By R. Scott Rappold
Southern Colorado ski area Wolf Creek celebrated closing day Sunday, April 3, but fear not powder hounds, there may be an encore performance.
True to form for the area that gets the most snow in Colorado, closing day came on the heels of a storm that dumped nearly twofeet. The mid-mountain base is a healthy 93 inches. Thats deeper than any of the Colorado resorts still operating.
Rosanne Haidorfer-Pitcher, vice president for marketing and sales, said the ski area could reopen on weekends throughout April if the storm cycle cooperates and brings timely snow. If that happens, it would be a welcome extension of a season that began with such promise last fall.
We were ahead by about 20% percent (in skier visits) at one point in time but then it stopped snowing and we had a dry spell. I think we could have held that percent if we had consistent snowfall, said Haidorfer-Pitcher.
Indeed, double-digit powder days were the norm in the fall, as storm after storm pummeled southern Colorado and provided Wolf Creek the crown of snowiest resort in the Lower 48 for a time. That was what weather forecasters expected from this seasons El Nino, warming of Pacific Ocean waters, said Joel Gratz, a Boulder meteorologist and founder of OpenSnow.com.
What doesn’t make sense (or at least doesn’t align with past El Nino seasons) is the very dry March (about 70% below average as of the morning of the 29th), said Gratz. In fact, the period from early February to late March was so dry, Wolf Creek resorted to reporting hard pack snow conditions. Storms hit other parts of Colorado, but what had been a vortex sucking in the storms over the eastern San Juan Mountains became a bubble keeping them out.
Then came a late-season surprise. On March 26, a storm nobody expected to bring big snow down south clobbered the mountain, dropping 19 inches.
The 19-inch storm was just a matter of right place / right time. It wasn’t a classic Wolf storm with winds from the southwest, said Gratz. Instead, the center of the storm happened to track right over Wolf and dropped two times plus as much snow as any model forecast. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good!
Skiers who hadnt used their passes in weeks this reporter included began clearing schedules, abandoning responsibilities and casting deadlines to the wind. Then after one day of sun, another storm arrived, bringing 23 more inches just in time for closing weekend.
Its amazing what some powder can do to boost morale and bring smiles back to everyones faces. These were the days when the morning alarm clock cant ring soon enough. When the lifts cant run fast enough. When the need to stop skiing and eat some lunch for Gods sake cant compete with the need for powder turns and face shots.
By the time the snow crept out for closing weekend, the mountain was healed and the locals were happy. The storm also helped the ski area salvage the second half of the season, with expectations of finishing about 7 percent in skier visits over the previous year.
As for reopening, that decision will be made as the weekend approaches. Visit their website, WolfCreekSki.com, for updates. And if they do reopen, plan on needing your powder skis.