Dreaming of a white winter | AspenTimes.com

Dreaming of a white winter

Nate Peterson

Signs warn skiers of the hazards of rocks and snowmaking equipment at the snowless base of Aspen Mountain. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

Snow is expected to arrive tonight and continue through Sunday as a low-pressure system makes its way through the Colorado high country. But don’t get too excited.After the snow, warm weather – with highs in the 50s – is expected to return to Aspen by the middle of next week.Even with base areas dry and grassy, and opening day at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass only two weeks away, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said there is no reason to panic.Conditions are similar to this time last year, Hanle said, but there’s more snow at the top of the Skico’s four mountains this year. As for snowmaking operations, Hanle said Ajax and Snowmass didn’t start making snow until Nov. 16 last season.”We’re at where we’re at,” Hanle said. “It’s not unheard of and it’s not unusual to have warm temperatures like the ones we’re having. We’ve actually had more snowfall this year up high, because we do have a better base at the top of Snowmass and Aspen [Mountain].”

The low-pressure system that will move into the valley today is expected to bring more snow to the higher elevations. “By Sunday you might have a foot of snow above 9,000 feet,” said Joe Ramey, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Grand Junction. Ramey said the system, which originated off the coast of Southern California, could provide precipitation until Tuesday, although he expects the snow to stop falling sometime Sunday, possibly Saturday night.The one concern with the ensuing warm temperatures next week rests with trying to start snowmaking at Snowmass and Aspen Mountain to build up a top-to-bottom base.Hanle said snowmaking is pretty futile when nighttime lows don’t hover in the low 20s for four to five hours. So far this fall, lows at night have reached the ideal temperatures, but for no longer than three hours at a time.”It’s counterproductive to try and make snow when it’s only below 25 for less than three hours,” he said.

Hanle said the Skico isn’t too worried about prognostications for a warm winter.Last year, before a huge snowfall on opening weekend, Hanle said people were also worried.”You get out beyond a few days, it’s practically impossible to tell what’s going to happen,” he said. “We listen to the long-term forecasters, but it’s hard to make any predictions. All of them are experts, so which one do you go with?”The warm temperatures definitely haven’t affected Skico’s sales, which Hanle said have continued on an upswing for the fourth year in a row. Season-pass sales are up 15 percent from last year, and lift ticket sales are up by more than 10 percent, he said. The numbers of advance bookings for lodging in the area also look healthy for the upcoming season.After one of the best snow winters in recent memory last year, Hanle said the entire Colorado ski industry is benefiting – not just Skico.

“I think the whole state is up, which is great,” he said. “We may have some stronger areas than others, but overall, everyone seems to be doing well.”Ramey, who does only weekly forecasts, said from listening to predictions from seasonal forecasters, he expects a warmer-than-average winter this season. A warm winter, however, does not necessarily mean less precipitation.”The outlook is for above-normal temperatures for December and January,” he said. “We don’t have any skill of predicting precipitation. It’s not an El Niño winter, nor a La Niña winter, but I know a lot of seasonal forecasters are hanging their hats on a warm winter. As for why that is, I can’t specifically say.”Ramey said the numbers don’t indicate much when it comes to gauging the average temperatures this month with the averages from years past.Weather each year in Colorado, he said, is uniquely its own.”The averages are a 30-year average,” Ramey said. “Typically what it looks like is that you have 30 completely different events averaged together.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com

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