White stuff `snow’ help to drought – not yet | PostIndependent.com

White stuff `snow’ help to drought – not yet

Recent snowfall in the region is certainly a boon for ski resorts, but one local water expert said it’s much too early to guess at next year’s potential for drought.

One month into the 2003 water season – which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 – shows Colorado River Basin rain and snow at 140 percent of average for this time of year. The San Juan and Rio Grande basins are also above average, at 114 and 123 percent, respectively.

“It’s basically caught us up to about average,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Statewide, Colorado’s snowpack is 117 percent of average.

But Colorado River Water Conservation District engineer Dave Merritt said it will be a while before he sees enough snow to forget the past year’s record drought.

“I don’t even want to consider looking at the snow yet,” he said. “Early snow is nice, but to get all charged up for it … it doesn’t do anything for me yet.”

Although much of the new snow might not last long once temperatures warm up, Merritt said the snow will raise soil moisture levels.

“What really helps with early-season snow is soil moisture builds up, then it freezes,” Merritt said. “We have to get things soaked in.”

The first really meaningful snowpack report comes in early February, he said.

“What’s important right now is how much snow is on Aspen Mountain, how much snow is on Sunlight and how much is on Vail,” he said. “As far as river runoff, we won’t know for a while.”

So how much snow is there in Aspen, Sunlight and Vail?

According to Sunlight Mountain Resort manager Tom Jankovsky, Sunlight and nearby mountains received around eight inches of the wet, white stuff overnight on Oct. 31. In all, the mountaintop now has an 18-inch base.

“We’ve got crews up here trying to get ready,” Jankovsky said. “We actually had people shoveling snow – which is great!”

New additions to the mountain include a “jib” park for snowboarders and a new extreme trail called “Perry’s Plunge” on the extreme east side of the ski area. A jib park, he explained, has metal and wood rails for tricks.

The preseason snowfall comes a week before the resort’s annual job fair. Human resources director Nancy Rasmussen said job openings include lift operators, food and beverage workers, rental and retail personnel and ski instructors. The planned opening date for Sunlight is Wednesday, Nov. 27.

The Aspen Skiing Co. reported three inches of new snow Thursday night on Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Mountain and five inches of snow on Snowmass. Aspen Mountain and Snowmass will open Nov. 28, followed by Buttermilk and Highlands on Dec. 14.

Vail Mountain received a foot of snow Thursday night. Vail’s opening day is set for Friday, Nov. 22.

As for the rest of the season, Gillespie said the long-range forecast calls for a moderate El Nino pattern to take hold this winter.

“There’s potential we might benefit with additional moisture this year, but that mainly benefits the southern part of the state,” he said.

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