A gondola car rises above the clouds that blanketed the valley floor Tuesday morning in the Yampa Valley. Later in the afternoon, the clouds gave way and blue skies dominated the view not only from the slopes of Steamboat Ski Area but also across Steamboat Springs.

Photo by John F. Russell

A gondola car rises above the clouds that blanketed the valley floor Tuesday morning in the Yampa Valley. Later in the afternoon, the clouds gave way and blue skies dominated the view not only from the slopes of Steamboat Ski Area but also across Steamboat Springs.

Snow begins to fall in Steamboat

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More terrain opens Wednesday

The ski area will have more available terrain for skiers and riders Wednesday with the opening of the Sunshine Express chairlift. The trails opening Wednesday include Tomahawk, Quick Draw, Rendezvous Way, Broadway, Cub, Pup, Buckshot, Ramrod, Fawn and a portion of Spike. That will bring Steamboat up to 90 trails and almost 1,350 acres of skiable terrain.

— The mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs could get as much as 12 inches of snow by Thursday. But the change in the weather pattern that could bring an enduring snow cycle to Northwest Colorado is expected to begin to take shape in another week.

“It looks like the pattern is trying to shift in the longwave we look at,” National Weather Service senior forecaster Jeff Colton said Tuesday. “It will probably be later next week, Dec. 28 to 29, when the current pattern begins to break down” and the split flow that has sent the storm track to the north and south of Steamboat begins to converge.

Colton’s office is forecasting an 80 percent chance of snow Wednesday, increasing to 90 percent overnight and remaining strong at 70 percent Thursday. A winter weather advisory was put in effect Tuesday afternoon for much of Northwest Colorado, including Hayden and Steamboat. The advisory is for noon Wednesday to noon Thursday.

The forecast for Steamboat proper calls for 4 to 8 inches of snow by Thursday. A forecast pinpointing higher-elevation Mount Werner and the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area calls for 1 to 3 inches of snow during the day Wednesday followed by 3 to 7 inches overnight and another 1 to 2 inches Thursday. It should be cold, dry snow if it arrives.

The forecasted low temperature overnight is 9 degrees Fahrenheit, and the high Thursday will be just 20 degrees. Winds between 10 and 15 mph could yield wind chills below zero.

More moderate temperatures will arrive in time for Christmas Eve with high temperatures near 32 degrees under sunny skies Saturday.

Colton said the National Weather Service still sees a more typical La Niña weather pattern delivering the storm track to Northwest Colorado in the new year.

“Our Climate Prediction Center still sees a chance of above-average precipitation,” he said.

There is past precedent for Steamboat Ski Area experiencing only moderate snowfall in December followed by heavy snow in January. The winter of 1995-96 was a case in point. Ski area records show that December 1995 yielded 33.75 inches of snow at mid-mountain, about half the average for the month. But January 1996 more than made up for it with a record 216.5 inches.

Ski area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten wrote in an email Tuesday that December snow to date is 17 inches. More generous October and November snow totals brought the season total to 63.5 inches.

During the winter of 2009-10, Steamboat recorded 23 inches of snow at mid-mountain as of Dec. 20.

One of the biggest snowfall totals among recent Decembers was the 126 inches that fell in 2007.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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