ASPEN - The smiling faces of skiers and snowboarders waiting in line for their first ride up the gondola on Aspen Mountain Friday said it all: snow.
The week's second helping of fresh powder as the month drew toward its close all but erased memories of December 2011 - a lackluster period for snowfall in a winter that many would just as soon forget.
The slopes at Snowmass saw just 19 inches of snow in December 2011; the ski area saw more than that this week alone. Aspen Skiing Co. reported 7 inches of new snow at Snowmass on Friday morning amd then upped the total to 12 inches a few hours later.
With three days left in December, snowfall at Snowmass for the month stood at 54 inches, which is 130 percent of average, according to Skico. Aspen Mountain has seen 48 inches of snow at its summit (112 percent of average) in a month that began with a delayed opening of Aspen Highlands because there wasn't enough snow.
Though a slight chance of snow lingers in the forecast as 2012 winds to a close, Friday morning is likely to stand as the last memorable powder day of December. Plenty of holiday skiers headed to the slopes to sample the bounty.
Perry Griffith, of Indianapolis, fresh off the slopes of Aspen Mountain at midday Friday, recalled last year's December conditions.
It wasn't like today," he said.
Ajax picked up 9 inches of snow Thursday night, while Aspen Highlands reported 7 and Buttermilk boasted 5.
Denver resident Daniel Richardson called the conditions on Ajax "epic" after scoring first tracks beneath the F.I.S lift with his companion, Kristy Bates.
"It was like a gift from heaven," he said.
"It was the best day I've ever had," Bates declared.
Local slopes fared well with the latest round of snow in Colorado, though Steamboat Springs reported 14 inches Friday morning. Vail picked up 9 inches, and Powderhorn reported 8.
In town, December snowfall as of Friday morning stood at 31.8 inches for the month, according to the weather data tracked by the Aspen Water Department. Last year, the month produced 10.6 inches of snow at the water plant, making it one of the driest Decembers in 20 years. This year's accumulation has well exceeded the average of about 25 inches.
The snow isn't just warming the hearts of skiers and snowboarders; it's helping replenish what was shaping up as a subpar snowpack as the month began. And the bounty might ease fears of another drought year in 2013.
On Friday, the average snowpack in the Roaring Fork River Basin stood at 73 percent, compared with about 56 percent of average at the close of December a year ago.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service monitoring site on Independence Pass, southeast of Aspen, showed a snowpack at 65 percent of average on Friday (compared with about 47 percent at this time last year).
On McClure Pass south of Carbondale, the snowpack was 82 percent of average Friday (it was 62 percent at the end of December 2011). The snowpack on the North Lost Trail site outside Marble hit 86 percent of average after Thursday night's snowfall.