Winter Park Resort bucks bad snowpack perception |

Winter Park Resort bucks bad snowpack perception

For months reports have been coming in from all over the country regarding the well-below average snowpack that’s plagued winter resorts this season, but while some are suffering, other are thriving. Despite dry spells in November and December, Winter Park Resort is sitting pretty.

The resort is currently at 96 percent of its average snowpack compared to the 30-year average, according to, and confirmed by the resort. And they’re trying to spread the word.

“I think there’s been a weird perception that Colorado hasn’t gotten any snow, and that it’s been a terrible winter,” said Steve Hurlbert, director of communications for Winter Park Resort. “In pockets of Colorado that’s been the case, I know in southern Colorado they’ve struggled. But for us that’s something we’ve been trying to dispel, because even though the conditions are below average, the skiing has been really good. Certainly in comparison to some of the other resorts in the area.”

Winter Park Resort is at 96 percent of average snowpack compared to the 30 year average, according to Open Snow and Winter Park Resort.
The snowpack is creeping back up to normal levels, even as snowfall continues to lag behind. The resort has gotten about 175 inches of snow this season, about 87 percent of the year-to-date average of just above 200 inches by mid-February. The resort averages about 322 inches per season; a mark Hurlbert is confidant the resort will at least approach.

Over the last ten years the resort has surpassed the 322 mark six times, and Hurlbert said the resort has seen only one season of less than 250 inches in the last 20 years. The 2011/12 season saw only about 190 inches due to a remarkably dry springin March and April, when the resort often sees it’s biggest snowfall numbers.

“We’re already at 175 inches and we’ve still got our snowiest month in March,” said Hurlbert. “We’ll usually get good dumps in April too, so it would be surprising if we aren’t close to that 322 inches.”

There are lots of possible explanations as to why Winter Park Resort has been able to withstand an otherwise miserable winter for other areas. The first is the location, nestled right in the middle of the continental divide.

“We’re definitely higher than a lot of mountains,” said Hurlbert. “Our base it at 9,000 feet, so that helps. We’re also located right along the continental divide. As the weather pattern kind of shifted to the north most of the winter, storms get hung up on the continental divide and dump on Winter Park. So our location is really optimal for consistent snow.”

Another consideration is the temperature. Comparing average high and low temperatures for Winter Park Resort over the last decade with average high and low temperatures this season shows that there’s been much more fluctuation than usual.

The discrepancy is easiest to see in the months of December and January. The area typically averages a high of 20 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of seven degrees during those months. This season the average highs were 24 and 29 degrees, and lows were -2 and -3 degrees respectively, according to Weather Underground.

The larger range of temperatures may help explain why the resort can maintain 96 percent of snowpack with only 87 percent of average snowfall.

“It’s certainly been consistently warmer is what we’ve found,” said Hurlbert. “There were some days in January where it felt like spring. For us what that means is a heavier consistency of snow. So it’s been a wetter snow than when we normally get with storms in January and December. And because of the warmer weather the snow that we’ve had over the last couple months has been a little heavier and thicker.”

Certainly a healthy February has helped set the resort up to finish out the season strong. So far this month the resort has gotten more than 43 inches of snowfall, and is on pace to outperform ten year averages of 54 for the month. February is also the first month since October, 2017 where both the season’s high and low temperatures dropped below the ten year averages.

“The sort of perception that Colorado is having a bad snow year is not necessarily true, depending on where you look,” said Hurlbert. “So we’re fortunate that we’re in a great area. It’s been a great winter, it’s skied well and we’re looking forward to it continuing.”

Watches, warnings issued for Steamboat area as storm approaches

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has issued winter storm warnings and watches as well as an avalanche watch for the Steamboat Springs area.

The winter storm warning begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday evening and goes through Thursday night. Impacted areas include the Park, Gore, Elk and Flat Tops mountains, and winds could gust to 50 mph.

"Heavy snow and blowing snow expected," the National Weather Service stated in the warning. "Plan on difficult travel conditions. Total snow accumulations of 8 to 16 inches, with localized amounts up to 20 inches, are expected."

