Crust persists at higher elevations |

Crust persists at higher elevations

A bull elk takes a break from eating breakfast to check out its surroundings in Steamboat Springs on Friday morning. The elk has made the drainage just off of Hilltop Parkway a normal winter stop.
John F. Russell

— Wildlife seem to be coping with the ice, but avalanche observers continue to have long-term concerns about avalanche danger in the backcountry.

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, little snow is expected in the near future and temperatures remain mild.

“The widespread ice crust in the upper snowpack across the Steamboat zone won’t go away anytime soon,” the Avalanche Information Center reported Friday. “There was faint hope the crust might show signs of eroding in the past week, but observations from the last few days from near Hahn’s Peak, Buffalo Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass and Gore Pass prove otherwise.”

The sheet of ice developed over plentiful amounts of powdery snow when freezing rain fell the night before Steamboat Ski Area opened for Scholarship Day on Nov. 26. Those who ventured onto the ungroomed trails were met with less than sub-par conditions.

Until new snow arrives, skiers at the ski area have been advised to stick to the groomers.

This week, ski area employees were seen stepping down the sides of some trails in their skis and breaking up the crust. Messages left with ski area officials to explain the tactic were not returned Friday.

On Saturday, the ski area is opening 11 more trails in the Sunshine Peak area.

Outside the ski area boundary in the backcountry, observers have reported that the small amount of snow that has fallen is not bonding well to the crusty surface.

“You might find pockets of new snow that will sheet off in small, shallow avalanches,” the Avalanche Information Center reported. “Those could be an issue in very steep, high-consequence terrain.”

The organization reported avalanche conditions in the backcountry at treeline and above were moderate.

After a slight chance of snow Saturday night, forecaster Joel Gratz, with, predicts the next storm with the potential to produce snow will roll into the region Dec. 13. He was not optimistic that the storm would produce deep snow statewide.

“Looking further ahead, there are hints that the last 10 days of December could offer a different weather pattern,” Gratz said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins said a crust of ice would have had a large impact if it occurred later in the winter, and it would mostly impact big game animals like moose, elk and deer.

“They have to be able to move around to get to forage,” Haskins said.

Haskins said that a lot of the snow has melted in the feeding areas that big game animals use.

“That kind of crust on a winter range could have significant impacts,” Haskins said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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