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Vail expands late-season terrain

Lauren Glendenning
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyPaul Davis gets a face full of snow as he blasts through the reported 19 inches of fresh powder Wednesday on Vail Mountain.
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VAIL, Colo. – With the biggest single-day snowfall accumulation on Vail Mountain since the 2000-01 ski season, there’s more to get excited about than just some late-season powder days.

The snowpack level for the northwest corner of Colorado has increased in the last few days – good news for those who watch the state’s water supplies.

“The Colorado Basin is now at 85 percent of average,” said Mike Gillespie, the snow survey supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colorado. “It’s a pretty remarkable turnaround in a very short time period. It will definitely make a positive impact on the water supply forecasts.”

Vail Mountain reported 19 inches of snow from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning – the most in a 24-hour period since the 2000-01 season. Vail Mountain has reported 48 inches of new snow in the last seven days.

The April snow is enough to expand Vail Mountain’s late-season terrain. The resort announced Wednesday that the new snowfall is enough to keep portions of the China Bowl, Tea Cup Bowl and Blue Sky Basin open through closing day, which is April 18.

“Our pass holders have been waiting all season for the kind of conditions we’ve had in the last few days and will continue to have through next week,” said Chris Jarnot, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Vail Mountain.

Jarnot added that resort officials are happy to change the terrain plans and “end the season with a bang.”

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the valley’s water supplier, pays more attention to how much water is in snow rather than snowfall accumulation totals, and the recent storms have been nice and wet, said Diane Johnson, the district’s spokeswoman.

“We’re measuring the snow-water equivalent, and having that much moisture in (the snow) has really helped for being such a low snow year to have such wet snow,” Johnson said. “We need it.”

The snow storms that brought Vail 32 inches since Monday morning helped increase Vail Mountain water-snow equivalent from 72 percent to 78 percent in just two days, Johnson said.

Johnson and Gillespie agree the recent snow isn’t enough to bring snowpack and water supply levels to where they need to be, but any moisture at this point in the season is welcomed – 80 percent of the state’s water supply comes from snowpack, Johnson said.

“When we get these weather patterns, it means we’re getting some more (water) storage,” Johnson said. “At least we know we’re tracking a little bit ahead of 2002.”

Johnson said the 2002 drought year the Water District uses as the threshold for what constitutes a worrisome snow year. If snow levels are above 2002 levels, officials know it could always be a lot worse. This year’s levels have been tracking at or below the 2002 levels since October, until the storms this week that have put 2009-10 slightly ahead of the 2001-02 winter.

The snow-water equivalent in 2002 had already reached its peak by this time and was starting to drop, Johnson said.

While the recent snow is exciting, Gillespie said things can change very quickly. He said the series of storms in the last week aren’t enough to bring the state’s snowpack levels back to average, but that it’s certainly possible to have a wet April and to continue to see increases in snowpack numbers.

“We still have a ways to go and time is essentially running out,” Gillespie said. “But the recent snow is really a welcomed relief for many folks.”

As far as the weather forecast, the next few days should be drier and warmer. The National Weather Service says snow could return Monday.

lglendenning@vaildaily.com


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