Snow showers were expected during the day Wednesday before the brunt of the storm arrived.

The winter weather advisory begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday and goes through Thursday night. The impacted area includes the city of Steamboat.

Blowing snow is expected with accumulations of up to 4 to 7 inches. Wind gusts could be as high as 35 mph.

"The moderate winds are forecast to be westerly for a large part of the storm, and those that ski the Steamboat Ski Area know that our snow quality can be adversely affected by westerly winds due to the largely western aspect of Mount Werner," wrote Steamboat meteorologist Mike Weissbluth, who runs "Northwest flow is forecast for late in the storm and late in the day Thursday, but when the moisture is decreasing, and this will limit the accumulations of the lightest and fluffiest snow on the backside of the storm."

The avalanche watch was issued for dangerous avalanche conditions beginning Thursday morning.

The avalanche danger could increase to a high level if snow accumulations meet expectations.

"Natural avalanches will become likely, and large dangerous human-triggered avalanches that break near the ground will become very likely," the National Weather Service states.

Another storm is expected early next week.

"There is uncertainty with respect to how quickly this storm moves inland, but it appears another stationary front may form somewhere near our area around Monday or Tuesday, leading to the possibility of more significant snows early in the work week before unseasonably cold air is forecast to wash over the western states behind the storm," Weissbluth said.

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

Storm keeps emergency responders busy in Steamboat area

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Fender benders, terrified drivers and rollovers were keeping emergency responders busy as snow continued to fall Tuesday morning.

The snow started accumulating Monday afternoon, and road conditions quickly deteriorated.

There was a two-car crash in Mount Harris Canyon between Steamboat and Hayden on U.S. Highway 40 on Monday afternoon.

A Mitsubishi lost control and rotated into the canyon wall. A pickup driver tried to avoid the crash and also hit the wall.

No one was injured.

On Rabbit Ears Pass, a driver was transported to UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center after rolling their car.

Also on Rabbit Ears Pass, Colorado State Patrol helped a Greyhound bus driver.

"He wasn't actually stuck," Sgt. Scott Elliott said. "He was just terrified."

Sand was spread on the road to help with traction, and the bus was escorted to the top of the pass.

After dealing with that incident, Elliott came across a Lexus crashed in a ditch at U.S. 40 and Colorado Highway 131.

Elliott suspected the driver was drunk, and the 54-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of DUI and careless driving.

In South Routt County, a school bus slid off the road into a ditch in the Stagecoach area. Transportation director Pie Lombardi said everyone on the bus was fine, and parents came to pick up their children.

On Tuesday morning, a chain law was lifted on Rabbit Ears Pass, but police were still busy handling numerous slide-offs and fender benders.

Tuesday morning’s snowy commute through downtown Steamboat Springs. Video by Tom Ross.

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At 5 a.m. Tuesday, Steamboat Ski Area reported it had received 9 inches of snow at mid-mountain in a 24-hour period.

A weather observer in the city reported 7.1 inches of snow.

In South Routt County, 7.5 inches of snow was reported in Yampa, and 5 inches of snow was reported to the north in Clark.

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

Low snow? No problem. Steamboat stands at the top of the pack of resorts in snow-starved Colorado

David Van Winkle knows exactly how stingy Mother Nature has been with the snow this season.

The big snowstorm around Christmas came just in time for the holidays and finally brought out snow shovels.

The leader of Steamboat Springs' fleet of snowplows keeps meticulous records of the city's fleet, and he even keeps track of how much volcanic rock is put down for traction control each winter.

In an average year, about 2,199 tons of scoria are deployed to help vehicles get traction on icy and snowpacked roads.

As of Tuesday, the city had put down just 700 tons, or less than a third of what the city would put down during an "average" snow year.

On average, city plows clear the streets 55 times per season.

This year, they've gone out about 26 times.

"We've done about half of what we usually do," he said Tuesday.

The low snow isn't all bad, however.

