Editor’s note: Mountain correspondent R. Scott Rappold has been skiing for ten of the past 12 days and was recently coaxed down off the mountain to file this report. He wasn’t happy about it, and numerous angry references to deadlines, his editors and the field of journalism as a whole have been edited out. Reader discretion is advised.
By R. Scott Rappold
WOLF CREEK SKI AREA – Have you ever had the best ski day of your life?
Today at Wolf Creek was that. It snowed three feet. Three (EXPLETIVE DELETED) feet. It was the kind of day when the powder is so deep, every turn of your skis or snowboard throws snow into your face. Laugh at it or spit out the snow. Then repeat.
Heavy snow is supposed to be the norm here. After all, Wolf Creek, ideally suited to catch storms out of the southwest, proudly claims “the most snow in Colorado,” an average of 450 inches a year.
But this year has been nothing like average. And to understand why today was the best day of skiing ever, we must step back a bit.
The San Juan Mountains are Colorado’s largest range, covering 17,000 square miles of some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain in the state. Most of the range is wilderness, with lift-served skiing on the fringes at Purgatory, Hesperus, Silverton, Telluride and Wolf Creek.
These mountains often get very different weather from the rest of Colorado, but rarely does that mean dryer weather than the rest of Colorado. In summer, violent thunderstorms rattle the jagged peaks. In winter, huge snowstorms come out of the Pacific and tend to zero in on Wolf Creek and Silverton in particular, often giving these areas the highest snow totals in the state.
But this year, as Halloween turned to Thanksgiving turned to Christmas, the snow stubbornly stayed away. Most of the storms were steered north by the jet stream, making for great holidays in (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Montana and Wyoming but for sunburns in the San Juans. Even when northern Colorado got snow, it was almost as if the U.S. Highway 50 corridor was a wall, deflecting the flakes from spreading southward.
It was enough to make a Wolf Creek ski bum start taking anti-depressants. As January drew to a close, we had received just 92 inches of snow. We were at 317 inches on the same date in 2017.
Sure, I still skied, keeping my legs fresh on the groomers and making amazing trips to Monarch Mountain and Arapahoe Basin, two other locals-oriented areas. But there’s nothing like skiing your home mountain – not to mention waking up in your own bed as opposed to paying for a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) hotel.
All the ski bums could do was shake their heads, knock back a pint or three and wonder when things would revert back to normal. Sure, no part of Colorado was at 100 percent snowpack, but when you’ve spent years skiing the San Juan powder and it’s the main reason you live in such a remote region…
Editor’s note: The section ends here with what appears to be a teardrop on the page.
Can a ski area go from having one of the lowest snowpacks in Colorado to the highest?
As I write this, the base at Wolf Creek is at 87 inches. The rocks and tree stumps that plagued our early season are gone. It’s where it should be, the deepest snow in Colorado.
But why now? And why such an early-season drought? For answers I reached out to the National Weather Service’s Pueblo office.
“Most of the fall and winter seasons have been dominated by a massive high pressure over the Great Basin, diverting storms to the north of Colorado… However over the past few weeks a long wave trough has set up over the western U.S. allowing storms to drop down into our neck of the woods.”
“What exactly has caused the shift is unclear at this point but suffice to say it is within the realm of variability that pattern shifts like this naturally occur even during a La Nina year.”
I’m not a meteorologist but I like to think of it as a climate correction. If we must get most of our snowpack in a two-week period, so be it. But as for responsibilities to my family, my editors, my creditors…
Editor’s note: Scott failed to write an ending to this blog post, so we called him at Wolf Creek this morning for a conclusion. He responded with a text message:
“If you love powder, get thee to Wolf Creek.”