Summit County was treated to a fresh helping of powder over the weekend and into Monday morning as an early winter storm dropped four to ten inches of fresh snow on local ski resorts. Saturday and Sunday nights’ snow came from the first in a series of two storms passing through Summit, and forecasters predicted another wave of precipitation after a brief lull on Monday.
“There is an active cold weather pattern across the Western US, and these two distinct storms are coming in back-to-back,” said Joel Gratz, a meteorologist with forecasting website opensnow.com. “After this storm we currently have, the next systems are still ill-defined. I think we won’t see much snow Wednesday through Saturday, but there are possible storms this weekend.”
Forecasters at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center agreed, saying that while a storm was filling in on Monday afternoon, Tuesday would bring colder, drier air and clear skies would persist throughout the rest of the week.
Early on Monday morning, the National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory that included most of Summit County and remained in effect until 5 a.m. Tuesday morning. The advisory predicted snow accumulations of three to six inches across the High Country, winds gusting up to 45 miles per hour and visibility as low as quarter mile in some areas.
SLOWLY BUT SURELY
The storm was a welcome respite for ski resorts after a slow start to the winter that forced some resorts, including Breckenridge and Copper Mountain, to push back their opening days one week. On Monday morning, Breckenridge reported nine inches of fresh snow, while Copper Mountain and Keystone both reported six and Arapahoe Basin four. All of those ski areas are currently reporting mid-mountain base depths of 18 inches.
Still, the unusually warm and dry November has mountains across Summit County playing catch-up. So far, snowpack at Summit County ski areas is between 38 and 41 percent below average compared to previous years, according to an analysis by Open Snow.
This is a weak La Niña year, which can be associated with greater precipitation in the northwest U.S. and parts of Colorado that include Summit County, although forecasters caution that a La Niña doesn’t necessarily mean more snow in a given year.
“There is a rough correlation with La Niña, but all things are not equal and no predictions can really be made from it,” said Gratz.
The fresh snow has inched the resorts closer to opening more terrain, as operators hope to get more of their base areas ready for skiing in time for the holiday season.
“We’re definitely getting there,” said Copper Mountain communications manager Steph Sweeney. “We strive to get the solid base we need to make sure our terrain is safe and ready for our guests, and we will continue to work on opening more terrain into December.”
A TAMER STORM ON THE ROADS
Snowplows were out in force across the county as periodic flurries continued throughout the day on Monday. An accident near Georgetown prompted a brief closure of eastbound Interstate 70 on Saturday afternoon, and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) invoked a safety closure at the Eisenhower Tunnel Sunday afternoon, citing heavy traffic and increasing snowfall. Loveland Pass was closed Sunday evening due to avalanche danger and was re-opened Monday morning.
But the High Country was largely spared the mayhem that accompanied the season’s first snowstorm on Nov. 18, when traffic was snarled by accidents including a 20-car pile up on Interstate 70 near Evergreen.
“It was kind of what we expected for this time of year,” said CDOT spokesperson Tracy Trulove. “We have people up there watching very closely and deciding when to invoke the traction law, and we just hope people take us seriously when we do that.”
Trooper Colin Remillard of the Colorado State Patrol said that there were no major snow-related accidents in Summit County beyond typical small property damage and light collisions.