Recent snowstorms help boost snowpack levels

Fish Creek Reservoir certain to fill this summer

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— The onslaught of snow in Steamboat Springs this week has made skiers and riders giddy and put smiles on the faces of water managers.

The Steamboat Ski Area recorded 51 inches of fresh snow at mid-mountain over four days beginning Saturday, and it was still snowing late Tuesday. The forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of more snow today and a chance for snow through the rest of the week.

"We talked among ourselves and our little group thought (Tuesday) morning's skiing was as good as anything in the last 50 or 51 inches or whatever it is," Vince Gigliotti at Ski Haus said. "We went left to right on the mountain from the Pony to Three O'Clock and it was a delight."

Bob Stoddard of Mount Werner Water said his calculations show Steamboat's municipal water supply is assured for this summer.

"We're doing very well," Stoddard said. "Fish Creek Reservoir is 73 percent full as of today. Last year at this time, it was 58 percent full."

Stoddard said the snow water stored in the drainages feeding Fish Creek Reservoir is already more than enough to fill the rest of the reservoir.

The amount of water stored in the snow on the Continental Divide near Steamboat has climbed to within 90 percent of normal in some cases. That figure represents a dramatic reversal in the trend.

As recently as Feb. 11, the snowpack at the "Tower" measuring site atop Buffalo Pass was just 78 percent of normal. Snowpack is a term that refers to the amount of water stored in the snow on the ground rather than the depth of the snow. Tuesday's snowpack at the Tower site measured 33 inches, or 90 percent of the average 36.5 inches. To put those numbers in perspective, Stoddard said the maximum snow water content at Tower last year reached 31 inches in late April. Theoretically, Steamboat still has at least two months to build snowpack.

The Rabbit Ears measuring site was at 96 percent of normal on Tuesday, and the Lost Dog site in North Routt had climbed out of the 70 percent range to 84 percent of normal.

What makes the improvement in snowpack all the more impressive is how quickly it has come about.

Steamboat Ski Area spokeswoman Cathy Wiedemer confirmed the ski area received an inch of snow at mid-mountain and 2.5 inches at the summit last Friday. However, the serious snow began when Steamboat counted a foot at the mid-mountain stake and 14 inches on Storm Peak. Sunday came through with another 12 inches at Thunderhead and 13 at the top.

Skiers on "Deep Monday" hit the jackpot with 17 inches of fluff at mid-mountain and 14 at the summit.

Tuesday's snow wasn't quite as light, but no one was complaining about another 10 inches at Thunderhead and 6 at the summit.

Steamboat's abundance of snow set it apart from other Colorado ski areas. The only other destination resorts showing double figures in the previous 48 hours were Winter Park with 10 inches and Crested Butte with 13. Other ski areas around the state were reporting 4 to 8 inches.

The snow that fell this week brought the aggregate snowpack for the Yampa and White river basins to 87 percent of normal compared to 75 percent on Feb. 11.

Stoddard said the positive status of Fish Creek Reservoir is due in part to curtailed releases into Fish Creek below the dam this winter and relatively warm winter temperatures that have increased streamflow at the reservoir's inlet.

Gigliotti had one eye on the weather report Tuesday afternoon and was looking for a break in the action so he could rest his weary muscles.

"This is the first time this winter I've skied three days in a row," he said. "It's a terrible thing to admit to, but I'm glad I can't go up tomorrow. I have to work all day."

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