Snowpack news: Wolf Creek ski area ideally placed to snag snowfall #COdrought #COwx


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Anyone looking to hit the slopes last weekend would have seen a familiar sight if they were looking for ski areas that had the most snow. Wolf Creek Ski Area, which measured 39 inches of snow at mid­mountain for the New Year’s holiday, ranked right behind Steamboat with the most snow in the state and ahead of 19 other Colorado ski resorts. The ski area’s location in the eastern San Juan Mountains roughly 20 miles between South Fork and Pagosa Springs along Wolf Creek Pass makes for a lengthy hike for Front Range skiers and snowboarders. But that location makes all the difference when it comes to snowfall.

Storm systems that start off the coast of Southern California and the Baja California Peninsula roll relatively unobstructed across the southwest until they hit the San Juans and are forced upward. “Anytime you lift moist air, it causes precipitation to occur,” said Kathy Torgerson, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pueblo. “They do a really effective job of wringing out the moisture.”
Wolf Creek, with a summit elevation of 11,900 feet, is perched right below the Continental Divide where the storm systems crest.

It’s the happy beneficiary of an annual average of 465 inches of snow, a figure the ski area touts as the most in the state. The heavy snowfall can be both the ski area’s best advertising and its biggest draw. Last year, an October storm allowed Wolf Creek to have its earliest opening ever and the ski resort rode it to a record 227,306 visitors. Over the past 15 years, its lowest total of 114,802 visitors came in the winter of 1999­-2000, a year in which snowpack across the upper Rio Grande Basin sat below 30 percent of normal in January and February.

Davey Pitcher, whose father bought the ski area in 1979, submitted plans to the U.S. Forest Service in the fall to expand the ski area, an expansion aimed, in part, at preserving powder conditions by spreading skiers out across the mountain. One of the proposed additions — the Matchless Pod — would add 715 acres for expert and advanced skiers for liftassisted backcountry­style skiing. The Pass Pod would add roughly 200 acres with much of the terrain suitable for beginner and intermediate skiers. The plans call for the construction of five new ski lifts.

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