Resorts endure warm weather |

Resorts endure warm weather

John and Malpica Arce from Spain encounter a few bare spots at the base of Aspen Mountain while skiing in early April. The snow sports industry urged President Obama in September to be aggressive at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this week.
Jeremy Wallace / The Aspen Times file photo |

As the ski season winds down there’s a window in the day where the snow on Aspen Mountain is no longer bullet-proof and not quite slush. According to longtime local John LaSalle, that window starts at 10:30 a.m.

“You have to time it right,” LaSalle said Wednesday, while standing outside the entrance to the Silver Queen Gondola. “It’s pretty hard until 10:30 a.m., and then from 10:30 to 1:30 p.m. it’s fantastic. After that the bottom is pretty soupy — mashed potatoes. But it’s still really great skiing.”

Both Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands are hovering around 200 inches of snowfall for the year, while Snowmass has recorded about 250. April will need significant snowfall if Aspen is going to reach its annual average of about 300 inches.

Temperatures remain in the 50-degree range, and Aspen Skiing Co. has been shutting down terrain recently. Campground and Two Creeks in Snowmass closed Wednesday. Aspen Mountain is holding up great, Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said, but all the gated terrain and lower-mountain steep pitches also are closing. With 42 percent of expert terrain closed, Highlands has seen it’s lower-mountain steeps shut down since the recent string of warm days and rain.

“You’ve still got those magic hours in the middle of the day, where the skiing’s great and the temperatures are good,” Hanle said. “Despite lagging behind where we were last year and probably behind average snow depth for this time of year, you’ve got to roll with what you get.”

According to Hanle, March 31 is historically the day that records the deepest base depth over the course of a season, based on a 20-year average. That’s not the case this year, he said.

At this point Skico is on track to stick with its closing schedule. Buttermilk Mountain closes Sunday, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass close April 12, and Aspen Mountain rounds out the season April 19. Hanle said it would take a bunch of late snowstorms for Skico to consider opening the mountain for a bonus weekend.

Winter has not gone as planned for’s lead meteorologist Cory Gates, who predicted a season with a little more than 300 inches of snowfall. At this point, he said the final count could fall in the mid-200s range, between 240 and 275.

“If we get to 250 — hey, that’s not bad, considering we had a six-week dry period from New Year’s Day to Valentine’s Day,” Gates said Wednesday.

He has pointed to abnormally warm temperatures in the Pacific Ocean as the root of this year’s below-average snowfall. He said AspenWeather anticipated a break in March because there was a ridge building at longitude 140 west, Aspen’s “snow position.”

“Every time we get a ridge at 140 west, or 700, 800 miles west of California, it’s the perfect position for snow,” Gates said. “That’s what happened during that 17-day barrage of February to early March. Unfortunately, it couldn’t stay there.”

He said to expect an unsettled April, as a bulging El Nino has been developing in the Pacific for the past five months. He said the possibility for a strong El Nino summer looks as strong as ever, and it would result in a wet April and May as well as a cloudy, stormy, wet summer.

This week’s forecast predicted a touch of wet snow Wednesday night and snow showers tonight. Gates said the ski resorts could see between 1 to 3 inches before Friday. Next week will be more unsettled, he said, because of the bulging El Nino.

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