Tag Archives: winter weather

Colorado Prepares for Winter

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There is, perhaps, no place on earth that gets more excited about winter than Colorado. While people certainly have differing views about their favorite activities, preferred types of weather, and favorite season, there is no denying that winter means something here in Colorado that it doesn’t in many other parts of the world.

The primary reason is the ski/snowboard industry, which generates excitement among locals and tourists alike. Four of the five most visited ski resorts in America are in Colorado. Statewide, annual attendance now typically tops 7 million. The ski/snowboard industry is also important to Colorado’s economy, with an estimated economic impact close to $5 Billion annually.

It is around this time of year that conversations at social gatherings turn to forthcoming winter activities. People discussing which of Colorado’s multi-mountain ski passes (most commonly the Epic Pass or the Rocky Mountain Super Pass) they had purchased, where their abilities currently stand, what their favorite types of slopes are and what travel plans they have.

In fact, Colorado is so excited about this season, and what it means to the state, that Denver International Airport has an exhibit about snow and ice!

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This exhibit includes exhibits about many different topics related to Colorado snow, including the Snowsports Hall of Fame in Vail, which I visited two seasons ago.

Colorado’s ski/snowboard industry is quite large. All of the options and all the resorts can be a lot to sort through.

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Each resort is, in its own way unique, both with respect to the terrain itself, crowds, and amenities around it. For example, Breckenride is a thriving town, with everything from fancy restaurants to even night clubs. Other places suck as Monarch, nowhere near any shops, restaurants, etc., offer a much quieter experience.

Luckily, the people at Denver Party Ride produced a guide to all of Colorado’s ski resorts which is perfect for just this purpose. While I could (and have) write at length about each specific resort I’ve skied at, this guide provides a relatively short (half a page or so) description for each resort, making it relatively easy for visitors to chose an experience that is right for them.

I was a bit surprised when informed about this ski guide. I knew Denver Party Ride for providing party limo services for events downtown and concerts at Red Rocks, I had no idea that they also shuttled people to and from ski resorts. As someone who has combined the experience of skiing and partying before, I may have to try this experience out!

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Every year, sometimes as early as late September, I start receiving calls and texts asking about what to expect, with regards to snowfall, for the upcoming winter season.

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It is here, as a weather enthusiast, I wish I had better guidance for those anticipating the coming ski season, or a ski trip to Colorado. When anticipating winter, people are most likely to hear about El Nino vs. La Nina. This year, the mainstream news has reported that a La Nina winter is likely.

Unfortunately, the forecast itself does not provide too much insight into what to expect this coming winter for two reasons.

1. La Nina’s impact on Colorado is somewhat inconclusive

According to this diagram from the Climate Prediction Center, Colorado trends to be sandwiched between an area to the north, which receives more precipitation during La Nina years and an area to the south which receives more precipitation during an El Nino.

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Some local sources argue that, due to local topography, El Nino years favor snowfall in Denver and along the front range, while La Nina years favor snowfall up in the mountains, where most of the ski resorts are. However, official observations do not necessarily provide enough detail to reach that conclusion.

2. The La Nina is forecasted to be weak

Strong El Nino or La Nina events can be powerful predictors of winter weather. Weaker events are not as strong of predictors.

It is fun to speculate about the upcoming winter. However, after five yeas of living in Colorado, and several more of visiting annually to ski, I can’t help but think it is going to be good no matter what kind of winter we have. One of the main reasons it is safe to plan a trip to one of Colorado’s world class ski resorts is that, regardless of how each winter turns out, there is a period of time from roughly mid-January through mid-March where great snowpack and great conditions are all but guaranteed.

No matter what resort you visit, what pass you get, whether you ski or snowboard, get lost in the trees or stick to wide open groomed trails, get out there and enjoy the season. These resorts offer excellent opportunities to spend some time outside doing something that is both adventurous and gets the body moving. This is a reason to actually get excited about winter, a season many in other parts of the world dread.

Buried in Crested Butte

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There is such thing as too much of a good thing; too much food, too much exercise, even too much water!  While stories about people dying of water poisoning do exist, most people will experience dehydration, or too little water, many times throughout their lifetime.  Few people experience hyponatremia, or water poisoning.  So, health advocates rightly focus on advising the population to drink enough water.

The same can be said of snowfall in towns like Crested Butte, Colorado.  Like many ski towns, Crested Butte’s livelihood is at least partially dependent on receiving ample snowfall to produce good ski conditions.  So, it is rare to actually hear people in a town like this say that the wish for the snow to stop.   But, that is exactly what happened, after the town received close to 100 inches of snow (half their annual total) in a ten day period.  In fact, at one point, the ski resort actually had to close due to too much snow!  In a way, this is like the ski resort version of water poisoning.

