Amid “dismal” season for snowfall, Colorado skiers pin hopes on series of approaching storms

Powder days have been few and far between for Colorado skiers this season but Maggie Hughes, 9, found some fun on a steep run at the Monarch ski area on Jan. 2. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)A series of storms kicking off this weekend and running through the middle of next week is expected to bring decent snowfall to the northern and central mountains while dropping a foot or two in the far southern mountains, a welcome exception to what has been a depressing year for powder hounds.

Every flake will be welcomed.

“The snowpack for most of Colorado is dismal, between 30% and 40% below average for this time of year,” said meteorologist Joel Gratz of OpenSnow, an independent snow tracking and forecasting service designed for skiers and riders. “Our snowpack is tracking, for many areas, toward the lower end of what we’ve seen in any year of the past 30.”

That’s why every shift in the pattern comes as welcome news. Gratz expects the northern and central mountain to receive 4-8 inches before this one is done.

“The forecast for the next 10 days brings potentially five days of snow from Saturday through Wednesday, strongly favoring the far southern mountains,” Gratz said. “All mountains will likely get snow, at least a couple of inches, but the far southern mountains could get a couple of feet when it’s all done. Just another storm like we’ve seen this year that favors the south and brings much less snow to the central and northern mountains.”

Most of Colorado’s ski areas are in the northern and central mountains. The southern ones include Wolf Creek, Purgatory, Silverton and Telluride. Wolf Creek is the only one of them with an above-average snowpack at 101%.

Gratz is cautiously optimistic about the potential for another series of storms in two weeks.

“The modeling over the next couple of weeks suggests that we get into a reasonably stormy period in early February,” Gratz said. “However, the modeling throughout the season has often shown reasonably stormy periods two to three weeks out, only to pull back and those things don’t come to fruition. I’m not going to hang my hat on what the trend looks like in two to three weeks.”

Gratz isn’t a detached observer, conceding he is “as much of a powder seeker as there is,” but he takes a philosophical approach to snow years like this one.

“What’s a skier to do? Low expectations are the best way to go through a ski season, to be pleasantly surprised when storms come in,” Gratz said. “Think of the ski season this way: We’re lucky, especially during the pandemic year, that we’re even skiing at all. We’re pretty fortunate to have most mountains offering a lot of their terrain and to be able to ski.

“The second thing is, even a couple of inches of new snow on top of groomers is pretty fun. If you’re super in need of powder, which describes a lot of us, you can chase to wherever the forecast is deepest, either here in Colorado or around the west. But, obviously, traveling during a pandemic year presents its own challenges.”

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