s worse at all. So, what the hell is going on?One word: wind.That utterly useless, often overlooked aspect of winter weather is killing the snowpack on exposed faces like the East Wall. It1s racing in and scouring snow off the rocky windward sections of the mountain.Finnigan has been watching it happen for two straight years.3Every time we get snow, the wind blows it away, he said. 3It can blow feet of snow away.It seems like it1s been a windier season than normal. But no one remembers the wind from year to year as much as they do the snow. And records are sketchy.A-Basin records windspeed every day, but to go back and compare years would take days of poring over hand-scrawled numbers. No one can say with any certainty whether this has been an abnormally windy winter in Summit County.But judging by what1s been going on at the Basin, the wind has been especially disruptive to the snowpack the past two years.3It1s pretty evil when it gets up there in the 60 to 70 mph range, Finnigan observed. 3It definitely hurts. It1s just been one wind event after another without significant snow, so it keeps blowing it away with nothing coming in.People look at forecast trends and try to determine if they will be good or bad for skiing. Global warming and the Nino siblings are the most talked about. But what if global windiness is on the rise? What if the snow we get here at Continental Divide level is doomed to whizz by horizontally in a wind-scoured rush and blow off the faces of our favorite peaks? That1s almost as scary as melting polar ice caps.Let1s hope ice sailing is more fun than it looks.Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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