City workers have taken advantage of the time they're not spending time plowing snow.

A list of deferred maintenance projects are being tackled.

Mechanics have been able to help other city departments keep their vehicles in tip top shape.

And Van Winkle says the city shop is the cleanest it's ever been.

Lodging and business leaders also are seeing some interesting results despite a relative lack of snow.

There's no panic in the voices of property managers when they reflect on the season so far.

December tax revenue still grew in Steamboat despite a slow start to the snow flurries.

And relatively speaking, Steamboat is faring better than other resorts in Colorado that are even more snow-starved than the Yampa Valley.

In late January, a national newspaper gave a shout out to Steamboat and Breckenridge as the two places vacationers should consider in Colorado if they are looking for snow.

Vehicle traffic entering Steamboat in December was up, according to CDOT traffic counters.

And combination of snow guns, activities that don't depend on snow and a weather pattern that has given Steamboat more tastes of winter than its rival ski resorts in Colorado are keeping Ski Town USA upbeat heading into the spring.


Thinking positive

It could be worse.

Much, much worse.

Steamboat now has 100 percent of its terrain open, including its expert terrain, but other resorts to the south haven't been as lucky.

Snowmass and Telluride hadn't hit the 75-percent terrain mark as of Wednesday,

And, after getting nine whole feet less snow than it did last year at this time in early February, Powderhorn Resort near Grand Junction had to scale back its operations to just three days per week Feb. 4.

The conditions in neighboring ski resorts have even spurred some visitors loyal to resorts like Aspen and Park City to try Steamboat for the first time.

"We've had guests in Steamboat that have started their journeys in Vail and Copper on the I-70 corridor and have switched coming over here," Resort Lodging company president Blair McNamara said. "We have actual testaments to that with people saying they started on the I-70 corridor, but they came over to Steamboat and made the reservation because we had better snow."

McNamara also attributed successes this season to stronger bookings from group events.

Reservation specialists in Steamboat also have a marketing tool to try to lure more guests to Northwest Colorado.

As of Thursday, Steamboat had received 40 inches more snow than Vail.

And only Loveland, Winter Park and Breckenridge posted higher snow totals than Steamboat for the season so far.

A stubborn ridge

The snow woes in southern and central Colorado can be blamed on a ridge of high pressure that has persisted in the western United States.

It's this ridge that has moved the path of the storms to favor resorts in places such as Jackson, Wyoming.

Luckily, National Weather Service meteorologist Ben Moyer said Steamboat has snuck into the southern periphery of the storm track and has gotten enough tastes of winter to remain in the top tier of Colorado's snow totals this season.

A furious snow storm arrived just in time for Christmas.

"The overall pattern this winter has favored northern Colorado," Moyer said. "The storm track has been up there, and there's been very little passing south."

Moyer explained the geography between Steamboat and the resorts on I-70 includes mountain ranges that have a tendency to suck moisture away from the competing resort areas.

When USA Today reported on Colorado's dire snowpack conditions in late January, there was a big caveat in the report.

"Resorts in southern Colorado — Telluride, Purgatory — as well as those in central Colorado — Aspen and Copper Mountain, among others — have been particularly snow-challenged," the paper reported. "Ski resorts in Arizona and New Mexico, such as Taos, have fared even worse.

"But Colorado isn't totally bereft of snow," USA Today continued. "Steamboat, which resides further north in the state, as well as Winter Park and Breckenridge have squeezed decent amounts of snowfall from the systems that have passed through. Skiers going to Colorado soon should look to these areas first."


Record February, questionable March

Fruition performs an after-hours show at Thunderhead Lodge at the 2016 WinterWonderGrass Festival.

Even lodging properties that rely more on the influx of traffic from Denverites and Front Rangers seeking fresh powder aren't bitter about the season so far.

"We had a really good January, and it looks like we're going to have a record February," Holiday Inn owner Scott Marr said.

The city is still a few weeks away from learning how lodging properties as a whole performed in January.

Sales tax revenue reports will be one form of a report card.

