I made it over to the other side of the Continental Divide to ski with Gary and Fritz today. The conditions at Arapahoe Basin are as good as they’ve been for two years. They have 100% of their terrain open, including the steep, hike-to terrain of the upper East Wall.
Gary somehow finding a way to get off the ground in ‘First Notch’.
The snow in these north facing chutes was cold and deep.
As the day went on, the crowds grew, tracking up the inbounds terrain. We decided to take little hike to ski some of the soft winter powder before the April sun turned it to a mashed potato like consistency. Although, because of the cold temperatures, all we found was dry “cold smoke”, even well below treeline.
Since the first of the month, the mountains of Clear Creek county have received measurable snowfall every day. An active jetstream, which is carrying moisture laden storms off the Eastern Pacific and over the intermountain west is responsible for this. Here are a couple photos from yesterday to illustrate how good it’s been.
Some of my favorite photos have been taken through the window of a plane. This one is of the Chugach Range in southern Alaksa. It was taken on the approach into the Anchorage airport just after sunrise.
During the first week of February I was invited by some good friends to ski Telluride for a few days. The town and ski area of Telluride is tucked into a ‘box canyon’ that is surrounded by the majestic San Juan mountain range. The ski area offers up some of the rowdiest terrain in the state of Colorado. The surrounding mountains are sometimes called the Alps of the US.
Mark surveying some of Telluride’s awesome scenery
The slow start to the season had left most of the terrain unopened by this time of year. Right after we arrived in town, several inches of snow fell, allowing ski patrol to drop the ropes on some of Telluride’s legendary steeps. Mark and I were eager to make the most of these terrain openings, and quickly found some cliffs to jump off of.
Mark getting some air
At night we enjoyed fresh bluegrass straight from the instruments of Clear Creek brothers, Mark and Tim Morris.
The next day, the steep terrain of the Prospect Bowl area was to open. Soft snow over a marginal base meant that rocks still lurked just beneath the surface. The skiing was good but care had to be taken to not destroy one’s skis. I left Telluride with a storm approaching and another trip to the San Juans in my near future.
Last weekend a long wave trough of low pressure parked itself over the western US. This area of low pressure had a -40 degree core of cold air at 15000′. As the trough slowly worked its way across the intermountain west, record lows were set in places such as Lake Tahoe and the deserts of southern Arizona. Here in Colorado, no records were set, but we did experience nearly 5 days of below zero temperatures above 10000′. Unfortunately not much moisture accompanied the storm. We did receive about 5 inches of snow during the event, along with steady frigid north winds. These winds drifted dense cold slabs of snow onto south facing ridgelines. The slabs rested on a slick sun crust that was in place from the previous week’s warm spell. I triggered this small slide remotely from the flat area above.
As the large area of cold air moved east, warm air advected in from the northwest. These relatively warm winds scoured the cold air out of the Fraser valley and formed a thick cloud bank over the Berthoud Pass summit. I was fortunate enough to be above the cloud level for this event. I took this photo of myself just below the summit of 13,146′ Mt. Flora. It was surprisingly warm up there, and cooled as I skied into the cloud bank below.
I found surprisingly good skiing conditions in the west facing trees above the drainage known as ’7-mile’. So, I returned the next day under perfectly clear skies with my long time ski buddy Gary Fondl. Because of the low snowpack so far this year, we found a few rocks hidden just under the snow. We also found many good rock-free turns like the one Gary is enjoying in this photo.
A progressive zonal (W-E) upper level flow developed over the western half of the US after the first week of December. This pattern delivered much needed snowfall to many areas from the Pacific Northwest to the Sierras and inland to the Rocky Mountains. Most of the disturbances passing over the state of Colorado begin with moist WSW flow. This is ideal for snowfall in the West Elk Mountains. The Schofield SNOTEL site in between Crested Butte and Aspen is reporting a 50″ settled base.
Aspen Highlands is situated at the northern end of a N-S ridge line that acts as a perfect cache for orographic snowfall, and is know for their effective preparation of the steep inbounds terrain early in the season allowing them to open expert runs earlier than most other ski areas. They accomplish this by breaking up the unstable layers of early-season snow by means of boot and ski compaction. This makes for a supportive base despite the relative lack of depth. On the morning of the 19th the ski area reported 15″ of new snow and luckily I was there to enjoy it.
Photo: Mark Morris
When Mark, Eben, and Myself arrived at the top of the Loge Lift, ski patrol was opening the terrain adjacent to the Deep Temerity chairlift. This is some of the steepest, most continuous lift accessed terrain in the state. The 30″ base with a fluffy foot-and-a-half on top made for some incredible skiing conditions. Here’s Eben gliding through the fluff.
At about 1pm, after numerous explosive had been set off on the high flanks of Highlands Bowl, ski patrol opened the gate. Sub-zero temperatures and a steady 30mph NW wind kept the crowds down. On our second lap, we only encountered a few other hearty souls. For those who braved the brutal conditions, he reward was definitely worth it.
As of two weeks ago, we were off to one of the worst starts in recent history. There had been 18″ of total snowfall at Loveland Ski Area, and warm temperatures made it feel more like September than the end of November. A large area of low pressure was sitting over the Gulf of Alaska spinning moisture laden storms on to the west coast, then northeastward over Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, leaving Colorado high and dry. Ski areas such as Mt. Baker, WA, Mammoth, CA, and Jackson Hole, WY were seeing excellent early season base-building snowfall while here in Colorado snowguns were going full-blast.
During the first week of December remnants of tropical cyclone Bopha crossed the Pacific ocean and dislodged the stationary low pressure system that was keeping us in a dry pattern. As this storm moved southeast toward the state it dropped several feet of snow across the western part of the country. This pattern change allowed storms to take a more southerly track across Northern Colorado. These late autumn storms gave many anxious skiers hope for the upcoming season.
Strong upper level winds combined with some high altitude moisture to make this bank of lenticular clouds last night. These clouds reflect the low angle of the setting sun to create an amazing sunset. I took this photo from near the Continental Divide after a late afternoon ski session.