An epic winter by any measure
Any way you want to measure Aspen’s snowfall this winter ” and, believe it or not, there are several ways to measure ” it stacks up as epic.
Start with the federal government’s official snow survey. The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service reported Monday that the overall snowpack for the entire Roaring Fork River basin was 13 percent above the 30-year average from 1970 through 2000.
Parts of the basin fared better than others. At the 10,600-foot elevation of Independence Pass the snowpack was 20 percent above average.
Three automated measuring sites in the Crystal Valley were slightly above average. Schofield Pass, for example, was 5 percent above.
The Fryingpan Valley has been clobbered with snow. Snowpack is 32 percent above average at Nast Lake and 43 percent above at the Kiln site, according to the NRCS.
The city of Aspen’s water treatment plant is significantly lower than the official snow survey site on Independence Pass, but the winter’s bounty is even more dramatic there. The water department measured 39.70 inches of snow for January. The January average is 25.22 inches, or 57 percent less.
At least a trace of snow fell on 18 of 31 days last month, according to the water department’s records.
The Aspen Skiing Co.’s records show why the skiing and riding is so damn good. Since Oct. 1, Snowmass has been blessed with about 20 feet of snowfall, or 240 inches. December and January produced some spectacular numbers.
“It was above average going way back to 1982,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.
The 67 inches of snow in December was 72 percent above the average for the month over the last 23 years, he said. And January’s 83 inches of white stuff was 54 percent above average for the month.
With two of the snowiest months coming in February and March, Snowmass appears destined to top its average winter total, Hanle noted.
Mike Gillespie of the Natural Resources Conservation Service said about 40 percent of Colorado mountain snow typically falls after Feb. 1. The snowpack usually peaks on or about April 13, he said.
Not all parts of Colorado’s mountains are scoring the same. Gillespie said there’s a band that runs from Grand Junction through the Grand Mesa, across Schofield Pass and the Crested Butte area, to Tennessee Pass and Hoosier Pass. Points south of that band tend to be below average; points to the north are above.
Aspen is on the south end of the above-average side of the line. Crested Butte, with a snowpack 19 percent above average, is also on the “good” side of the line.
Vail’s snowpack is 41 percent above average. Gillespie said Summit County has the highest snowpack depths.
Other places in the state that traditionally get hammered are facing drought conditions. Wolf Creek Pass, perennially one of the snowiest places in the state, is at 37 percent of average. The San Juan headwaters in the southwest part of the state are at 42 percent of average snowpack.
“I’m pretty hard-pressed to come up with another year that’s got as much extreme in variability,” Gillespie said.
That extreme variability is even present within the same river basins. The snowpack at Fremont Pass, at the head of the Arkansas basin, is 70 percent above average. Farther down that basin, La Veta Pass has a record low snowpack, according to Gillespie.
As a whole, Colorado’s snowpack dropped to slightly below average by the end of January, according to the NRCS. It was 99 percent of average statewide and only 86 percent of last year’s level at the same time.
“With another dry month across southern Colorado, hopes of recovering from the early-season deficits are beginning to diminish,” the agency said in a report it released Friday. “This region’s snowpack totals are approaching record low readings at many locations and are even lower than those measured in the recent 2002 drought year.”
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com