Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack is approximately 73% of average, South Platte — 81%, Rio Grande — 83%


Click on the thumbnail graphic for yesterday’s statewide snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Click here to zero in on your basin of interest.

Meanwhile here’s a summary of snowmaking efforts around the west from The Durango Telegraph:

With warm temperatures and scarce snow, winter has been long for snowmaking crews at most Western ski resorts. For many, the work typically ends by Christmas or at least early January.

Not this year. Snowmaking continues even as storms have now arrived.

With the rockiest start to winter in decades, many resorts will probably re-evaluate investments in water, snowguns and other infrastructure, say ski industry officials.

“Snowmaking is something you can never take for granted,” says Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association and a former supervisor of snowmaking crews. “It takes constant upgrading, constant improvements, constant effort to improve your water rights. And just when you think you don’t need it, you will need it the most,” he added.

Spanked by two hard-luck winters in 1976-77 and 1980-81, most Colorado destination ski areas invested heavily in snowmaking.

This investment paid off this year for Steamboat. Despite warm nights that idled snowmaking crews in November and December, the ski area had 1,900 acres, or 65 percent, of the terrain open at Christmas. That was among the best in Colorado. Only two ski areas, Durango Mountain Resort and Wolf Creek, both in the southwestern tier, were 100 percent open.

Last summer, Steamboat bought seven new energy-efficient snowmaking guns, which use 30 percent less energy.

Water is another vital component of snowmaking. At Breckenridge, where snowmaking continued as of Jan. 21, the ski area had consumed 900 acre-feet, compared to the normal 700 to 750 acre-feet, according to Glenn Porzak, the resort’s water lawyer.

Not all resorts have substantial snowmaking, however. Particularly the ski areas along the crest of California’s Sierra Nevada. which suffered almost no natural snow and just thin ribbons of man-made.

“I don’t think I have ever been in a mountain area in the latter of part of January where there was so little snow,” said Porzak after a ski industry meeting at Squaw Valley. “It was brutal.”

Porzak has helped ski areas in Western states secure water rights for snowmaking since the 1970s. After every significant drought, ski areas have invested heavily in additional snowmaking capabilities. The more well-heeled have invested even when no drought is imminent.

This year, Porzak expects ski areas to engage in an intense re-evaluation of water needs and snowmaking infrastructure. The need is most obvious in Lake Tahoe, where fresh snow is often measured by the foot, not the inch.

This year, however, Squaw had just two runs covered with snow as of Jan. 19, the day before natural snow started arriving. Heavenly and Northstar both have sophisticated snowmaking systems, which put them in better stead for the tough early season this winter, says NSAA’s Berry.

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