A fresh layer of snow covers the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area on Tuesday morning after a winter storm moved through the area. Ski area officials plan to open additional terrain this weekend as more storms continue to pound Mount Werner with snow.

Photo by John F. Russell

A fresh layer of snow covers the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area on Tuesday morning after a winter storm moved through the area. Ski area officials plan to open additional terrain this weekend as more storms continue to pound Mount Werner with snow.

Snow by the feet expected by the weekend

Avalanche danger 'considerable' in Steamboat, Flat Tops

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A fresh layer of snow covers the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area on Tuesday morning after a winter storm moved through the area.

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New snow covers the branches of trees in the Steamboat Springs area Tuesday morning. A winter storm moved through the area, leaving several inches of new snow.

A new storm system could bring between 4 and 8 inches of powder to the slopes of Mount Werner tonight and Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service. The snow could add to the instability of an already fragile snowpack that has seen the avalanche danger increase in the past week.

Steamboat Springs appears poised to continue to benefit from a storm cycle that is pushing moisture and cold air into the Yampa Valley.

A more significant storm system could hit the area Friday and Saturday, bringing anywhere from 6 to 16 inches of snow, meteorologist Jeff Colton, of the National Weather Service's Grand Junction Forecast Office, said.

Further out on the horizon, another potential snowstorm could hit Colorado on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with accumulation expected across the Western Slope, Colton said.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. announced plans last week to open the Morningside chairlift and additional terrain Saturday, dependent on weather conditions. The ski area already has opened 109 trails and nine lifts: Preview, Christie Peak Express, Burgess Creek, Elkhead, Storm Peak Express, Sundown Express, Sunshine Express, South Peak, Thunderhead Express and the gondola.

The Steamboat Ski Area reported a 37-inch base at mid-mountain Tuesday, and 87 inches of snowfall so far this season.

Avalanche danger

Recent snow has resulted in significant avalanche danger across the state, Colorado Avalanche Information Center Director Ethan Greene said.

"We're getting a series of very big storms right now," Greene said. "It's basically putting a lot of weight on a very weak structure."

On Monday, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center announced that avalanche danger is "considerable" or worse in all areas of Colorado, meaning "human-triggered avalanches are probable, and spontaneous avalanches are possible," according to a news release.

Avalanche danger in the greater Steamboat Springs/Flat Tops region was rated "considerable" by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center on Tuesday for areas near and above treeline.

Avalanche danger was rated "high" for areas including the Front Range, Vail and Summit County, Aspen, the Sawatch Range, Gunnison, Grand Mesa and the northern and southern San Juans. Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended when the danger is rated as "high" or "extreme," according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center's Web site.

Former Aspen ski patroller Cory Brettman, 52, was found dead Sunday night after being caught in an avalanche while skiing in the Power Line area outside Aspen Mountain ski area. That same day, a skier was caught in an in-bounds avalanche on the Lover's Leap trail at Vail, but he escaped unharmed.

The current avalanche danger, which Greene characterized as higher than normal for this time of year, is the result of a bad base layer under the snowpack where earlier snowfall either melted off or formed an icy crust.

Most avalanches occur during or directly after a storm, but avalanche danger is persisting longer because continual snowfall exacerbates the problem by adding more weight to the snowpack's weak foundation, Greene said.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center recommends backcountry recreationists travel in pairs for safety, be on the lookout for signs of snowpack instability such as cracking or collapsing, and carry avalanche safety equipment including a shovel, probe pole and rescue beacon.

- To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203

or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com

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