Tom Heilner revels in the rare April powder that blanketed Buffalo Pass late last week. The nearly mid-winter snow conditions held up until early Saturday afternoon.

Photo by Tom Ross

Tom Heilner revels in the rare April powder that blanketed Buffalo Pass late last week. The nearly mid-winter snow conditions held up until early Saturday afternoon.

Tom Ross: April skiing sublime 'In the Buff'


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

Find more columns by Tom here.

— If anyone tries to tell you that ski season is over and it's time to move on, ask them if they've ever skied "In the Buff" in April. And don't blame me if you get slapped in the face.

I would not have believed it had I not experienced it. And right now I'm looking at the picture accompanying this column and questioning whether I really snapped it April 12.

That's Routt County Accounting Manager Tom Heilner tearing up the north-facing pitch on Buffalo Pass known to skiers and snowboarders as "In the Buff." You tell me, does that look like at least 20 inches of cold winter snow boiling up around his waist? In mid-April?

I've received many reports of people who stretched the ski season Saturday. Brian Tate reported a significant number of Nordic skiers skating on the crust on Rabbit Ears Pass during the weekend. There's no reason we can't ski cross-country for another month.

And Ray Wright, who snowshoed up to the Thunderhead summit on Mount Werner with his dogs Sunday, said there were dozens of skiers and snowboarders earning their turns the old-fashioned way.

I even saw people skating on the crust in Whistler Park on Sunday morning.

The Steamboat Ski Area finished the season April 6 with an official record of 489 inches of season snowfall at mid-mountain. Can there be any doubt that had we been open another week we would have blown past 500 inches?

I checked in with ski area spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen on April 11, but she said no one has been keeping track of daily snowfall since the mountain closed. It feels like a little piece of lost history to me, even if the snow that fell in the last week can't be counted in the official tally.

Five hundred inches! It's such a big, round number.

Snowfall statistics gathered remotely by the Natural Resources Conservation Service show the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass received 22 inches of snow between April 10 and 13.

Just to the north of the ski area, at the summit of Buffalo Pass, 4 inches of snow was recorded April 8 and another 11 inches April 10. My own personal snow survey indicates much more than that fell on In the Buff.

My favorite runs Sunday were two trips down a part of the slope that dropped over a crest and immediately forced me to absorb a set of three giant rollers, each about 6 feet high.

They took us by surprise on our first attempt, and I almost lost my balance. On the second trip, we were ready for the humps that may have been formed when wind drifts built up over fallen logs. Throughout the winter, they solidified and grew until they resembled permanent waves in the ocean.

We cranked check turns at the top of each roller, and they were transformed into our own backcountry terrain park.

It doesn't get any better than this in April.


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