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Storm blasts Snowmass

Steve Benson
Kevin Ward prepares for a sledding run with daughter Catherine on the halfpipe at Buttermilk Monday afternoon. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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Sunday night’s storm, which dumped 17 inches of fluff on Snowmass, also brought with it some bad news for skiers and riders anxious to get some turns on Independence Pass. As a result of the heavy snowfall, the Colorado Department of Transportation shut down the pass for the winter on Monday. It was originally scheduled to close next Sunday at 2 p.m. On Sunday, ahead of the storm, the upper reaches of Mountain Boy near the summit of the pass had filled in enough to support about a dozen fluffy turns. Just how good it is now can only be left to the imagination – or a lengthy hike. The good news is the storm delivered a foot to Aspen Mountain and Highlands, and Buttermilk picked up 8 inches. But, while Colorado ski resorts gleefully measure accumulations, the state is already experiencing an unstable backcountry snowpack.Four human-triggered avalanches during the past two weeks, including one near Aspen, prompted the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to start operations early this season.

The forecast center will begin sending weather and snowpack information to its members via e-mail today.”Accidents are already starting to happen,” said forecaster Scott Toepfer. “If you’re a backcountry user, it’s time to start paying attention.”One skier was slightly hurt when he triggered a slide on Storm Peak, also known as Velocity Basin, near Silverton on Oct. 23. He was swept over a cliff and buried up to his neck. A group of skiers across the valley saw the accident, dug him out and helped transport him off the mountain. He was taken to a Durango-area hospital and released.While no one was hurt, skiers were “within feet” of getting caught the same day when another hard-slab avalanche occurred in The Battleship area near Ophir Pass. The slide was 500 feet wide, a foot deep and ran 1,000 vertical feet.Details were sketchy of a third hard-slab slide that occurred on Independence Pass on the same weekend, Toepfer said. A skier-triggered avalanche was reported, but no one was caught.The first slide of the season happened on Oct. 18 on Mount Sheridan in the Mosquito Range. No one was hurt in the avalanche that was 10 feet wide, almost 2 feet deep and ran 800 vertical feet to the ground.

After Sunday night’s snowfall, the Aspen Skiing Co. was reporting a 32-inch base at the top of Snowmass, with 17 inches at midmountain.Aspen Mountain also started making snow Sunday night, with 16 guns blasting the FIS World Cup course in preparation for the women’s alpine World Cup races on Nov. 26-28.Snowmaking will continue as long as cold temperatures permit, according to the Skico.Highlands ski patrol director Mac Smith said Monday that Highlands planned to fire its snow guns for the first time last night.”They should have a great night,” he said. “It’s supposed to get cold – 10 degrees, 5 degrees – and that should help out all the snowmaking crews.”Highlands patrollers visited the top of Loge Peak yesterday, Smith said.

“We’ve got some places where it’s 18 inches, but where there’s lee wind action, we’ve got 2 feet. So it’s worthwhile for us to get up there, and we’ll be up there track-packing [with snowcats] and doing control routes,” he said. “We’re excited about the year.”There is another chance of snow Wednesday night ahead of a warming trend, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures at 8,000 feet are forecast to climb into the mid- to upper-40s by the weekend.Aspen Mountain and Snowmass are scheduled to open on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, with Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk opening on Saturday, Dec. 11.Aspen Times Staff Writer Tim Mutrie and the Summit Daily News contributed to this report.


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