Alert skiers treated to champagne weather anomaly |

Alert skiers treated to champagne weather anomaly

Weak storm front drops a foot of new snow on Mount Werner

— You could call it Mount Werner magic or you could call it a “mechanical upslope,” but the weak storm front that slipped into the valley early Tuesday evening provided a fluffy bonus for powderhounds who were paying attention to the early ski report Wednesday morning.

The storm left less than 3 inches of new snow in driveways at the base of the ski area. But, at the 9,000-foot level on Mt. Werner, there was a foot of new snow and the depth increased to 14 inches at the summit. Skiers who made first tracks on Wednesday said this was the real thing.

“It was as pure and as light of champagne powder as we get,” Gary Dickerson said. “I haven’t seen that much snow of that quality since January ’96 when we had the big month.”

Dickerson is a manager in the repair and tuning department at Ski Haus. The employees there work a split shift so everyone can ski. Dickerson was just fortunate to have the p.m. shift at work.

“When I left work last night the wind had changed and it was snowing harder. When I got up (on the west side of Steamboat) there was only an inch, but I still had that feeling, so I called (the ski report) and was just blown away.”

The disparity between snow at the base of the mountain and at the top can be explained in part by the geography of the Yampa Valley, according to a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“It was a weak system. Steamboat was the only place that had over about 3 or 4 inches,” meteorologist Chris Cuoco said.

“Steamboat is one of those places where that happens. Crested Butte is another. If conditions are absolutely right, it seems to pound them.”

Cuoco said the weather phenomenon that leads to Tuesday night’s startling snowfall begins with an upslope condition.

“The moist layer of air hits the mountains and rides uphill, resulting in an abrupt increase in elevation,” Cuoco explained. “It’s mechanical. When the air rises up, it cools and becomes saturated” with moisture, resulting in increasingly intense snowfall as the cloud moves up the mountain.

Unlike many ski areas, Steamboat’s slopes face predominantly to the west. The slopes of most ski areas are cut on northern exposures where the lack of direct winter sun helps to preserve the snowpack.

In Steamboat, the west facing orientation could contribute to increased snowfall.

“The wind blows perpendicular to the mountain,” in Steamboat, Cuoco said. “When cloud elevation and wind direction are exactly right, it tends to maximize” snowfall.

Skiers here Wednesday were maximizing the fun quotient.

Dickerson said the official ski area snow measurements of 12 inches at mid-mountain and 14 at the summit were pretty much “spot on.” However, he explored the trees in Pioneer Ridge where he felt the new snow was closer to two feet deep.

“It was cold up there, but there was no wind,” Dickerson said.

“The snow was so fast, some of the steep aspen runs weren’t the best skiing,” he said.

“But you could really pull some lines on less steep runs in tighter trees than you would normally ski. Everyone here who was able to ski this morning was just fizzing and buzzing. It just blew me


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