History teaches that the snow will come

Officials watch storms and nightly lows

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With opening day two weeks away, the Steamboat Ski Area was reporting 2 inches of fresh snow overnight and a mid-mountain base of 8 inches Wednesday. Steamboat needs one of two things to happen to meet its opening date Nov. 24 -- either overnight low temperatures in the teens and low daytime temperatures for optimal snowmaking, or a couple of feet of fresh snow. However, weather can and does change abruptly in the Yampa Valley this time of year.

"Things can change in five days," Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen said. Allen said his snowmaking crews made good progress during a five-day cold snap during the first week in November, but now they've been off-line for six days because of mild temperatures.

"We made great progress on upper Buddy's Run, and we made great, great progress on Upper Vagabond, Betwixt and down to Eagles Nest. We had a great week, and then the weather warmed up," Allen said.

Ski area spokesman Mike Lane said a cold front that was expected to bring more snow overnight Tuesday slid down the Front Range and missed the Yampa Valley. He was watching another storm front approaching from the Northwest. The National Weather Service in Grand Junction is predicting that Steamboat's next chance for snow will arrive Friday night when overnight temperatures will reach the low twenties.

Last year, the ski area opened as planned Nov. 24, marking the fourth year in a row that Steamboat was able to open with top-to-bottom skiing and more than 1,000 acres of terrain. In 2002, Steamboat moved its opening day up by five days to Nov. 22 after receiving three feet of snow in the preceding two weeks.

Only once in the past 23 years has Steamboat been forced by weather conditions to delay its opening date. That was in 2001, when Thanksgiving was unusually early, and the traditional Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving opening day fell on Nov. 19. Ski area officials announced the postponement the Friday before opening day, when the thermometer was hovering at about 65 degrees. Ironically, when the ski area opened on Nov. 30 that year, it had received 5 feet of fresh snow -- enough to allow skiers and riders into the vaunted tree runs of Priest Creek.

Three Colorado ski areas are open, and all were touting powder snow skiing Wednesday. Arapahoe Basin and Loveland each received 5 inches of snow, and Copper Mountain picked up 9 inches. Copper, with its base area at 9,700 feet, has a 26-inch mid-mountain base. It is operating three lifts, serving 8 percent of its total terrain.

Vail and Beaver Creek, although not yet open, reported 7 and 9 inches of new snow, respectively.

Allen is hoping for a return to frigid temperatures.

"We got a lot of snow down, but we've still got a lot to do," he said. "We're still optimistic we'll have top-to-bottom skiing on opening day."

In the meantime, Allen asks that skiers and riders closely adhere to Murphy's Law.

"My advice is that people go wash their cars and don't put the lawn furniture away," he said.

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