How to chase powder: A ski bum's tale of the midweek storm

Submitted by R. Scott Rappold on Fri, 01/25/2019 - 08:21
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@Gabriel Rovick Loveland1-22-3
Photo taken by Gabriel Rovick and provided courtesy of Loveland Ski Area. 

By R. Scott Rappold

I can't see.
Is it the utter lack of visibility because it's dumping here in the upper bowls at Loveland Ski Area, high above timberline? Or could it be the fact that the snow off of Chair 8 is so deep and untracked, every carve throws a billow of powder into my face? 
But if you could have seen me Thursday, you would have seen a big smile. Because I love powder and I love it when a plan comes together. I took a chance and it paid off, giving me one of my finest ski days of the season, at a mountain far from where I live. 
There's an art to chasing powder around Colorado. It doesn't always work, but when it does, no matter if your legs are sore and wobbly, your gas tank is empty, your spouse is mad at you and your credit card is maxed out, you'll be glad you did. 
This is your guide. 

Do Your Homework

In a perfect world, every storm would spread its snowy love equally around Colorado. But we're a big state and that rarely happens, so the powder chaser must do homework. 
My go-to for planning my ski days is OpenSnow.com, founded by Boulder meteorologist and skier Joel Gratz. Nobody does a better job on the Internet of informing skiers of the chances of snow in the coming three to five days and where it might fall. In this case, it was clear the snowstorm heading for Colorado was going to miss my home ski area of Wolf Creek in southern Colorado.  
Wolf Creek is known for getting the most snow in Colorado, and this year is no different, with 203 inches so far and the deepest base in the state. But a check with the National Weather Service website (weather.gov) showed no winter weather alerts in the southern third of Colorado. Sunny skiing is good but powder is better. So it was time to pull the trigger - after, of course, returning to Wolf Creek Wednesday morning for a few hours of some unfinished business from the previous day's powder day. 
It's a hell of a thing when the snow misses your favorite ski area. You can either pout and ski groomers or hit the road. I chose the latter.

Pick a Basecamp

Meteorology as a science has come a long way in recent decades, but computer weather models can't be 100 percent sure of where the heaviest snow will fall, so powder chasers must hedge their bets. 
When the snow bullseye is on northern Colorado, I like to stay in Silverthorne in Summit County. The bustling town is in a perfect location. The road north goes to Steamboat. The road south goes to Arapahoe Basin. The road east goes to Loveland. The road west goes to Copper Mountain. I booked a room on Hotwire.com and made the long, snowy drive from the San Luis Valley, up the Arkansas River Basin and over Fremont Pass into Summit County. 
There are many other great basecamp towns to be near skiing without paying resort town prices. If you might ski Loveland or Winter Park, try staying in Georgetown. If you might ski Copper Mountain or Ski Cooper, stay in Leadville. If you might ski Monarch or Wolf Creek, stay in Salida or Alamosa. If you might ski Telluride, Durango or Hesperus, stay in Mancos. 

Have a plan, but be flexible

So I was ensconced in my warm hotel room in Silverthorne while the wind and snow howled outside. But where would I ski on the morrow?
Most ski areas have webcams, and many have powder stake cameras that let you see exactly how much snow has fallen. As I stared mindlessly at the hotel television, I periodically checked the cameras at nearby resorts, and it became apparent that Steamboat would be the winner here. That resort being two snowy hours of driving away, I set my alarm for 6 a.m. and hoped for good news. 
The Colorado Ski Country USA website, Coloradoski.com, is the best way to know what snow has fallen where. Resorts send their morning reports well before the sun is even a hint in the sky, letting the powder chaser compare snow totals while there's still time to choose and make first chair. 
Sure enough, Steamboat had 9 inches. But what was this? Loveland Ski Area, a 20-minute drive, had 6" and the webcams showed it was still dumping. So I made a command decision to hit the "snooze" button and go to Loveland. 
As you can tell from this report, it was a good decision. 
It doesn't always work, as I said earlier, and every powder addict has a story of dropping everything to race across the West for a storm forecast only to find dust-on-crust conditions to accompany the empty wallet the next day. 
But this time, it worked so well that I am writing this not from home, but a cheap hotel in Georgetown, hastily booked from the on-mountain warming hut, to get back up for Friday leftovers. My dreams will be full of steep ridge drops and snowcat rides not possible in Thursday's heavy snow and poor visibility. 

R. Scott Rappold is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience, including 10 at The Colorado Springs Gazette, where he wrote about skiing, hiking, camping and all the things that make Colorado great. He is now a full-time ski bum who writes when he needs money for beer or lift tickets. He lives in Colorado's beautiful San Luis Valley. Read more of Scott's stories here

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