Tom Ross: Enjoy the balmy weather while you can |

Tom Ross: Enjoy the balmy weather while you can

A modest band of man-made snow has been stockpiled at the top of the Vogue Trail at Steamboat Ski Area in anticipation of opening day, just 15 days away.

We drove to the base of the Thunderhead Express on Sunday morning determined to hike up the mountain through the fresh powder.

I would estimate the depth of the newly fallen snow at one-quarter of an inch — wahoo! Rip it up. Just two weeks until opening day!

The good news is that I saw a Ski Corp. Bombardier operating on Heavenly Daze. The-not-so dazzling news is that the snow cat was ferrying a work crew back to the snowmaking shop and the only thing it was packing was 14 inches of dried grass.

If there's anything we have learned from the past two winters, it's that we can embrace balmy Novembers secure in the knowledge that it's gonna dump no matter what the temperature is Nov. 9. And when it comes, the transformation of the mountain will be very sudden.

Allow me to refresh your memory.

On Nov. 20, 2007, the official weather observer for Steamboat Springs recorded a high temperature of 65 degrees. As of that date, the mountain had received a trace of snow and 0.17 inches of rain. Things didn't improve in November and the ski area postponed its opening by 10 days.

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How did that winter turn out?

Mount Werner recorded back-to-back-to-back 100-inch snowfall months on its way to a record of 489 inches for the 2007-08 season. Despite the slow start, December 2007 produced 126 inches of snow.

There was more reason for optimism early last season. On Nov 14, 2008, the ski area was reporting a 14-inch base at mid-mountain. Still, the ski area didn't open the gondola until Dec. 5.

The casual start to the season didn't matter in the end. Beginning Nov. 26, the first 67 days of the ski season saw measurable snowfall on 44 days.

By the end of January 2009, the ski area had seen a total of 244 inches (more than 20 feet) for the season. During the last week in January, 46 inches of fluff fell at mid-mountain, and 56 inches were recorded at the summit.

Both of those stellar powder winters emerged after a balmy November when people golfed, biked and fished right up until Turkey Day. You just might be a local if you find yourself reassuring new arrivals that there's no need to worry.

If you think mountain biking to the quarry in November is a fine thing, there are steps you can take to delay the arrival of winter.

Hustle around the house making last-minute preparations for the inevitable, and winter will stay away for another week. So, go ahead, you can change the oil in the snowblower, take the garden hoses into the garage, wash the windows one last time and stuff the patio furniture under the deck. Winter will ignore you.

On the other hand, you can neglect those chores and you'll be digging for your leaf rake, the grass catcher for the lawn mower and a beach towel under 2 feet of wet snow.

We hiked up the Valley View Trail on Sunday hoping to make it high up Heavenly Daze, but as the path switch-backed across Vertigo and Ted's Ridge in the shade, it turned as icy as an Olympic luge run.

We reversed course and emerged from the forest on lower Heavenly Daze. As we descended Boulevard, I noticed that the removal of dead lodgepole pines above the Thunderhead Express appears to have created some new beginner ski terrain.

Leaning on my hiking poles, I hopped back and forth down the mild slope, mimicking parallel turns through the bumps.

Relax. It won't be long now.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail

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