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No longer caboose on the snow train

Allyn Harvey

Anyone who found themselves being rained on last Monday night probably wondered what curse was plaguing Aspen.

The “champagne powder” that town boosters toast at every opportunity was nowhere to be seen. The rain threatened to make the ski resorts’ snow heavy and wet.

Then came THE STORM.

The big one that dumped on Aspen and the central Rockies last week began its journey in the Gulf of Alaska, said meteorologist Greg Berman. It hit land in western Washington and Oregon, pounding the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges before turning south toward Utah and Nevada.

Clipping the northeast corner of Nevada, the storm blew into Western Utah and turned east. Snowbird, Alta and other ski areas in Utah received about a foot of new snow.

Winds that track west-northwest are ideal for Aspen, Berman said. They pushed the storm into Colorado, and the snow began falling Wednesday night and did not quit until late Friday morning.

During about 30 hours of stormy weather, downtown Aspen received 15 inches of new snow, said Berman. Since the middle of the month, 35 inches of snow has fallen – just short of three feet.

Berman, whose Western Weather Service provides statistics and forecasting for several media outlets in Colorado, said last week’s heavy snowfall is a normal pattern for this time of year, and people should expect to see more.

As of Sunday, Snowmass had received 40 inches of snow since mid-month, Aspen Highlands 36, Buttermilk 34, and Aspen Mountain 32, according to the Aspen Skiing Co.

“I think we’re back in the game,” said Aspen Mountain Ski School Director Paul Ruid.

Ruid hit the slopes about an hour before opening Friday morning to “check things out and make sure everything was all right.” Everything was. “The powder couldn’t have been lighter.”

The turbulent weather brought a bit of calm to Aspen’s snow-dependent business owners, who can now celebrate that for the first time this year Aspen received more snow than Vail in a weeklong period.

Berman conceded, however, that Vail didn’t suffer too much. It received only a few inches less than Aspen, but other areas didn’t fare nearly as well. As of early Friday afternoon, Copper only had five inches of new snow, Breckenridge had about eight and Keystone 10.

“There’s no doubt that until last week Aspen was bringing up the caboose on the snow train,” Berman said.

If Berman’s forecast is correct, Aspen’s powderhounds should be busy in the coming weeks. He predicted that the weekend’s weather would be characterized by intermittent snowfall.

Berman said there is a good chance that later this week another major storm will hit Aspen. “We have the potential to see the same kind of pattern we saw at the end of last week.”

As for the rain, Berman doesn’t think we’ll see any more for a while. Searching back nearly 20 years, he could not find a single January that had brought rain to Aspen.

He attributes the occurrence to unseasonably warm winds blowing out of the Southwest desert. On two nights this month, the low temperature did not dip below 30 degrees. The normal nightly low for Aspen in January is 7 degrees.

“I’m in awe of it,” he said, “totally in awe.”


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