Steamboat Ski Area combats the crust | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Ski Area combats the crust

— A Steamboat Ski Area official said there are two things that have happened since "the dreaded event" that occurred the night before the ski area opened Nov. 26.

The event referred to by Doug Allen, the ski area’s vice president of mountain operations, was the overnight freezing rain that left a nasty crust on the surface of bountiful amounts of untouched Champagne powder.

"I've never seen anything like that here," said Allen, who is working his 29th season in Steamboat.

Allen said that when the rain came in, it added a lot of moisture to the snow. That was the good news because the moisture aided grooming on the trails that the ski area grooms, and the snow holds up well to skier traffic.

Then there was the bad news.

"The crust on the areas where we can't groom has been an issue," Allen said.

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To combat the crust, ski area employees were recruited to help break up the crust on trails by stepping down the sides of the trails in their skis.

"It really helped," Allen said. "In some cases, we're actually able to open up terrain."

On trails like Nelson's Run, Twister and Whiteout, Allen said groomers will not be used because the terrain still is too technical and rocky.

"You tear up snowcats," Allen said.

Allen said there still are a lot of areas that are affected by the crust, especially in the trees.

"We're monitoring that closely," Allen said.

Early on, Allen said the ski area was concerned about new snow potentially piling up on top of the crust layer and triggering slides.

"We're not as concerned about that as we were," Allen said.

No significant amounts of snow have fallen since the crust formed, but he thinks warmer weather helped the crust.

"It's not that really glazed surface that it was initially," Allen said.

Allen said there is a lot of good skiing available on the groomed runs.

Outside of the ski area in the backcountry, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center is monitoring snow conditions closely.

The organization on Wednesday was reporting little change was expected with the snowpack until this weekend in the Steamboat zone.

"Winds could start to increase by later Friday, otherwise the cool clear nights, especially near and below treeline, will continue to erode the snowpack structure," the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported on its website. "Temperature gradients continue to grow larger, so the snowpack continues to weaken. This process could have consequences when we see a return to a more winter like weather pattern."

Steamboat could next see snow Saturday night, according to Joel Gratz with http://www.opensnow.com.

"While it’s too early to have confidence in the snow amounts because the storm’s track is still uncertain, I’d say a general three to six inches for most areas is a good bet," Gratz wrote.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland