Looking for late snowstorm

Ski area needs miracle from Mother Nature to break record

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— The 10 inches of snow that fell on Thunderhead overnight Thursday wasn't enough to topple the single-season snowfall record at the Steamboat Ski Area.

The record of 447.75 inches theoretically is still in play as skiers and snowboarders prepare for the final weekend of a memorable season. The ski area closes Sunday.

However, forecasts for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60s through the weekend make a final assault on the record books unlikely. As of Friday afternoon, the ski area was 18 inches shy of breaking the record set in 1996-97.

Record or not, skiers and riders will be talking about the seemingly endless powder days of the winter of 2005-06 for many seasons to come.

Ski patrolman Jeff Hirsch--boeck has been on the mountain for 37 years, and he said the consistent quality of the snow this winter was what made it noteworthy.

"To me, what made it stand out was that it was soft, cold, winter snow, and that feels so good on old knees," Hirschboeck said. "There were so many snowy days where it stayed cool and stayed soft. We had days where 4 inches fell on top of snow the previous day followed by 3 inches the next day and 7 inches the next. That's what people come to Colorado for."






Season snowfall totals greater than 400 inches in the past 27 years:1. 1996-97 -- 447.75 inches2. 1983-84 -- 447.5 inches3. 1995-96 --41.25 inches4. 2005-06 --31 inches5. 1992-93 --15.5 inches

The ski area's season-to-date snowfall stood at 431 inches at mid-mountain as of Friday morning. That total is good enough for fourth place on Steamboat's all-time list. Based on weekend forecasts, it seems unlikely the ski area will pile up the additional 10.5 inches needed to move past the winter of 1995-96 and into third place on the hit parade.

This season moved into fourth place Sunday, when 4 inches of snow bumped it past the total of 415.5 inches that fell during the season of 1992-93.

The convention observed among Colorado ski areas is to take official snow measurements at mid-mountain. Typically, however, annual snowfall is greater at the summit.

Jeremy Johnston works at One Stop Ski Shop, where the boss schedules his employees on half-day shifts so they have the option of skiing or riding every day.

"There were so many powder days," Johnston said. "It seemed like the first 80 days of the season it was face shots every day."

Primarily a snowboarder --ut sometimes a skier -- Johnston recorded almost 100 days on the mountain this winter.

Ski area spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen said December -- with 105 inches of snowfall at mid-mountain -- was the snowiest month of the winter. It was bracketed by 83 inches in November and 95 inches in January.

Johnston said it was a morning in November that he will remember best.

"It was the Monday after opening day," Johnston recalled. "I was at the top of Dropout when they dropped the rope. It was over my head the whole way down -- just straight-lining down Dropout Bowl."

Hirschboeck said that in spite of some periods of warm spring sunshine during the past month, the skiing has stayed good because of several abrupt returns to winter weather patterns.

"That, for me, is what made this an excellent season right to the end," he said.

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