Marr attributed his rosy outlook for February lodging on a relatively new event in the city that goes on with or without snow: WinterWonderGrass Festival.

Last year the festival featured more than 25 bluegrass artists and reportedly drew visitors from more than 40 different states.

The event also was thought to have helped Steamboat Springs Transit see its biggest ridership on a single day in history.

But after February, all bets are off.

McNamara said March is the big question mark in the lodging community for the rest of the season.

He wondered how recent natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey in Houston, wildfires in California and snowstorms in the south would affect the spring break bookings.

"Does everyone put March on pause?," McNamara wondered. "March right now is our million-dollar question."

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Steamboat wakes up to windy weather

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A cold front passing through Colorado created gusty conditions Monday morning.

The strongest gusts were reported at about 7:15 a.m.

The Storm Peak Laboratory, located at 10,530 feet at Steamboat Ski Area, recorded a gust of 55.4 mph. Also at that time, the Steamboat Springs Airport recorded a wind gust of 33.4 mph.

"There is a cold front that is slowly sagging south across the state," said Chris Cuoco, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

By late Monday morning, Storm Peak was recording an average wind speed of 16 mph with gusts up to 20 mph.

The National Weather Service had a winter weather advisory in effect until 5 a.m. Tuesday for surrounding mountains above 9,000 feet.

Four to eight inches of snow was expected with some areas receiving up to 12 inches.

Strong winds were expected to reduce visibility on roadways.

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

Steamboat’s valley snow lowest in 9 years

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The 13 inches of snow on the ground in the city of Steamboat Springs at the end of January was the lowest since 2010 – lower even than 2012 when the snow depth was 14.5 inches, according to weather watcher Kate Gmeiner.

Gmeiner faithfully collects precipitation data for the Colorado Rain Hail and Snow Network — CocoRaHS.

"I looked back on CocoRaHS, and 2018 is the lowest amount of snow on the ground at the end of January since 2010,” Gmeiner said. 

But there may be snow on the way in the first weekend of February. Meteorologist Michael Weissbluth of the SnowAlarm blog predicted Thursday that Steamboat Ski Area could receive  2 to 5 inches of new snowfall on the Saturday morning snow report, with the possibility of another 3 to 5 inches during the day and overnight.

But the real snow-maker could be the storm that develops Monday afternoon and night, with the possibility of 6 to 12 inches of snow.

January actually produced 21 inches of new snowfall, but mild daytime temperatures settled the snow and took a good deal of the air out of it. And Gmeiner actually recorded .27 10ths of an inch of rain last month. As far as low, new-snow accumulation records go, January 2015 only saw 6.6 inches, she reported.

Gmeiner takes her measurements at a weather station just above the valley floor between downtown and the base of Mount Werner. And snow levels in the valley shouldn't be confused with the unpacked snow level at mid-mountain on the ski area, which was reported at 38 inches Friday.

And Steamboat is among the more fortunate resorts. Aspen Mountain stands at 24 inches of base, and Crested Butte reports 30 inches, according to Colorado Ski Country USA.

Throughout the Colorado Rockies, the Natural Resources Conservation Service reports below average snowpack, but the combined Yampa/White River basin ranks among the highest snowpack with 73 percent of median. Only the Laramie and North Platte Basin at 81 percent, and the South Platte Basin, encompassing the northern Front Range, at 83 percent of median, are healthier.

On Jan. 5, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service said it would take well above-average precipitation for the rest of the season to realize a normal peak snow accumulation, particularly in southern Colorado.

Since then, statewide snowpack has improved only marginally, putting it even further off "schedule."

Gmeiner referenced the low January snow total in Steamboat in 2012, and that happens to have been a year when spring runoff peaked unusually early. In a typical year, snowpack in the mountains here peaks in mid-April and begins to slowly melt through May and June, feeding the streams and rivers with cold water.

