A couple of good storms needed

Avalanche danger moderate except for some areas

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— The 2 inches of snow that fell in Steamboat Springs Thursday morning represented a welcomed freshening up for a ski town that has seen just 16 inches of snow in the past 18 days.

January hasn't quite lived up to historic norms in terms of the powder quotient, even though season snowfall to date at mid-mountain on Mount Werner totals an ample 173 inches.

This month is Steamboat's snowiest on average. With eight days remaining in the month, Steamboat has unofficially totaled 32 inches for January. That compares to a 23-year average of 83 inches during the month. Local skiers are particularly spoiled because the ski area has averaged 98 inches in January over the past decade.

The month got off to a great start with 14 inches on New Year's Day and 4 inches on top of that the next morning. Since then, Steamboat has experienced a handful of 4-inch snowstorms that have kept conditions fresh but haven't offered any epic powder days.

The January that will live forever in the minds of powderhounds arrived in 1996, when the ski area measured an unprecedented 216.5 inches of snow.

The lagging snowfall totals also show up in the snowpack measurements, which are updated daily by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Snowpack is actually a measurement of the water contained in the snow on the ground rather than a measure of how much snow has fallen during the season. The Park Range, which includes Mount Werner, has some of the highest readings in the combined Yampa and White river basins.

Snowpack measurements are ahead of last year at this date but still lag behind the historic average. The Tower measuring site on Buffalo Pass stands at 78 percent of average; a measuring site on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass is a healthy 94 percent of average. On an incomplete list of 18 measuring sites maintained online by the NRCS, just one in Northwest Colorado is above average. Crosho Lake in South Routt stands at 104 percent of average.

Avalanche danger in the northern mountains of Colorado is being reported as predominantly moderate this week, with pockets of high danger on slopes that face the north, east and southeast, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

"There has been some natural activity, confined to north through south/southeast aspects, all starting at or above 11,400 feet," avalanche forecaster Scott Toepfer said. "But there was no new activity reported (as of) Tuesday."

Toepfer cautioned backcountry travelers to proceed one at a time across suspect areas and to be careful about stopping on or traversing across benches or runout areas. People in the backcountry would also be wise to look for easy escape routes in advance of starting across suspect exposures.

People in the Ten Mile Range near Breckenridge have reported seeing shooting cracks in the surface slab of snow. Snowmobilers, skiers and people on snowshoes should "listen and watch for hard slab pockets and the resulting hard, hollow drum-like sounds that resonate underfoot," Toepfer urged.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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