‘It doesn’t get better than this year’
Yet another big dump had skiers screaming with joy as they ate snow on major face shots all day Thursday. The storm Wednesday night brought more than a foot to all four mountains. That adds to a year in which the upper Colorado River basin, which includes Aspen, is about 130 percent of average snowfall. National Weather Service forecaster Mike Chamberlain said all the storms are coming out of the Northwest. Thus, the northern and central mountains in Colorado are doing quite nicely, while the southern mountains are far below average. The upper Rio Grande watershed is at 35 percent of normal and the San Miguel (Durango area) is 47 percent of normal.The professional weather forecasters, though, rarely put the conditions in the terms of Aspen weather watcher Jim Markalunas.”It’s the best snow conditions I can remember in one hell of a long time,” Markalunas said. “It doesn’t get better than this year. It’s one of those kinds of winters that people talk about – ‘Remember when we had all that snow back in such and such?’ It’s a biggie. No question about it.”Markalunas watches the weather and measures the snow every day; he has done so since the 1950s. One thing he looks out for are big dumps, when it snows more than 10 inches in 24 hours. So far, Thursday marked the first big dump of the year, according to his measurements at his West End home. And really, a big dump should be celebrated.He said that every 20 years three dumps happen in one year. A four-dump year comes along every half-century. “We’ve had a lot of snow,” Markalunas said, “but they’ve all been small increments, 4, 5 or 6 inches.”There haven’t been many big dumps in the last decade or so – 2003, 2002, 1999, 1998, 1997 were all years without one. The last truly epic year, a four-dump year, was 1984, Markalunas said. Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said the official reading at Highlands showed 16 inches in 48 hours, though wind-loading in many areas contributed to many reports of waist-deep snow. But with all the excitement about this storm and the incredible snow year, there isn’t anything quite like a National Weather Service forecaster to bring it back to reality.”There’s nothing abnormal about this storm, nothing unusual about it,” Chamberlain said. “It’s wintertime; we get snowstorms.”He did mention there is a chance for more soon, though not much more. “Another weaker storm will move into the area over the weekend,” he said. “We’re not really expecting a whole lot of punch, maybe a couple of inches.” Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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A ski season surrounded with uncertainty kicks off on Wednesday. The six inches of new snowfall Tuesday will allow opening of an additional 62 acres on Aspen Mountain, bringing opening-day total to about 160 acres.