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Dust storms turn Aspen slopes brown

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times
ALL |

ASPEN ” Despite a few inches of fresh snow Monday morning, Aspen’s ski slopes sported an uncharacteristic brown hue, thanks to blustery winds carrying dirt from the Southwest and, perhaps, China.

Elsewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley, residents awoke to a spotty layer of dirt on their vehicles, thanks to precipitation that pulled the particles out of the air.

“When I looked at my car and my outdoor furniture, I thought, ‘Wow, we had brown snow,'” said Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman. “We’re just thankful that it’s snow.”

Dirt was deposited on the ski slopes and then covered over by the 3 to 4 inches that fell in Aspen and Snowmass on Sunday night. But, where snowcats churned up the surface, the dirt reappeared, giving groomers a brownish cast early Monday. Wherever skiers carved through the surface layer of white snow on ungroomed runs, brown appeared in their tracks. By afternoon, the bump runs on Aspen Mountain had a leopard-print look about them.

It’s not the first time strong spring winds have carried dirt from elsewhere.

“We ended up with red snow one time,” Hanle recalled. “It all came from Utah.”

The dirt swirling in the air on Sunday wasn’t local, either, according to Lee Cassin, environmental health director for the city of Aspen, Rather, the slopes were sporting grit from the desert Southwest, and possibly from as far away as China, where a huge plume of dust from a Gobi Desert sandstorm more than a week ago was carried aloft, she said.

It’s not the first time sand from China has drifted around the globe and been pulled from the atmosphere with precipitation in Aspen, Cassin noted.

Closer to Colorado, wind-whipped dust storms in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona were undoubtedly a factor, as well, she said. In Colorado, Montrose and Cortez reported visibility of less than a mile on Sunday. In Grand Junction, wind gusts of up to 60 mph were recorded.

The winds came in advance of a winter storm that is expected to leave 8 to 16 inches of new snow in the Colorado mountains by Tuesday morning, when a winter storm warning is to expire at 6 a.m. By midafternoon Monday, little of the predicted snow had fallen in Aspen, but the National Weather Service was continuing to call for significant snowfall.

janet@aspentimes.com


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