Tom Ross: Steamboat’s growing 2012-13 snow total puts last 15 ski seasons in perspective
April 8, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Would it take you by surprise if I told you the running snow total for the 2012-13 ski season already ranks it among the top eight winters of the past 15 years? And with another storm on the way Tuesday, this winter of healing snows could move up another step on the list.
The all-time average season snowfall at mid-mountain at the Steamboat Ski Area is 308 inches — make that 308.23 inches to be precise — and the resort had tallied 322 inches for the season as of Monday morning's snow report. If that sounds just slightly above average, don't be misled. It's better than that. This winter already ranks in the top 15 out of the past 32 years in terms of snowfall, according to records kept by the ski area.
And in the most recent 15 seasons, including the one wrapping up this weekend, there have been seven winters with lower snowfall totals and seven with higher. The fact is, we've been spoiled by unusually big winters of late.
When you look at the snowfall of the last five winters, you realize the overall average has been profoundly influenced by three extra super-duty winters that went over 400 inches.
While the all-time season average here is 308 inches, the average snowfall for the preceding five seasons has been 380.75 inches. You can mark that up to the 433 inches that fell in 2010-11 and to the record 489 inches that fell in 2007-08, which was right before the 405 inches that fell in 2008-09.
The season that's freshest in our memories was the memorable winter of 2010-11, when the high country snowpack continued to build well after the ski lifts closed. There was one other 400-inch winter in the last seven — when 2005-06 tallied 432 inches.
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Before that, one has to get in the time machine and revisit the back-to-back 400-inchers of 1995-96 and 1996-97.
Those big winters are the ones that linger in our minds — I'll never forget January 1996, when 216.5 inches of snow (almost as much as fell in all of the winter of 2011-12) fell in one month. It was sick.
What we tend to lose track of is how frequently we experience winters when fewer than 300 inches of snow fall. That would be eight of the preceding 15. And the winter of 2012-13 is set to be just the eighth winter since 1979-80 that ended up with season snowfall in the 300-inch range. And even that's a little misleading — there were four more winters that were just a few inches away from the 300-inch mark.
The quartet of 400-inch-plus winters that we remember so well from the last seven years represents one-half of the total ski seasons that have exceeded that threshold in the last 32 years. They aren't rare, but 400-inch winters aren't to be taken for granted, either. And it's worth understanding that a 440-inch winter tends to skew the average.
Maybe instead of focusing on average winter snowfall amounts, we should reflect on our memories of magical days spent in the Colorado snow.
The winter of 2012-13 can be described as being generous in terms of the frequency of modest snowfalls that sweetened the slopes while holding back on moisture content. After all, champagne powder is dry snow.
You can't always have it both ways.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com