After a couple of quiet days, 2017 has begun on a crazy note for the Western United States.  A steady stream of storms, transporting moisture from the Tropical Pacific Ocean directly into the California Coast, transformed a drought stricken state into a deluge of floods and swollen rivers in only a few days!

These storms followed similar tracks eastwards, producing heavy precipitation in parts of Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.  For the first two weeks of 2017, Crested Butte received close to eight times their normal precipitation amount!

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By Friday the 13th, the snow had slowed down, but hadn’t stopped.

 

Over Martin Luther King Day weekend, each day the weather followed a similar pattern.  Light snow would fall overnight, providing a few inches of new snow, and would linger into the morning.

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This would be followed by somewhat of a fuzzy period, where the sun appeared to be trying to come out, but fighting some kind of battle against low clouds which would reduce visibility on some parts of the mountain.

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This is a battle that the sun would eventually win after an hour or two of these in between conditions.

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Crested Butte provides an interesting ski experience.  By size, it is significantly smaller than places like Snowmass, Steamboat, and Copper Mountain.

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However, all different types of skiing can be found here, from groomers (although, with limited visibility for much of the day, conditions were not quite optimal for those true speed demons out there) to glades and bumps of all different kinds, sizes and steepness.

For advanced skiers and boarders, Mount Crested Butte is a must do!  It is possible to hike all the way to the top of Crested Butte’s signature mountain.  However, the Silver Queen Express lift provides access to all but the uppermost 287 feet of this peak.

The journey down the mountain starts out wide open, but eventually winds through a series of challenging glade (dense tree) areas, both pine and aspen.

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Gazing back at the mountain, I felt as if I had just skied down something from one of those extreme sports videos that is often shown in loops at ski shops promoting the Go Pro camera, or at some film event.

Crested Butte markets itself as having small crowds and short lift lines.  This was definitely true on Friday.  However, Saturday, the crowds began to build, and lift lines, uncharacteristic of Crested Butte, built fast.  At one point we ended up waiting 25 minutes in a lift line.
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The combination of the extreme snowfall at this particular mountain, and the holiday weekend (MLK Day) likely drew an unprecedented number of visitors to the resort.  Smaller, out of the way mountains like this one probably typically do have short lift lines.  But, with less capacity than some of the bigger resorts, increases in traffic on exceptional weekends like this one can increase wait times at lifts quicker.
Geographically, Crested Butte has a different setup that many other ski areas.
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Unlike places like Breckenridge and Park City, where the town is directly adjacent to the ski resort, the main area of town is actually roughly six miles from the resort.

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The settlement adjacent to the ski resort, which consists primarily of lodging, is referred to as Mount Crested Butte.

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This setup works out a lot better than one would expect.  We stayed at the Grand Lodge, which is nearly adjacent to the base area lifts.

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The Lodge offers spacious rooms that contain amenities like refrigerators, microwaves, a hot tub and a spa.  There is a restaurant on the main floor of the hotel and several other eating options at the base of the mountain, which is only a two minute walk away.  Those who prefer to relax in the evenings can stay nearby.

For those that want evening activities, there is a free shuttle from the base of the ski mountain into town, where there is plenty going on.

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Walking along Elk Avenue, the main road in town, plenty of people can be found, going to bars, restaurants, shops, events and festivals.  Based on all of the posters, window decals, pamphlets and signs everywhere, there seems to always be some kind of event going on in town.

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Crested Butte can also be described as “artsy”.  Saturday evening’s artwork was highly recommended by local residents.  In the vicinity of 3rd and Elk, it felt as if every third or fourth building was some kind of an art gallery partaking in the artwalk.  In fact, the large amount of snow piled between the sidewalk and the road provided one artist with the opportunity to gaze upon the town, and paint it, from a slightly different perspective.

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Crested Butte was at both its best and worst this weekend.  The snow conditions were amazing, and temperatures were actually quite comfortable the entire time.  However, the capacity, both with regards to the ski lifts, and for the town to remove snow from streets, buildings, and cars, was overloaded.

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Still, people went about their business, created and sold their artwork, partied in the hot tubs and at the bars, and kept a smile on their faces.  After this weekend, an accurate description of what a “normal” weekend in Crested Butte is like cannot be provided.   But, we don’t travel looking for “normal”.  We travel for an experience.  One that is different from what our day to day lives are.  This holiday weekend in Crested Butte was definitely a unique experience, due to the place that we visited as well as the exceptional conditions.