Warming trend hampers snowmaking, snowfall in Aspen-Snowmass
December 5, 2014
Snowmaking efforts at Aspen's four ski areas have been mostly stymied during the early part of this week due to warm temperatures, according to Aspen Skiing Co. and local sources involved in on-mountain projects.
Nighttime temperatures favorable to snowmaking are predicted to improve later this week, forecasts suggest, but daytime temperatures could melt much of that away. Weather patterns that would bring significant amounts of snowfall on a regular basis aren't expected until around Dec. 13, when Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk are scheduled to open. Snowmass Ski Area and Aspen Mountain are already open for business.
AspenWeather.net, a paid subscription service that focuses on forecasts for the Aspen-Snowmass area as well as midvalley, calls for a trace to 1 inch of snowfall tonight, none on Friday, a trace on Saturday, and none on Sunday and Monday. Around 1 or 2 inches were predicted for Wednesday night heading into today's early morning hours at higher elevations.
"It's just too warm aloft for much to happen," forecaster Cory Gates wrote in an email report Wednesday. "Warmer air can hold more water. … Even though we got a great moisture surge, the air mass can hold this water without releasing it because it's warm. What we need is mid-level or high-level energy to agitate the atmosphere so the ambient water gets released."
Today's forecast calls for cloudy skies and a risk of snow and rain showers. But tonight's low nighttime temperatures of 27 to 31 degrees are not conducive to snowmaking, for which a wet-bulb temperature — a term describing a relationship between temps and humidity — of 24 degrees or lower is preferred.
The National Weather Service is more bullish on snowmaking conditions for the Aspen area from Friday through Dec. 12, calling for low temperatures between 19 and 24 degrees each morning. Skico crews are on standby every night, ready to work if conditions will allow.
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Next week, the daytime warming trend is expected to continue.
"(It) will be mild with lots of 40s everyday in Aspen," Gates said. "By the end of next week, it might be hideously mild. Is this ever going to change? The answer is 'Yes.' I believe things start to go in a different direction around Dec. 13. That's still another 10 days away. After mid-month, I believe we head back to normal winter weather."
Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the company follows weather forecasts closely, but is not concerned about the warming trend at this point.
"It's not unusual," he said. "Usually in December we have cold and warm spells all the time."
He said prior to last weekend's World Cup races on Aspen Mountain, Skico crews were "breaking records" with regard to snowmaking — at all four ski areas.
Hanle acknowledged that a change in current weather trends will be necessary for consistent snowmaking as well as more natural snowfall. Until then, "We're hoping for a few small hits here and there."
As of Wednesday evening, both Snowmass and Aspen Mountain had received only 2 inches of new snow in the past seven days. Snowmass has a 28-inch base at its highest elevations and 673 open acres, while Aspen Mountain has a 13-inch base at its peak and 315 acres, according to Skico's website.
"We typically go through these things," Hanle said. "The snow will come — it always seems to."
AspenWeather.net has called for an average snowfall year of 309 inches at Aspen Mountain and 334 inches at Snowmass, as measured from October through April. Last year, Aspen Mountain received an above-average 342 inches and Snowmass got 351 inches, according to the local weather service.