March snowfall was great for skiing but Roaring Fork snowpack still lags behind
Above-average snowfall in March was great for skiing and raised the Roaring Fork Valley’s snowpack a modest amount at a critical time.
Snowmass picked up the most snowfall among Aspen Skiing Co.’s four ski areas in March with 68 inches, according to Skico’s records. That’s a foot above the ski area’s average snowfall of 56 inches for the month.
“The weather pattern really favored Snowmass,” said Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.
Snowmass received snow on 20 of 31 days for the month, including dumps of 8 inches on March 13 and another 11 inches on March 14. There was a surprise dump of 8.5 inches on March 29.
Snowmass Village businessman and powder hound Jack Rafferty said the regular storms made for great skiing and riding through the month.
“Every day has been mid-winter conditions,” he said. “The snow is still in great shape.”
The excellent snow conditions in the second half of the winter have been a sweet consolation in a COVID-plagued winter when business is down, he said.
While the snowfall during March was impressive, it wasn’t up to par with really big years. In March 2019, for example, Snowmass reaped 96 inches. The ski area’s record for the month was 119 inches in 1995.
Even with above average snowfall in March, the Roaring Fork River basin is still struggling to bounce back from a dry start to winter. As of March 31, snowpack on Independence Pass was 91 percent of the 41-year median, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which operates automated snow telemetry sites. That is up from 84 percent of median at the beginning of the month.
McClure Pass was at 84 percent of median snowpack while Schofield Pass was at 86 percent. The North Lost Trail site near Marble fared better with snowpack at 97 percent of average.
In the Fryingpan Valley, snowpack was close to the median for April 1.
The weather over the next few weeks will be crucial in determining runoff in western Colorado. The Colorado River District’s website said snowpack in the region typically peaks between April 8-10. While it usually snows more after that, the snowfall is more than offset by melting from warmer weather later in the month.
“Hints at our water supply are hidden in the soil,” the Colorado River District website said. “With snowpack hovering below average, and dry soil making it ever harder for that snow to reach rivers and streams when it melts, this winter’s indicators suggest another dry summer.”
Brendon Langenhuizen, a senior water rights engineer with the Colorado River District, said a “decent” snowpack is no guarantee of a decent runoff year. The dry soil conditions of last summer and fall depleted soil moisture. So as snow melts, dry soils absorb much of the water before it reaches rivers and streams, he said. In addition, hot and dry conditions result in sublimation.
“You see that snowpack evaporate before it melts,” Langenhuizen said.
The implications go beyond water availability for irrigation. Reservoirs that are popular sites for boating and other recreation might not fill to capacity.
“Ruedi Reservoir is forecasted not to fill this year,” Langenhuizen said.
Various federal agencies will release more detailed forecasts of runoff by mid-April.
The Upper Colorado River Commission decided unanimously to continue the federally funded System Conservation Program in 2024 — but with a narrower scope that explores demand management concepts and supports innovation and local drought resiliency on a longer-term basis.