Hopefully La Niña brings more knee-deep nirvana. Skier: Tom Barr. Location: “Inbetweens” at Steamboat Ski Area.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Steamboat Springs If you liked what you saw — and skied — last winter (i.e. a 433-inch ski season), wax your boards for more of the white stuff this year.
Forecasters are predicting a return, albeit milder, of La Niña, a weather phenomenon involving the periodic cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean, which usually bodes well for Steamboat.
“Experts are predicting a return of La Niña again,” says Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Diamond. “And that means another great ski season.”
Last year, Steamboat received 433 inches of snow during the regular season, including a 90-inch record November en route to a year that saw Buff Pass set a water content record for the entire state (in May, one snow stake read 772 percent of average, storing a whopping 72.6 inches of water). According to Jon Gottschalck, of the federal Climate Prediction Center, the break-out-your-snorkel pattern is expected to continue this year.
But don’t just take his word for it. Those heeding local superstitions also portend another three-wire winter. “There are all sorts of wives’ tales about snow predictions,” Ski Corp. spokesman Mike Lane says. “And it seems like most of those signs are pointing to a good year.”
Still a skeptic? The following indicators show we’re due for some shoveling:
Sure, there were more of these little buggers out than usual this year. But more important than their sighting is the number of black hairs at each end — the more the merrier for powder buffs. More orange means a milder winter. Some believe that each of the caterpillar’s 13 segments represents one week of winter. Orange segments predict mild weeks, and black ones predict snowy weeks. Also pay attention to the direction it’s traveling: If it’s heading north, it’ll be mild; south, break out the shovel. “All I know is that usually I don’t see too many of them, and this year I saw them all over the place,” Lane says.
Skunk cabbage height
According to Native Americans, the height of skunk cabbage leaves predicts the season’s snowfall. And while not Jack-and-the-Beanstalk high, this year’s crop in Routt County seemed to trend skyward. “It got pretty big this fall along Steamboat Boulevard,” Lane says. “I noticed it every day driving home.” Skunk cabbage is far more than a snowfall soothsayer. Native Americans ground its roots to treat wounds and draw out splinters; used its root hairs to soothe toothaches, colds and headaches; and mixed its powder with vegetable pigments to be used as prevention tattoos. It’s also well-adapted to Steamboat’s winters. It can live for 100 years and has winter shoots that morph into reddish-brown, slippery sheaths called spathes, which protect the blooms and whisk unsuspecting insects down to the pollen-filled bottom. It also has its own heating system, trapping heat generated by the flower spike and using it to melt the snow around it (its inside is as much as 36 degrees warmer than the outside air). The heat also attracts insects, which come for the warmth and pollinate in the process. As for its skunk-like smell? It protects the plant from grazing animals and fools such insects as carrion beetles into thinking they’ve found a carcass while they’re in fact distributing pollen.
Birds and the bees
Steamboat sages also look skyward. Rumor has it that an early blackbird migration signifies a strong winter (locals report seeing them heading south in September). The height of beehives also can predict snowfall. The lower the hive the less snow, and the higher the hive the more snow. “This year, they’re about saddle-horn high,” says Marsha Daughenbaugh, of the Community Agriculture Alliance. “That means the snowfall should be about medium, which is still pretty good.”
More wives’ tales
Even beavers have insight into Old Man Winter. Old-timers maintain that the height of a beaver dam indicates how cold the winter will be (they seem about average this year). The same holds true for cobwebs. Bigger than normal or more in your house means a bigger-than-normal winter. And don’t ignore the old persimmon seed. Cut a persimmon fruit in half: A knife-shaped seed spells cold, spoon-shaped means heavy snow and fork-shaped means mild. Other indicators of a big winter include pigs gathering sticks, insects marching in a straight line and more mice than usual inside your home.