Steamboat horse wrangler: ‘Weather depends on what side of mountain you’re on’
Wind gusts alter snowpack
January 2, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Ray Heid, who has been wrangling horses and skiing the backcountry as well as the groomed trails around Steamboat Springs for eight decades, agreed Tuesday that the month of December got the winter off to an atypical start in Northwest Colorado.
When asked about the snow conditions in his North Routt stomping grounds, where the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council had to cancel a Jan. 7 cross-country ski race because of bare patches on the trails, Heid said, "It depends on what side of the mountain you're on, and how high you go."
The snowpack had been a fluffy 10 to 14 inches, until recent gusty winds rearranged things in North Routt, according to Heid.
"The wind really gave us a beating the other day," he said. "The crust (on the trail) is so hard I had to get off my horse and stomp on it to break it up. It's still soft on the north slopes and in the trees. Six days ago, it was up to the rail on my front porch, but as of yesterday, it's down to about a foot. It didn't run off; it just settled down tight."
The Steamboat Lake/Hahn's Peak Village neighborhood where Heid hangs his hat is about 1,000 feet higher in elevation than Steamboat.
Kate Gmeiner, who keeps precipitation records for the Colorado Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network reported Jan. 2 that she measured 1.96 inches of precipitation in December at her weather station between downtown Steamboat and Steamboat Ski Area. Of the total, all but .02 inches of rain fell in the form of 34.2 inches of snow.
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The two biggest bouts of snow in town took place Dec. 4 and 5, when 4.8 inches fell, and Dec. 21 to 26, when Gmeiner measured 24 inches of snow.
Gmeiner reports that total December snow accumulation at her weather station in 2016 was 49.4 inches compared to 70.4 in 2015 and 34.2 inches in 2014. But if you're looking for a month of December when snow was truly scarce, look no further than the 12th month of 2011 when retired National Weather Service weather observer Art Judson reported just 6.3 inches of snow for the month at his weather station not far from Gmeiner's.
When compared to the snowpack in the mountains that feed river basins around Colorado, the combined Yampa/White River Basin looks relatively healthy, with 69 percent of median water content in the snow on the ground.
At Ripple Creek, on the edge of the Flat Tops in the headwaters of the White River, snowpack is 89 percent of median. That compares to 66 percent of median at the Tower measuring site on Buffalo Pass at 10,500 feet elevation, just northeast of Steamboat.
At 9,400 feet elevation on Rabbit Ears Pass south of Steamboat, the snow-measuring site of the same name showed a settled snow depth of 26 inches. That's down from a recent peak of 34 inches on Dec. 26. The snowpack, or snow water equivalent in the standing snow, was measured at 66 percent of median for the date.
But Heid reminded residents that it's very early in the winter to be drawing conclusions.
"I'm not sweatin' it," he said between leading the morning and afternoon horseback rides at Del's Triangle Three Ranch. "It'll come. It may not come 'til April or May, but it'll come."