Aspen-Snowmass snowfall in February already exceeds what fell in prior months

Nick Waldeck, 13, takes turns through the powder on the Shoulder of Bell on Aspen Mountain on Thursday. 6 inches of snow was reported but it continued to snow throughout the day. School was cancelled due to the weather.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |


Snowmass — 24 inches December, 37 January, 45 February*

Aspen Mtn — 20 inches December, 28 January, 27 February*

*Totals as of 5 a.m. Thursday. More than 8 inches fell throughout the day.

Source: Aspen Skiing Co.

Reports of winter’s demise in Aspen were greatly exaggerated.

The Aspen-Snowmass ski slopes already have received more snow in February than they did in any of the earlier months this winter.

Snowmass raked in 45 inches for the month as of 5 a.m. Thursday while Aspen Highlands collected 30 inches and Aspen Mountain 27. At least another 8 inches fell at all four ski areas throughout the day Thursday, according to Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of communications.

“We just went over our monthly average at Snowmass,” he said Thursday.

The Snowmass total for February surpassed the 37 inches received in January, 24 inches in December and 19 inches in November.

The bulk of the snow has come since Saturday. The abrupt change defied most long-range forecasts for continued warm and dry conditions in most of Colorado for the month — much to the relief of skiers. Advance forecasts called for storms to hit the Northern Rockies and stay north of Aspen.

Cory Gates, meteorologist with micro-forecaster, said Thursday the dry conditions of the earlier months and the wet conditions this month all tie into where ridges of pressure have developed in the atmosphere. In the earlier months, convection from the Pacific Ocean led to ridges aloft close to California. Lately, the ridge developed farther west.

“We are reaping the benefits this month and will likely have normal to above-normal snow,” Gates said.

The long-range forecasts had figured the ridge aloft would continue to build closer to California, driving the storm track to the north.

“A ridge aloft near California would have brought more dry and boring weather,” Gates said.

While November, December and January were clearly duds for Aspen-Snowmass, it was mostly a matter of being unlucky, he said. Areas only 350 miles to the north got “hammered” with snow to start the winter, Gates noted.

“Moral of the story: what everybody probably does not understand is those three months were extremely close to us having totally normal snow and being just fine,” he said.

The stormy stretch has boosted the snowpack at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork Valley to 72 percent of normal. It had been hovering at about 66 percent.

The sudden deluge of snow brought dangerous conditions to the backcountry. A skier was caught in a slide and partially buried Wednesday on Mount Justice near Marble, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The center reported numerous other “notable” slides in the Aspen zone, including one in the popular McFarlane’s Gulch area on Richmond Ridge, south of Aspen Mountain. “Reported to be one of the largest slides in the drainage in a long time,” the center reported on its website.

“The takeaway is clear and simple: conditions are dangerous,” Aspen zone forecaster Blase Reardon wrote. “Some of these slides are flat-out unsurvivable.”

He warned Wednesday morning that skiers and snowboarders shouldn’t be fooled by the “Marble Exception” — the widely held perception that danger ratings and safe travel practices apply everywhere but the slopes around Marble. Sure enough, the skier had a close call later that day in the Marble area.

The Aspen zone avalanche forecast was at the high end of the considerable rating for Thursday and is expected to remain that way for a while.


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