Steamboat Springs Annamarie Shunny and her skiing companion scarcely could believe the quality of the snow they skied on Thursday.
"We had to pinch ourselves," Shunny said. "We reminded ourselves that it was November and we were powder skiing."
Shunny and her friend put the chains on their four-wheel-drive vehicle and drove up Buffalo Pass Road beyond Dry Lake almost to Forest Road 306. From there, they parked the vehicle and set out on skis with climbing skins attached.
Although the past week has produced drizzle and snow that has not stuck to the ground in the valley, people venturing above 9,000 feet are encountering winter-like conditions. The November snow is in contrast to November 2007, when the Yampa Valley and surrounding mountains remained mild and dry right up to an early Thanksgiving.
Longtime Steamboat Springs weather observer Art Judson noted a high temperature of 65 degrees at his weather station between downtown and the mountain Nov. 20, 2007. As of that date, he had recorded a trace of snow and 0.17 inches of rain for the entire month.
On Thursday, Judson reported that U.S. Forest Service personnel had observed his unofficial snow stake on Buffalo Pass and recorded an accumulated snow depth of 23 inches.
With its opening 12 days away, Nov. 26, the Steamboat Ski Area was reporting a 14-inch base on 27 inches of seasonal snowfall as of Friday morning. The trend suggests the ski area won't have to postpone its opening as it did last year.
Of course, Steamboat powderhounds know what happened last winter, when the ski area recorded a record 489 inches of snow.
Nordic skiers have been kicking and gliding for a week on the groomed trails maintained by the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council at Bruce's Trail on Rabbit Ears Pass. The trails are maintained for early-season skiing only in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service and Birgitta Lindgren, of the Steamboat Ski Touring Center.
The skies were clearing Friday afternoon, and the National Weather Service in Grand Junction was predicting an overnight low of 10 degrees, ideal conditions for snowmaking at the slopes of Howelsen Hill and Mount Werner.
Shunny said it actually was a good thing that this week's snow was wet and a little heavy.
"We went about a half-mile beyond the power lines," Shunny said. "We saw some snowmobile tracks, but I think we were the only skiers up there."
After crossing a creek bed that couldn't be negotiated by the snow machines, they didn't encounter any more tracks.
"If it had been dry snow, we would have dropped right down to the rocks, but the snow had some density and was thick enough that we could ski it," Shunny said.
Her only regret was leaving her camera behind, she said. The sun broke through the clouds on the way back down the road, producing a brilliant sunset.
- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org