On the Snow: Early-season conditions change in a flash
Skiing is very much a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately proposition.
The snowpack at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen remains above the 30-year median for this date, yet we could use some snow. It’s not that we have too little snow, we just haven’t had recent snowfall. Snow last fell on Nov. 25 (as of 5 p.m. Tuesday).
Conditions were so good so early that Aspen Skiing Co. opened Aspen Mountain five days ahead of schedule. The opening was scheduled for Thanksgiving Day. Instead, the ski area opened with top-to-bottom skiing Nov. 22. I skinned up Aspen Mountain with colleagues from The Aspen Times on Nov. 26 and salivated during the one run to the base that day. It was a warm morning and the corduroy created by the snowcats was immaculate.
Plenty of decent trails could still be found when I skied Saturday, but it was spottier. The wind and cloud cover created hard-packed conditions on Sunday, other skiers and snowboarders reported. And just like that, we were crying for snow.
Take heart for what we’ve got. The automated precipitation measuring station at Independence Pass indicated the snowpack was 104 percent of the median Tuesday. It was 92 percent overall for the Roaring Fork Basin, but that figure has limited use because conditions vary so drastically over the sprawling basin, which includes the Fryingpan and Crystal River valleys.
In the Fryingpan, the automated site at Ivanhoe showed a snowpack 114 percent of the median, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Kiln was at 93 percent and Nast Lake was 192 percent of the median at this early time.
The Crystal River Valley is drier. McClure Pass was at 63 percent; North Lost Trail near Marble was at 64 percent and Schofield Pass was at 85 percent.
The snowpack profile for Independence Pass is starting to look like Pyramid Peak, one of the Aspen area’s famous peaks above 14,000 feet in elevation. The snowpack was at 43 percent Nov. 6. It climbed to 62 percent a week later at the same site, then to 85 percent Nov. 20.
The snowpack at Independence Pass soared to 122 percent of the median as of Nov. 27, but dipped to 104 percent Dec. 2. It’s typical early-season volatility.
We don’t have any reason to panic yet. We’re ahead of the game. But a snow dance sure wouldn’t hurt.
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This decision is part of a game plan to focus on giant slalom and slalom in the early part of season. Shiffrin will likely also pass on a speed stop in Val d’Isere from Dec. 18-20.