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Steamboat Springs Volunteer snow groomer Dave Miller received a surprise when he arrived Friday morning at Bruce’s Trail on Rabbit Ears Pass. What he found was a fresh foot of snow on top of the about 7 inches he packed down early Thursday evening.
That 7 inches packed down to a base of 1 to 2 inches. Although it was snowing hard when Miller stopped grooming and left the pass at about 7 p.m. Thursday, the fresh snow came as an unexpected bonus.
“I’m grooming a foot of snow right now,” Miller said just before 10 a.m. Friday.
That means it’s game on for Nordic skiers on the popular early-season ski trail 14 miles east of Steamboat Springs on U.S. Highway 40.
Miller voluntarily does much of the grooming that often gives cross-country enthusiasts an early start on the ski season.
Bruce’s trail was built more than 15 years ago, with the supervision and permission of the Hahn’s Peak Ranger District of the Medicine Bow Routt National Forest. Often, it has provided good October skate skiing, and sometimes it has been skiable for a few days in September. The trail didn’t open until Nov. 18 in 2009, beat the Halloween deadline on Oct. 27, 2010, and opened Nov. 6, 2011.
The engineered trail is 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) long and wide enough for two to ski abreast or pass each other.
It is mechanically groomed under the auspices of a longstanding guiding permit held by the Steamboat Springs Ski Touring Center, and grooming ceases every season as soon as the touring center opens on Rollingstone Golf Course in Steamboat Springs.
Bruce’s Trail often offers the earliest groomed Nordic skiing in the state and attracts competitive skiers from across region, including college teams and Olympic athletes. But it’s very much a family atmosphere, with children sledding on the short access trail to the main loop. The skiing community requests that dogs be left at home.
To reach Bruce’s Trail, drive about 14 miles east of Steamboat Springs, beyond the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass on U.S. Highway 40, and watch for the parking lot to the left on a long, gentle downhill.
The parking lot is plowed by the Colorado Department of Transportation, but drivers should expect to sometimes encounter a significant amount of snow in the lot.
At Steamboat Ski Area, an additional 7 inches fell overnight Thursday for a total of 14 inches from the two-day storm. The fresh snow offered a boost to snowmaking efforts, which began for the season at 2:30 a.m. Friday.
“It’s always exciting when snow covers the mountain, especially this early in the season, and we crank up our snow guns for the first time,” said Doug Allen, vice president of mountain operations for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.
Ski area spokesman Mike Lane said crews would focus snowmaking efforts along Heavenly Daze and down toward the base and that they would continue to make snow as long as conditions permit.
The National Weather Service is forecasting a low of 16 degrees on the mountain Friday night before overnight lows warm into the 20s Saturday through Monday and into the 30s Tuesday night, which is likely to put the kabosh on snowmaking operations until nighttime temperatures head in the opposite direction.
Lane previously said snowmaking typically is possible once the temperature hits 24 degrees (humidity also is a factor).
In town, things are expected to warm up, with highs forecast in the 40s throughout the weekend and in the mid- to upper 50s early next week. Lows are forecast in the mid- to upper 20s through Tuesday.
At the ski area, lifts are expected to start turning Nov. 21 for Scholarship Day, which benefits the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Scholarship Fund. Season passes are valid beginning the next day on Thanksgiving.
Other snow totals
Weather observer Art Judson found 2.8 inches of new snow Friday morning at a weather station between downtown and Steamboat Ski Area.
Snow measuring sites monitored by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service show snow depths of 11 inches at the Columbine site and 8 inches in Buffalo Park, both at lower elevations than Bruce's Trail on the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass. There also is 8 inches of accumulated snow at Dry Lake near the parking area at the foot of Buffalo Pass.
Nicole Miller contributed to this story.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com