Storm sends Aspen area’s snowpack soaring to 116% of median

Thursday’s big dump delighted skiers, created dangerous avalanche conditions and produced a jump in the Aspen-area snowpack., a local micro-forecasting service, reported as much as 16 inches on upper slopes of Snowmass, Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands with 11 inches at Buttermilk.

“Y’all already know it snowed like hell at the ski areas,” wrote Cory Gates, the site’s meteorologist.

The Aspen Water Plant recorded about a foot of new snow in its unofficial report, so the valley floor also benefitted from the precipitation.

Gates wrote that the Aspen area is “so far above normal for higher elevation April snow it’s pathetic.” He reported about 66 inches of snow for Snowmass since March 18 and 70 inches for Aspen Highlands.

The snowpack at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen shot from 110% of median Thursday morning to 116% Friday morning, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which operates automated snow telemetry sites.

The Ivanhoe site at the headwaters of the Fryingpan River soared from 139% of median Thursday to 144% on Friday.

Schofield Pass at the headwaters of the Crystal River picked up significant snow but remained below median. It improved from only 90% of median Thursday to 94% on Friday.

The fresh powder prompted the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to boost the danger rating in the Central Mountains to considerable Friday. A skier triggered an avalanche in Highland Bowl on Friday morning, but escaped without injury. A backcountry skier was killed in the Vail-Summit County Zone on Wednesday, prior to the storm.

The Aspen and Snowmass ski areas were shut down by state order March 15 because of the coronavirus crisis and terrain hasn’t been controlled for avalanches. Experts say skiers and snowboarders who skin up to access terrain must treat the ski areas like backcountry due to the lack of avalanche-control work.

The avalanche center’s Friday report noted snowfall was driven by strong winds Thursday.

“The drifted snow rests on slipper old-snow surfaces,” the report said. “A slab avalanche may break wide or wrap around terrain features. Choose terrain cautiously, and avoid steep, wind-loaded slopes.”

While the snowpack got a nice boost from Thursday’s storm, Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey supervisor for the NRCS, noted that snowfall into the spring is normal. Snowfall for the Upper Colorado River Region for this April is only 84% of average despite the most recent storm, he noted. Local areas within that vast region can vary.

The snowpack typically peaks around April 7 for the Roaring Fork Basin, Domonkos said. This year, the highest reading of the winter was April 5, then it melted out and climbed again Friday.

“In short, this most recent storm was a significant contributor to April snowpack accumulation but above average snowpack and precipitation accumulation will be needed from this point to end April at 100 percent of normal precipitation.”

In other words, it is supposed to snow in Colorado in April.