ASPEN - The wintry blast over the past six days has created respectable skiing conditions and improved dismal snowpack numbers but failed to remove Pitkin County from the "severe" drought classification.
Snowmass has been the big powder winner this month with 58 inches through Tuesday morning, or 111 percent of average, according to Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle. He noted there is a "big disparity" in snowfall amounts this month at the company's four ski areas. Aspen Mountain had received 49 inches of snow as of Tuesday and was at 98 percent of average. However, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk were well below their averages.
Highlands has picked up 30 inches of snow, or 65 percent of average, while Buttermilk scooped up 30 inches, or 67 percent of average.
"The Highlands number may or may not be skewed," Hanle said. "There are some issues with snow data, but in talking with the patrol there, it sounds like northwest wind is not favorable for Highlands, and almost all the storms this year have come in with a northwest wind."
At any rate, skiers and snowboarders aren't complaining this month after patiently biding their time during a powder-starved first two months of the season. For the season to date, Snowmass has received 181 inches of snow. Its average is 201 inches, according to Hanle.
Sustained snow improved portions of the snowpack over the sprawling Roaring Fork River watershed - which includes the Crystal and Fryingpan river basins - but that also is seeing a wide disparity. The Independence Pass automated Snotel site east of Aspen was showing a snowpack just 56 percent of average Tuesday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
In the Fryingpan Valley, the snowpack has bounced back nicely in the higher elevations but is still meager on lower slopes. The snowpack is 96 percent of average at the Ivanhoe site at 10,400 feet, the conservation service said. The snowpack is only 62 percent at Kiln, 9,600 feet, and 52 percent at Nast Lake at 8,700 feet, the agency reported.
While spotty, snowpack at three sites in the Crystal River drainage are averaging the highest. McClure Pass is at 87 percent of average, according to the conservation service. North Lost Trail outside of Marble is at 92 percent of average while Schofield Pass is at only 72 percent of average.
The latest map released by the U.S. Drought Monitor showed all of Pitkin County in the "extreme" drought classification. That's the second worst of five classifications. All of Eagle and Summit counties are also in the "extreme" category along with the east half of Garfield County. The next map will be released Thursday.
The seasonal drought outlook released Feb. 21 by the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center said drought conditions will "persist or intensify" through the end of May for a large portion of the West, including all of Colorado. May is the latest period examined currently.