Af­ter slow start, snow to­tals catch­ing up in the West

The Denver Post - - NEWS -

Af­ter a dry au­tumn, snow­fall is re­bound­ing to nor­mal lev­els at West­ern ski ar­eas and in the moun­tains that feed the vi­tal Colorado River.

Snow to­tals were en­cour­ag­ing across most of the re­gion Wed­nes­day, es­pe­cially in Ore­gon, eastern Ne­vada and Utah, where it stood as high as 176 per­cent of aver­age.

“I don’t want to wave ‘mis­sion ac­com­plished’ ban­ners here, but it looks pretty good,” said Klaus Wolter, a cli­mate sci­en­tist with the Co­op­er­a­tive In­sti­tute for Re­search in En­vi­ron­men­tal Sciences in Boul­der. “Cer­tainly the near term looks good.”

A warm, dry fall forced some West­ern ski ar­eas to de­lay their open­ings and prompted the can­cel­la­tion of some men’s World Cup ski races at the Beaver Creek re­sort in Ea­gle County.

It also caused some wor­ries about how much snowmelt would be avail­able next spring for the Colorado River, which sup­plies wa­ter to about 40 mil­lion peo­ple and 6,300 square miles of farm­land in seven states.

But a se­ries of heavy snow­storms since late Novem­ber im­proved snow con­di­tions dra­mat­i­cally across the West. Beaver Creek has now recorded a to­tal of more than 8 feet of snow­fall for the sea­son, said Rachel Woods, a spokes­woman for Vail Re­sorts, which owns Beaver Creek and 11 other re­sorts in seven states and Aus­tralia.

Beaver Creek re­ported a snow depth of 33 inches Wed­nes­day. Snow com­pacts un­der the weight of skiers and other fac­tors, so the cu­mu­la­tive snow to­tal is al­most al­ways higher than the depth at any given time.

Re­sort industry of­fi­cials don’t yet have num­bers of hol­i­day skiers and snow­board­ers to re­port, but they say in­di­ca­tors such as ho­tel book­ings are promis­ing.

“We had a white Christ­mas here,” said Paul Mar­shall of Ski Utah, which rep­re­sents 14 re­sorts. “Be­tween Satur­day and Sun­day we had a gi­ant storm come in.”

Above-aver­age snow has fallen across the re­gion known as the Up­per Colorado River Basin, which pro­duces about 90 per­cent of the wa­ter in the Colorado River. The Up­per Basin cov­ers a large swath of Colorado, Utah and Wy­oming and smaller sec­tions of Ari­zona and New Mex­ico.

As of last week, the last time sta­tis­tics were com­piled, the snow­pack was 119 per­cent of nor­mal in the Up­per Basin, said Mar­lon Duke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Recla­ma­tion, which man­ages mul­ti­ple reser­voirs on the river.

With their nor­mally deep win­ter snows, the Colorado moun­tains are the heart of the Up­per Basin. Colorado’s snow­pack ranged from 105 to 125 per­cent of nor­mal Wed­nes­day.

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