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Steamboat on track for 100-inch December

Snow keeps on coming; 44 inches on Storm Peak in 7 days

A photograph of Saddle Mountain (south of Steamboat Lake) originally taken by Steamboat Today and now posted at the Web page of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, delineates 10 historic avalanche paths. A Dec. 22 citizen report of a fresh slide path on Saddle Mountain descrbied a 36-inch crown where the avalanche broke free of the mountain.
file photo

— Steamboat Springs residents who formed the impression this week that it has been snowing around the clock and that there seem to be a lot of unfamiliar motorists driving on the snow-packed roads in the community were not mistaken.

The Steamboat Ski Area reported Wednesday it had recorded 79.5 inches of snow at mid-mountain since Dec. 1, more than the average 70 inches for the entire month. Late Wednesday afternoon, with the snow still falling, ski area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten reported Storm Peak Summit has seen 44 inches of snowfall in seven days.

And the National Weather Service was calling for more powder to fall, with the chance of snow peaking at 70 percent Christmas Day. That could give Steamboat a shot at a 100-inch December at mid-mountain, such as the town experienced in 2008.



Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. Public Relations Director Mike Lane said Wednesday the abundant snow is stretching the typical holiday rush that sees the majority of travelers beginning to arrive the day after Christmas.

“We’re seeing a two-week holiday period this season compared to one holiday week last winter,” Lane said.



The lodging barometer, released by the Steamboat Springs chamber Resort Association late Wednesday afternoon, suggested Saturday, Dec. 26, won’t be as strong at lodging properties as the Saturday after Christmas in 2014, which fell on Dec. 27. The barometer predicts 12,700 visitors, representing 80 percent occupancy, will spend the night here Saturday. That compares to a forecasted 15,100, or 95 percent booking level, in 2014 that rose to actual numbers of 15,300.

Steamboat’s numbers are expected to jump to 15,000 visitors the Wednesday after Christmas — Dec. 30 — according to the barometer.

The Dec. 23 flight bulletin released by the ski corp. showed inbound flights were booked at an 83 percent load factor, with 908 arriving passengers, and outbound flights were booked at 85 percent, with 942 departures. Flights from Dallas and Chicago were delayed, but the operations were completed.

The snow also caused difficulties for a couple of flights scheduled to arrive at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden on Tuesday, when a total 738 passengers were scheduled to arrive here, compared to 754 the corresponding Tuesday last year.

Steamboat Airline Director Janet Fischer reported the Dec. 22 United flight from Houston was diverted to Denver, where passengers deplaned. The return flight from YVRA to Houston was subsequently canceled. One United Express roundtrip from Denver was also canceled Tuesday.

“Available air seats into and out of Steamboat/Hayden, as well as passengers, are up significantly this December over the same time last year,” Lane said.

The past weekend, Dec. 19 and 20, showed strong traffic on par with last year at YVRA — with 1,518 travelers expected to arrive Saturday (down 85 scheduled arrivals from 2014) and 1,165 anticipated arrivals Sunday (up 150 from 2014).

Weather observers are also reporting the snow is piling up on the valley floor. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS, shows that snow depth on the valley floor and weather stations in and close to Steamboat range from 35 to 41.5 inches.

/////Snow continues to fall///

CoCoRaHS weather observer Art Judson said Wednesday that his station between downtown and the mountain has seen 92 inches of snow since Oct. 1 (some has since melted), and a nearby station in The Sanctuary subdivision has recorded 96 inches.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reporting that, in terms of water stored in the snowpack, the western summit of Rabbit Ears Pass, at 9,400 feet, is 116 percent of median for the date. Snow depth on Rabbit Ears was 45 inches. Curiously, the Tower snow measuring site at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass — typically one of the snowiest in Colorado — is at 70 percent of median. Snow depth Tuesday was 46 inches, but that number had not been updated as of mid-afternoon Wednesday.

Judson, who, with co-author Nolan Doesken, wrote “the book” on snow science, said the disparity between percent of median snowfall on Buffalo Pass and Rabbit Ears can be attributed to the absence of the orographic effect (abruptly rising airflow that enhances precipitation) that typically drives snowpack on Buffalo.

/////Backcountry danger////

All the recent snow has led the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to issue an avalanche warning for the “Steamboat Zone,” comprising the Flat Tops and the Park Range to the north and east.

The CAIC posted a citizen report Tuesday of an observed avalanche path on Saddle Mountain just south of Steamboat Lake (not to be confused with the more visible Saddle Mountain north of Hayden and Crane Park).

The backcountry travelers who spied the avalanche path said it had run on a slope with an east, northeast aspect near treeline at 9,600 feet and had an average crown of 36 inches.

“Large to very large avalanches are likely on all aspects near and above treeline,” the CAIC’s Scott Toepfer wrote at 5:45 a.m. Wednesday morning. “Avoid traveling in or under avalanche terrain or any slope steeper than about 30 degrees.”

Toepfer added that, during the preceding two days, locations in the Steamboat zone had seen 18 to 36 inches of snow with as much as three inches of water content.

“Expect widespread avalanches in storm snow breaking one to three feet deep,” he wrote. “Storm slab avalanches will be thicker and stiffer on wind affected slopes. You are most likely to trigger these avalanches near and above treeline on northwest to north to south-facing slopes.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


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