Let it snow

No fresh powder since Jan. 8

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Statistically, January is Steamboat's heaviest snow month. But that hasn't been the case during two of the past three years, and January 2004 is conforming to the drying trend.

Through Friday, the Steamboat Ski Area had counted 26 inches of snow at mid-mountain this month. Grooming crews have been chopping up the packed snow to make it easier to carve, but skiers and snowboarders are searching for every good luck charm available to ensure this weekend's forecast of snow comes true.

"It's not been that bad," snowboarder Ian Wilson said. "There are definitely some hard spots, and there are a couple of icy spots on Heavenly Daze. But there's definitely good snow to be found; you've just got to know where to look."

In a typical January, Steamboat sees just more than 80 inches of snow at mid-mountain. With seven days remaining in the month, reaching that average snowfall is unlikely.

The ski area hasn't recorded a measurable snowfall since Jan. 8, when 3 inches of snow fell at mid-mountain. That came after the new year got off to a promising start. Steamboat received 4 inches Jan. 2, followed by 6 inches Jan. 3, an even foot Jan. 4 and 1 inch of snow Jan. 5. After those 26 inches early in the month, a strong high-pressure system has dominated Rocky Mountain weather, and little more than a few flurries have fallen.

But at least there hasn't been a January thaw.

"The cold temperatures have really helped preserve the snow we've had," ski area spokeswoman Cathy Wiedemer said.

The skimpiest January snowfall in the past quarter century came in 1981 when Steamboat received just 17 inches. That number skewed the average, as did January 1996, when an unheard-of 216.5 inches fell in a single month.

Steamboat skiers and riders became accustomed to abundant January powder days with 119.75 inches of snow in 1997, 108 inches in 1999 and 119 inches in 2000.

January weather shifted into reverse in 2001 with just 47 inches of snow in January that year. Snowfall was near normal with 71.5 inches in 2002 but slipped back to 43.5 inches last January.

Average snowfall in February and March are 65.9 inches and 53 inches, respectively.

This month's 15-day dry spell also dropped the moisture stored in the accumulated mountain snow surrounding Steamboat to below average.

The water stored in the combined Yampa and White river drainages represents 92 percent of the historic average. The tower snowpack measurement site at the top of Buffalo Pass is at 84 percent of normal. However, Dry Lake, at the bottom of Buffalo Pass, is at 98 percent of normal.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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