Aspen’s ski season by snowfall numbers shows it was close to average
May 4, 2017
Every skier has their view on whether this winter was good, bad or ugly, and the raw data aren't going to sway them. Nevertheless, here is the season by the numbers from two sources that track snowfall on the slopes over different time periods.
Aspen Skiing Co. measures snowfall from early November until the chairlifts stop spinning at the respective ski areas.
Aspen Weather, a micro-forecaster for the Roaring Fork Valley, looks at snowfall from Oct. 1 into early May.
Skico's statistics showed snowfall was down slightly at Snowmass and Aspen Mountain but up at Aspen Highlands this season compared with the averages. All measuring stations are at the mountaintops, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.
“Every winter, no matter what, there will be dry and mild spells.”
— Cory Gates, AspenWeather.net
Snowmass reported 276 inches compared with an average of 285 inches. Aspen Highlands racked up 300 inches compared with an average of 283.
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Hanle said there were a couple of instances where wind loaded snow into the area of the measuring station and registered a significantly higher powder day than what generally covered the slopes. That inflated the season total at Highlands, he said.
Aspen Mountain recorded 238 inches from Nov. 1 until the lifts stopped running, the company said. The average is 251 inches.
Buttermilk logged 179 inches from Nov. 1 through its season. The average wasn't available.
Hanle noted that Buttermilk and the lower slopes of the other ski areas didn't pick up as much snow as they usually do because temperatures were so high for large parts of the winter. It rained at the base and on the lower slopes on several days scattered through the season, he said.
More rain fell below 8,000 feet than usual this winter, according to Cory Gates, a meteorologist with Aspen Weather.
"It was another year of generally a Pacific storm track," Gates said via email while on vacation this week. "Basically, it was from California east. Air from a California storm track is mild."
The town of Aspen might have raked another 12 to 18 inches of snow over the winter if temperatures were lower, but it didn't matter on higher slopes, Gates said.
The bigger influence on the winter was the storm track, which favored California, Utah and Wyoming, he said. Those states combined probably had the snowiest or second-snowiest winter on record, according to Gates.
"Colorado was slightly unlucky versus the rest of the Western states like California, with almost a 1,000 inches," he said. Short distances even made a big difference. Crested Butte got "slaughtered" by big snows even thought it's just across a mountain range from Aspen.
In the bigger picture, over the broader winter, he feels Aspen had a pretty respectable winter.
"People have short memories and can only grasp the present," Gates said. "January was epic. Late February/early March was epic, late March/early April was epic.
"Every winter, no matter what, there will be dry and mild spells," he added. "February had it, March had it, part of April had it."
Gates made preseason predictions for cumulative snowfall from Oct. 1 into May for three of the Aspen ski areas. As of May 3, his predictions were basically spot on. (Aspen Weather's data differ from Skico's because it adds October and all of April, covering the entire period when precipitation generally falls as snow, Gates said.)
He foresaw 368 inches at Snowmass and the ski area racked up 369 inches from October to Wednesday.
His Aspen Mountain prediction was dead-on at 337 inches.
Gates predicted 353 inches at Highlands while the verified snowfall was 368 inches.
He said his data was from Skico's sensors at the mountaintops, so they are accurate for that longer time period.