Move crew foreman Ben Ratliff drags hoses up the slopes near the Christie III lift at Steamboat Ski Area. Crews are busy preparing to start making snow at the resort — hopefully later this week.

Photo by John F. Russell

Move crew foreman Ben Ratliff drags hoses up the slopes near the Christie III lift at Steamboat Ski Area. Crews are busy preparing to start making snow at the resort — hopefully later this week.

Snowmaking at Steamboat Ski Area could begin Friday morning

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— As the first substantial snow of the year fell on downtown Steamboat Springs on Wednesday, hopes heightened that a snowy ski season is well on its way.

It seems Mother Nature and Steamboat Ski Area are on the same page: Snowmaking operations on Mount Werner could begin in the early hours of Friday morning as temperatures plummet into the teens accompanying a low-pressure trough passing through Northwest Colorado.

“We had snowmaking orientation this week,” Steamboat Ski Area spokesperson Mike Lane said Wednesday. “Crews are ready and a lot of the guns and hoses are already stationed on the mountain. Depending on what weather conditions look like, we’ll see if we’re ready to fire up.”

The low-pressure system out of the Pacific Northwest prompted a winter weather advisory for Steamboat Springs from the National Weather Service, indicating the possibility of 4 to 8 inches of snow in the mountains around Steamboat Springs with accumulations in the valley ranging from 1 to 6 inches as the snow tapers off Thursday.

The trough "will kind of deepen and last through the end of Friday morning and produce snowfall, really favoring Steamboat (Ski Area) for Colorado,” said Joe Ramey, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “For snowmaking, one nice thing is that we have cold temperatures on the way. You have that cold air pouring in from the Northwest.”

He said lows Thursday night could sink to single digits at the higher elevations around Steamboat.

Lane said that when and where the snowmaking crews will fire up the guns depends on the localized conditions and temperatures, but the first priority is from the top of the Christie Peak Express down to the base area, followed by Heavenly Daze from the top of the gondola down.

Snowmakers look at a measurement called wet bulb, which incorporates humidity and temperature, Lane said. Snowmaking is usually possible once the temperature hits 24 degrees.

Throughout the next few weeks, Lane said, the snowmaking crews will be monitoring the temperatures down to the hour, with snowmaking crews ready 24/7 if the ideal conditions emerge.

“If we get temperatures at 2 in the morning, they’ll fire up,” Lane said.

Of course, temperatures and humidity aren’t the only factors that will help the mountain prepare for Opening Day on Nov. 21.

“Anything that Mother Nature gives us is an added bonus,” Lane said.

No Niño?

Ramey said the northwest flow rearing its head this week is not necessarily an indication of what’s to come this winter. In fact, there’s not much indication of anything at all.

Just a few weeks ago, forecasters were predicting an El Niño year, a weather pattern that typically favors a southwest flow for Colorado. However, forecasters now are calling for an ENSO-neutral year for the Pacific Oscillation, which Ramey calls a “No Niño” year.

“No Niño years are wild-card years for Northwest Colorado,” he said.

In the past 15 years, there have been four No Niño incidences: 1996-97, 2001-02, 2003-04 and 2008-09. The snowfall totals for those seasons were, respectively, 448 inches, 292 inches, 294 inches and 405 inches. Two of those numbers are well above Steamboat Ski Area’s average of 317 inches per year, while two are below.

Ultimately, there’s no way to tell what’s in store for Northwest Colorado this year.

“It’s just wishy-washy most years,” Ramey said about long-range snow forecasts. “This year, it’s wishy-washy squared.”

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com

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