The southwest flanks of Buffalo Pass glow in the late afternoon light Sunday. Despite recent snowfall, early season snowpack remains inconsistent in the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs.

Photo by Tom Ross

The southwest flanks of Buffalo Pass glow in the late afternoon light Sunday. Despite recent snowfall, early season snowpack remains inconsistent in the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs.

Snowpack spotty despite plentiful powder

Yampa Valley's spring runoff projections inconsistent

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— After 3 feet of snow fell on the Steamboat Ski Area during the 12 days of Christmas, holiday skiers enjoyed good conditions on Mount Werner.

But for people more concerned with spring runoff and filling reservoirs, the early season snowpack remains inconsistent in the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs.

For example, the water contained in the snow on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass is 103 percent of average. But just to the north, at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, the snow-water equivalent is just 69 percent of the average 20 inches for the date, according to the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"We're getting the snow, but it isn't like last year when we really got pounded for a while," NRCS District Conservationist Lori Jazwick said.

The snow data being gathered this early in the winter comes from remote sensing devices scattered all across the Colorado mountains, as well as in major drainages of most western states.

Snowpack is variable in North Routt County and the Flat Tops, just as it is in Steamboat.

Crosho Lake, at 9,100 feet in the edge of the Flat Tops, is at 120 percent of average snow water, while Trappers Lake is at 90 percent.

To the north, the Elk River measuring site at 8,700 feet on the edge of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness is at 124 percent, but the nearby Lost Dog site, at 9,300 feet elevation, stands at 84 percent of average.

The upper Colorado River Basin, which includes Buffalo Park on the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass, is at 144 percent of average moisture. That figure trails the upper Rio Grande Basin, where a measuring site above 10,000 feet near the tracks of the historic Cumbres Railroad stands at 192 percent of average.

Putting it all in perspective, Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Durango has been hammered with snowstorms this winter, and the snow water equivalent is at 141 percent of average. Yet, the 13.7 inches of moisture there is an exact match for Buffalo Pass at 69 percent of its average.

Jazwick said her staff in the Steamboat office won't go into the field to manually confirm the data from the remote sensing devices until late January.

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