Aspen snowpack among best in state |

Aspen snowpack among best in state

Aspen Times Staff Report

ASPEN ” A federal agency that measures snowpack at 114 sites in western Colorado and eastern Utah reported Tuesday that only two had depths higher than Aspen’s as of Tuesday afternoon.

The Aspen-area snowpack was 26 percent above average for Dec. 4, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The only sites in the Colorado River Basin with more impressive totals were Lily Pond and Chamita in the San Juan River headwaters in southwestern Colorado.

The snowpack numbers don’t mean much since it is so early in the season. Conditions can rapidly change, just as they did last weekend when a snowstorm dumped more than 3 feet of snow on the mountains surrounding Aspen. The snowpack was well below normal before that storm.

Snowfall has been spotty in the central mountains and even within the Roaring Fork River basin.

Copper Mountain has done nearly as well as Aspen with a snowpack 16 percent above average. Vail is at only 78 percent of average, the NRCS reported Tuesday.

The Roaring Fork River basin as a whole remains slightly below average. The North Lost Trail site near Marble was 88 percent of average while Schofield Pass only was at 65 percent, the NRCS website showed. But McClure Pass, not far from the other sites, showed a snowpack 19 percent above average.

In the Fryingpan Valley, the Ivanhoe site was right at the 30-year average. Snowpack at the Kiln site was 3 percent below average and at Nast Lake it was 18 percent above.

The Aspen-area site is identified as Independence Pass, although it is really located near Grizzly Reservoir in the Lincoln Creek drainage, east of town. The automated snow-measuring station is at 10,600 feet in elevation.

The snow-water equivalent from the snowpack is 5.4 inches at Independence Pass. The 30-year average for this time of year is 4.3 inches, the NRCS reported Tuesday.

The avalanche danger in the Aspen zone is considerable, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Says the CAIC: “Recent mild temperatures have slowed natural slide activity as the snowpack settles. Strong winds, however, above treeline have continued during the past 24 hours. The continued loading of a weak snowpack remains a problem. In neighboring zones, we continue to receive reports of natural slide activity from isolated areas where large wind slabs have built – primarily steep slopes near and above treeline with NW-NE-SE aspects. These locations continue to be the area of greatest concern, especially where the wind slabs are perched atop rotten facets. Beware of drifted and loaded slopes, especially on NW-NE-SE aspects at higher elevations. Human triggered avalanches remain probable in these areas. “

Area avalanche forecaster Brian McCall will present an avalanche awareness talk on Wednesday from 6:30-8 p.m. in Aspen’s Rio Grande Commons. Space for the free avalanche awareness talk is limited, so if you plan to attend, RSVP to, or call 970-920-3890.

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