However, in 2012, the last snow year as sparse as this one, the Yampa River, below its confluence with Soda Creek in downtown Steamboat Springs, peaked at just 1,900 feet per second on April 27, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That compares to the heavy snow year of 2011, when the river peaked at 6,010 cubic feet per second on June 6.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

With snow approaching, Steamboat Ski Area opens 100 percent of terrain

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Ski Area has announced all 2,965 acres of its terrain has opened with the addition of Mavericks halfpipe, Rough Rider Basin and the No Names Trail.

The 100 percent opening came later than usual with below average snowfall in December and January, but a long-duration snow event is expected to usher in February.

In January, the ski area received a total of 45.75 inches of snow, well below the 20-year average of 70.13 inches.

Conditions were similar in December, when the ski area received 45.5 inches of snow. Over the past 20 years, an average of 71.64 inches of snow has fallen in December.

January was highlighted by 10 inches of snow recorded at mid-mountain for the 24-hour period ending Jan. 11 at 5 a.m.

In an unusual storm, a total of 8 inches of snow was recorded on Jan. 26-27, but there was barely a dusting in town. At the summit of the ski area, the Champagne Powder Snow Cam showed upwards of 15 inches of new snow the morning of Jan. 26.

Since Oct. 1, the ski area has seen 130.5 inches of snow, and there was a settled snow depth of 39 inches at mid-mountain as of Wednesday.

Looking ahead into February, the ski area on average gets 66.85 inches of snow. Last February netted 43.75 inches of snow.

Steamboat meteorologist Mike Weissbluth, who runs, said Wednesday that multi-day snow totals could be significant as waves of snow move into the area beginning Wednesday night.

Winds from the northwest were expected to create light orographic flow, meaning precipitation would form as it crashed into the Park Range mountains. Weissbluth said this would be enhanced by passing waves of energy and moisture.

"We will be close to the rain-snow line ahead of these waves, but right now it appears cool enough for precipitation to remain as snow even in town, though there may be a mix during the warmer periods, especially Friday afternoon," Weissbluth said.

He said waves of varying strength were currently timed for Wednesday night, early Saturday, Sunday and later Monday.

"Note that the timing of these waves in fast flow is problematic, and I expect modifications to the forecast," Weissbluth said. "While snowfall accumulations will be modest heading into the weekend, significant multi-day totals are possible as early as mid-weekend and almost certainly by mid-next week, with the highest snowfall totals occurring at the higher elevations.”

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

Steamboat weather forecast unpredictable moving into the week

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The first part of the work week is expected to be dry before the next chance for snowfall arrives Wednesday night.

"The forecast from Wednesday night through at least Feb. 7 is only something we can talk about in generalities – the details are impossible to figure out," wrote Joel Gratz, who runs

With the storm track primarily to the north, Colorado will depend on the track taking a dip to the south.

"The first of these more direct hits will likely be on Wednesday night and Thursday," Gratz wrote. "Perhaps there will be a low- to moderate-end powder day on Thursday in the northern mountains. The second of these more direct hits could be later next weekend, perhaps Sunday into Monday.”

Gratz said the weather pattern could keep the snow to the north of Colorado, or it could bring "decent accumulations" over Colorado's northern mountains.

"I still have little confidence in any of these scenarios, and it'll be nearly impossible to nail down the forecast for any of these storms more than one to two days before they hit, so stay tuned," Gratz wrote.

Uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to snow accumulating in the mountains surrounding Steamboat.

A storm Thursday night going into Friday morning was projected to bring 2 to 6 inches of snow to area mountains.

Steamboat Ski Area ended up recording eight inches of new snow at mid-mountain Friday morning, but the Powder Snow Cam at the summit of the ski area showed closer to 15 inches of snow.

Gratz calls the weather phenomena the "Steamboat Surprise."

"It happens usually once or perhaps twice a season," Gratz wrote. "In every case, the wind direction is from the west, and the temperature at the summit of Steamboat is five degrees, but every time these weather conditions are met, we do not have a Steamboat Surprise.

“I think that this is the hardest forecast in Colorado, and I've yet to really nail it," Gratz added.

