One (or 400) for the records

Unofficial snowfall passes milestone, disrupts flights

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— The snow that fell on Mount Werner on Wednesday appeared to have pushed the Steamboat Ski Area past a threshold it had reached just four times in the past 26 years.

For the first time since the winter of 1996-97, the ski area's season-to-date snowfall surpassed 400 inches. By Wednesday afternoon, ski area officials reported that the total snow accumulation for the season is 401.5 inches at mid-mountain. Overnight winds could have blown that final 1 inches off the measuring stake.

The snow that fell Wednesday arrived with wind gusts, prompting ski area spokesman Mike Lane to raise the possibility that overnight winds could have revised snowfall history. The official snow measurement was to be taken at 5 a.m. this morning.

The only years in which the ski area has exceed 400 inches were during the winters of 1983-84 (447.5 inches), 1992-93 (415.5 inches), 1995-96 (441.25), and the record season of 1996-97 (447.75 inches).

The National Weather Service in Grand Junction forecast partly cloudy skies today, followed by a return to a snowy pattern through Sunday. Steamboat has 25 days remaining in the ski season to surpass the season snowfall record. The ski area closes April 9.

The wind and snow that plastered Mount Werner throughout the early afternoon Wednesday also played havoc with airline arrivals at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, 26 miles west of the ski area in Hayden. Airport officials anticipated 874 arriving passengers and 888 departing passengers Wednesday.

The daily Delta Airlines flight from Salt Lake City was canceled after it circled the airport and returned to Utah. It did not reattempt to fly the route Wednesday because Salt Lake was struggling with similar weather issues. The airline promised to return Thursday with a bigger 757 aircraft to move passengers in both directions.

Passengers from Dallas and Houston fared better after their flights were diverted to Denver. Yampa Valley Regional Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said that as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, skies had cleared and the aircraft refueled in Denver. The Dallas flight was on the ground in Hayden by 5:30 p.m.

The Northwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis was diverted to Grand Junction. That plane left and returned to the Twin Cities. Northwest was considering bussing or flying the passengers to Steamboat today. The daily nonstop on American Airlines from Chicago was delayed on the ground in Illinois by air traffic control, but it also made it to YVRA by late afternoon.

Ruppel said two scheduled flights on United/United Express operated Wednesday morning, but a mid-afternoon departure was delayed from YVRA after the wind damaged a door on the aircraft. Two later United flights were poised for takeoff and return to Denver.

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