Aspen ski slopes received 63 to 76 percent of normal snowfall in February |

Aspen ski slopes received 63 to 76 percent of normal snowfall in February

Diners and drinkers relax on the deck of Ajax Tavern at the base of Aspen Mountain on Tuesday. Aspen has basked in mostly warm and dry weather since Feb. 3. That is forecast to change next week.
Jeremy Wallace / The Aspen Times |

Aspen-area ski slopes ended up with only 63 to 76 percent of average snowfall in February after the faucet was abruptly turned off after a promising start to the month.

But weather experts said Tuesday skiers and snowboarders shouldn’t worry — winter will return next week and possibly stick around for a long, long time.

“Things get better next week,” said Ryan Boudreau, a partner in Aspen Weather, a micro-forecasting subscription service. “It’s (going to be) pretty active next week through May, really.”

Boudreau said his partner, Cory Gates, is envisioning a May that could mimic the month in other “super El Nino years.” The winter of 1982-83 was another strong El Nino, like this year, with a record 41 inches of snow in Aspen in May — the most ever for the month. Even higher amounts fell on the slopes.

“It’s going to open up the door for El Niño to get going again.”

Jeff Colton

February started off gangbusters. The Aspen Water Plant’s weather trackers recorded that 20.5 inches fell Feb. 1 through 3, and then warm and mostly dry weather took over. Only 5.5 inches of snow fell the rest of the month. Nevertheless, February squeaked by the average of the month of 26.12 inches of snow.

The dry conditions hit the ski slopes even harder. Snowmass saw 33 inches of snow for the month, according to Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle. That was 63 percent of average. Of the total, 22 inches of snow fell Feb. 1 and 2.

Aspen Mountain recorded 38 inches of snowfall in February, with 26 inches falling in the first two days. The total was 76 percent of average, according to Skico records.

The Aspen-area snowpack paid the price for warm, dry weather. The snowpack at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen soared to 117 percent of average on Feb. 3, according to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. It dropped to 99 percent of average late last week.

For the heart of the winter, it’s been slightly dry and warmer than average, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. For December, January and February — which the weather service refers to as meteorological winter — the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport picked up 3.06 inches of liquid precipitation, including the water equivalent in the snowfall. That was about one-quarter inch below average for the three months, said Jeff Colton, a meteorologist with the weather service. The average temperature was 1.7 degrees above average for that three-month period, according to the agency.

Like Aspen Weather, the National Weather Service is also forecasting a change next week. The Grand Junction office posted on its website to expect a “significant change to the weather pattern over the western U.S. by early next week.”

Colton said a ridge of high pressure that has deflected most storms to the north of Colorado over the past few weeks is breaking down.

“It’s going to open up the door for El Nino to get going again,” Colton said. The weather service foresees a wetter-than-normal last half of March and April, he said.

And as Boudreau said, that will bring relief to skiers and snowboarders yearning for powder and softer slopes.

“We’re getting to where we need it,” he said. “It’s not like last year. Last year was horrific.”

He said Gates is forecasting another 125 to 130 inches of snowfall on the slopes of Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain by the third week of April. The season is likely to end right above average for snowfall, he said.

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