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

Snow expected to taper off Friday before next storm arrives midweek

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The National Weather Service in Grand Junction issued a winter weather advisory Thursday for a storm that was expected to drop up to a foot of snow on the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs.

The snow was expected to start early Friday morning and taper off by the end of the day.

The National Weather Service was calling for accumulations of between four to eight inches with localized amounts possibly approaching a foot.

Steamboat meteorologist Mike Weissbluth, who runs, said the storm has cold air, but it is lacking moisture. Weissbluth expected 2 to 5 inches of snow by Friday morning and possibly another 1 to 4 inches during the day.

"The wide-range in the predicted amounts is because I am unsure of the density of the snowfall," he said.

Warmer weather would produce high-density snow that skis with the consistency of cream cheese, while lower temperatures would produce greater accumulations of fluffy snow that would ski like it is barely there, Wissbluth said.

"Nonetheless, a building ridge of high pressure over the West Coast this weekend forces northwest flow over our area behind the storm, and combined with some embedded moisture, will produce clouds for Saturday and light snow showers for Saturday night and Sunday, with some light accumulations possible," Weissbluth said.

He is calling for clearing skies Monday.

"As is usual for this time of year, any clear nights will allow for cold morning lows in the Yampa Valley as temperature inversions form, with low-elevation temperatures slow to recover during the day," Weissbluth said.

The next storm is timed for a Wednesday arrival.

"At this point, this storm looks colder and broader than the Friday storm with mountain-top flow more out of the northwest, so we may receive more snow from the storm as compared to tomorrow’s storm," Weissbluth said. "Furthermore, there is trailing energy and moisture that will restart snow showers by Thursday after they end for a time Wednesday night."

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

Former EPA deputy administrator talks in Steamboat about Trump, climate change

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — References to climate change might be disappearing from the Environmental Protection Agency's website, but other government agencies and the private sector are still working to address the problem.

On Tuesday morning, a group of television meteorologists in town for the 29th annual Weather Summit at Steamboat Ski Area heard from Bob Perciasepe, the EPA's deputy administrator from 2009 to 2014. He also served as the acting administrator for six months.

These days, Perciasepe is president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C, that works with governments, businesses and facilities discussions among climate negotiators internationally.

"The work we do is obviously complicated by the current administration's desire to not pay much attention to climate change, but on the other hand there are a lot of good things going on," Perciasepe said.

Perciasepe's talk was titled "The EPA One Year Later: Trump Administration Impacts on Policy."

Trump gave notice in August that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Paris Accord on Climate Change, which is an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"There are some people in the Trump administration working on what that better deal might be, so I would characterize the administration generally as in some way ambiguous to climate change to hostile depending on where you are in the mix," Perciasepe said.

He said that the EPA's current administration is "currently not interested in anything related to climate change."

Perciasepe said this is evident by references to climate change being removed from the EPA's website. The EPA has also withdrawn its sponsorship of the Climate Leadership Conference, which Perciasepe's nonprofit will host in February in Denver.

With 3,000 less employees today than the 18,000 employed by the EPA in 2004, the organization, responsible for establishing environmental regulations based on 30 laws passed by Congress over the years, has more work to do with less resources, according to Perciasepe.

During its first year of the new administration, Perciasepe said the EPA has not really changed any of its current regulations related to clean air, water and other environmental issues.

"This year, I'm guessing some of those will actually get re-proposed," Perciasepe said.

While the United States has announced its intentions to withdraw from the Paris agreement, Perciasepe said other countries have joined the accord, including Syria, Nicaragua and even North Korea.

Meanwhile, businesses, other government agencies and individual states continue to address climate change.

Perciasepe spoke about about a power company in Michigan that has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050.

Major corporations have pledged to reduce emissions, and almost 400 mayors have pledged to meet the Paris agreement goals in their own cities and towns.

Perciasepe said all of that combined has pushed down carbon dioxide emissions 24 percent since 2005, which is 75 percent of the 2030 goal outlined in the Clean Power Plan.

"You should recognize that things are happening without the federal government, but we can't get to where we need to go without the federal government," Perciasepe said.

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