It’s not often that a ski area has to cope with ramifications of too much snow, but that was precisely the predicament Sunday at Echo Mountain, a modest operation with one chair lift located four miles south of Idaho Springs.
Echo found itself in the unusual position of getting the most snow of any Colorado ski area from the monster upslope storm that hit the Front Range over the weekend with 34 inches, 13 on Saturday and 21 on Sunday.
In contrast to the heavy, wet snow that blanketed Front Range cities, the dump Echo received was much lighter and drier thanks to its elevation and colder temperatures. But area managers made the difficult decision not to open Sunday because of hazardous road conditions on the approaches to the area, which is located near Squaw Pass.
And because most of Echo isn’t very steep, much of that otherwise great powder was unskiable. Crews ran a snowcat to make the slopes skiable for opening Monday.
“It was basically 3 feet of very dry snow,” said General Manager Fred Klaas. “It did definitely make for some great powder turns. But three feet was kind of too much for most all of our slopes. We had the cat do a couple laps straight up and down the mountain. It wasn’t even possible to go straight down the mountain where the cat hadn’t been. You had to jump from the cat track out into the powder snow and then back into the cat track to keep your speed and momentum going, it was just so deep.”
Six employees made it to the area for work Sunday. Even after the decision was made at about 9:15 a.m. to remain closed for the day, there was a lot of work to do.
“You’re trudging through waist-deep snow, trying to pull fencing out and get things organized so the cats could get out and put the hill back together,” Klaas said. “With that much snow, there’s a lot of moving, pushing and packing to make it useful, to be able to ski and snowboard on it.”
Snow totals at other Front Range ski areas paled in comparison, although they were substantial. Winter Park reported 23 inches, Loveland 20 and Eldora 18. Summit County areas all were in the 10- to 12-inch range.
OpenSnow, a mountain snow forecasting and reporting service, estimated that Rocky Mountain National Park and Berthoud Pass received 25 inches.
“The deepest totals in Colorado of 30-40 inches were in the northeastern foothills between about 7,000-10,000 (feet),” OpenSnow meteorologist Joel Gratz wrote Monday in his daily report for Colorado. “That’s enough snow to make the grassy slopes of the foothills skiable.”
Another mountain storm is due to arrive Tuesday midday, continuing into mid-morning on Wednesday. Gratz forecast 2-5 inches in the northern and central mountains from that storm and 4-10 inches in the southern mountains.