Snow falls Sunday, but much more needed before opening day in Aspen-Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

Snow falls Sunday, but much more needed before opening day in Aspen-Snowmass

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Aubree Dallas The Aspen Times

Snowmaking guns are in position, marketing plans are in place to lure visitors and local restaurants, bars and retail shops are in hiring mode.

The upcoming Aspen-Snowmass ski season just needs a little help from Mother Nature and Father Time.

Three to 4 inches of snow fell in the middle and higher portions of Snowmass ski area during the day Sunday, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said Sunday. Snowmaking operations did not start at any of Skico's four ski areas — Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk — on Saturday night because of high temperatures.

Crews were set to begin making snow Sunday night, Hanle said. But he noted that he couldn't say with certainty whether they actually would.

"We need an extended cold," Hanle said. "We're ready to go, but snowmaking is really temperature dependent."

October was a dry month in terms of snowfall, which could be one of the reasons why advance hotel and lodge bookings have softened a bit in the past two weeks compared with the pace of bookings in the latter half of October 2013, according to Bill Tomcich, president of reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass.

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But as of Oct. 15, based on data from Denver-based resort tracking company DestiMetrics, overall lodging commitments for the 2014-15 winter tourist season were slightly ahead of where they were last year at this time, Tomcich said last week.

"The winter looks really solid at this point," he said. "Almost every week of the winter is pacing slightly ahead of last year based on the Oct. 15 snapshot."

Reasons for the recent slowdown in bookings, aside from the lack of snow, may include international travel fears based on the Ebola virus, uncertainty surrounding Tuesday's national elections and stock market volatility last month, Tomcich suggested.

More snow, coupled with new marketing initiatives from Skico and its local partners that have yet to be unleashed, should remedy any temporary slowdown in bookings, he said.

Last year, the Colorado Department of Transportation closed the winter gate on the west side of Independence Pass early, on Oct. 31, because above-average snowfall had made driving and maintenance along the highest elevations of Highway 82 difficult. This year, barring the possibility of big snowfall events over the next 12 days, the gate will close on Nov. 15, said CDOT spokeswoman Traci Trulove.

Should conditions atop the pass remain dry by the Nov. 15 target date, there's a slight chance that the transportation department will postpone the winter-gate closing by a few days, Trulove added.

While Sunday's storms in the area brought rain to the valley and snow in higher elevations during the day, more precipitation was expected to fall Sunday evening and overnight. An early Sunday forecast by AspenWeather.net predicted 1 to 3 inches of wet snow to Aspen and Snowmass Village and 3 to 5 inches of snow that should stick in the middle and higher portions of local ski mountains.

"At the resorts, it will be plenty cold for the snow to stick, and I will leave the 3 to 5 inches in the forecast by dawn Monday," AspenWeather.net forecaster Cory Gates said in a Sunday afternoon email blast to subscribers.

"At this point, I don't have a problem seeing 4, 5, 6 inches up there," he wrote. "Snow amounts are a lot harder downvalley as it stays above 32 a longer portion of (Sunday) night."

Sunday and today's storm pattern was expected to be short-lived. The National Weather Service is calling for dry, sunny days in Aspen from Tuesday through Sunday, with daytime temperatures reaching the mid-50s. Nighttime temps this week are predicted to run in the upper-20s and lower-30s in town. Skico snowmaking crews prefer nighttime temperatures of 27 degrees or lower, for an extended time to begin making snow and laying a solid base.

AspenWeather.net forecaster Ryan Boudreau said that despite the lack of snow in October, he and Gates are still predicting an average or slightly above-average winter ski season.

"I think everything is going according to plan," he said. "We always thought October would be dry."

In terms of snowfall, last year was considered well above average for Skico's four local ski areas. Aspen Mountain received 342 inches of snowfall from October through April. Snowmass got 351 inches.

Gates is predicting 309 inches at Aspen Mountain and 334 inches at Snowmass this year.

Skico has scheduled Nov. 27, Thanksgiving Day, to open Aspen Mountain and Snowmass to skiers and snowboarders. Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands will open Dec. 13.

andre@aspentimes.com

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