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Colorado Snow Conditions Update – Dec 2

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In terms of early season skiing, the month of November was about as good as we could ask for in the Rockies.  Long range predictions had indicated a strong La Nina developing and bringing plenty of snow to Colorado by December, but it seemed to start earlier than predicted, leading to near record November snowfalls for some ski areas.  I had three fantastic backcountry days in November – better, in fact, than any backcountry days I had all of last season in terms of snow quality.  The resorts haven’t been doing too badly either, with many turning in epic opening days thanks to plenty of snow falling in the prior weeks.  I’ve been out nine times so far this year, easily a personal record (before this year, the most I’d ever skied before December was only two times I think).  Here is a little recap of the skiing conditions I have observed over the last couple of weeks, mainly around the Front Range.  Please feel free to send me your own recent observations!

Resort Skiing

Loveland (11/25)

On Thanksgiving morning, my friend Ryan, his girlfriend Brandi, and I skied at Loveland before the holiday festivities began.  It was a cold start to the morning, with a temperature of -2 when we got there around 9:30 (the official low was around -10 I believe).  Skies were completely clear, though, so in spite of the chilly lift rides, it was a beautiful morning.  Temperatures “warmed” into the single digits while we were there.

The amount of terrain open was impressive for so early in the year.  We made our way over to Chair 8, finding variable snow.  Strong winds a day or two before had created some hard wind-packed areas where turning was quite difficult (but still fun once we figured out we were better off straight-shooting these sections).  However, by the time we got to Chair 8, we found nice, soft snow in the trees that was a lot of fun to ski.  All in all, it was a fantastic Thanksgiving morning, with the advantage of burning extra calories to allow for more food consumption later in the day.

Winter Park (12/2)

This morning, I went up to Winter Park for a few hours and skied Mary Jane until my legs were about to fall off (which only took about 3 hours… hey come on, it’s early season, my skiing legs aren’t in that good of shape yet!).  The Jane was fantastic, though.  I was actually quite surprised.  There were very few people on the mountain today, while plenty of leftover untracked powder stashes could be found in the trees.  The weather was nice, and actually quite warm, but the snow still remained fresh when I took off around 1 p.m.  I had forgotten how much fun Mary Jane is to ski when the snow is good.  Right now, I’d say about 75% of the terrain on Mary Jane is open right now, which is quite impressive for this early in the year.  I scraped a few times on the bump runs far skiers right of the Challenger lift, but in the trees I was skiing, I don’t think I scraped at all as the coverage was quite good.

Backcountry Skiing

Berthoud Pass (11/17)

It’s been a couple of weeks since I have skied Berthoud Pass, so this report will be somewhat outdated, but should still give a good idea of how strong the early season coverage is (which of course means, it should be even better by now).  My friends Nick, Jamie and I headed up to Berthoud in the morning for three laps before heading back to Denver in time for work, school, etc.  We made a lap off of West Russell and skied a gully near the 90’s, before jumping across the road and skiing two laps in the Floral Park area, the second of which was amazing.  There were some wind-loaded areas up on the pass, the result of a strong storm from the day before, but we avoided these areas and found stable snow on our lines, mostly below treeline.

It was a true pass-skiing type of morning… skinning up above the pass, skiing down to the road below the pass, and hitchhiking back to the top of the pass.

The skin up the west side of the pass

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James enjoys some powder

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Fun little gully we skied

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The smile on Nick’s face says it all

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The “ski lifts” at Berthoud Pass = riding in the back of pickup trucks to the top of the pass

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It was very pristine at Floral Park on this morning… and the skiing was pretty good too

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Rogers Pass/Indian Peaks Wilderness (11/22)

About a week and a half ago, my friend Michael, an old friend of mine from Jackson Hole, spent a couple of days in Denver while on his way to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving.  We were able to get out for a nice ski tour in the Indian Peaks while he was here.  We ran out of daylight and didn’t quite make it to any true downhill skiing areas, but we did have a great afternoon with about two and a half hours of good exercising skinning a few miles into the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

We started at the Moffat Tunnel and skinned the Heart Lake Trail, finding a pretty good snowpack.  Being the eastern side of the Front Range, variable snow is obviously going to exist with the windy conditions that area receives, but the snowpack is pretty deep as you get closer to the divide.  I suspect good turns can be found on north-facing (and perhaps east-facing) slopes right now, if you don’t mind a longer approach.  The ski back down our skin track was fast and, at times, pretty tight, but all in all it was an excellent tour in a beautiful area.  We had cold and windy conditions for most of the tour, but the snow that had been falling was pretty much winding down by the time we got there.

Avy beacon check

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Bridge crossing

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Creek crossings on skis are always exciting

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Caught a pretty cool sunset on the way back

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Current Conditions

As I took Highway 40 to Winter Park this morning, I couldn’t help but wish I had taken a backcountry set-up with me to ski a run at Berthoud Pass, because it was looking very good.  The 110’s area had a couple of good looking tracks in it, and coverage appeared to be better than the last time I was up there.

Avalanche conditions have been reasonably stable lately, at least by Colorado standards.  Many steeper slopes have been relatively safe the last couple of weeks, when evaluated properly.  Pockets of wind slabs are forming, though, and weak layers are continuing to form, so definitely keep your guard up, especially as more snow starts to fall.  In fact, the CAIC has already indicated pockets of “Considerable” danger above treeline in the Front Range zones, indicating wind slabs.  If you’re a backcountry skier, make sure you follow the CAIC’s excellent website religiously and don’t get a false sense of security just because there hasn’t been much avalanche activity recently.

More snow is headed for Colorado this weekend and early next week, but there is still a bit of uncertainty regarding how much snow will fall.  Still, the weather pattern continues to look pretty favorable for us overall.  For more weather information, check out Colorado Powder Forecast.

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