As of April 26, all ski areas in Colorado are still closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. It’s possible that Arapahoe Basin and maybe another high-elevation mountain could spin lifts later this spring, but that’s just speculation at this point. This is my final post of the season and I have included a LOT of charts to show snowpack trends throughout the past few months. Let’s go!
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Short Term Forecast
Brief Weather Update
From April 23-25, a storm dropped 8-14 inches of snow on the northern mountains.
On Sunday, April 26, a fast-moving line of showers should bring a coating to a few inches of snow to the northern and central mountains above about 10,000 feet. The following graph is from our excellent summer service OpenSummit.com and nicely shows the likelihood of the afternoon snow showers at Vail.
From April 27 through about May 5, we’ll see drier-than-average and warmer-than-average weather. The driest and warmest days will be Thursday, April 30, and Friday, May 1.
Around May 5th, we might see another storm, especially over the northern mountains. And I am sure we’ll see more high elevation snow throughout the month of May. That’s just how it goes around here!
Brief Skiing Update
Backcountry skiing is open though local officials are stressing that people should not travel to remote mountain towns to ski, and to please take it easy in the backcountry so that you don’t get hurt and put stress on local health and search and rescue teams.
While the valleys are melting out, as usual…
…the mountains are still covered in a deep snowpack.
If you plan to enjoy earning your turns through the spring, be careful, stay local, and have fun!
Ski Season 2019-2020 Recap
I am going to post a lot of graphics, but if you want the quick overview of the 2019-2020 season, here it is: About Average.
There were dry periods and dumps throughout the season, but the overall takeaway was that most mountains saw roughly average snowfall, with higher numbers in the northern mountains and lower numbers in the southern mountains.
The dark blue line below shows the 2019-2020 season snowpack for all of Colorado. The red lines show the average/median. We were close to average/median for most of the season. There was a flat-line (no snow) period for a few weeks in early November, but then we got back onto the storm train with consistent snow for much of the season.
While the statewide snowpack was close to normal, this generalization masks the detail that the northern mountains received more snow vs average than the southern mountains. The map below shows the precipitation versus average from October 1, 2019, to April 26, 2020. This map shows precipitation and not snowfall, but nearly all of the precipitation during the late fall, winter, and early spring falls as snow, so it’s a good approximation for snowfall compared to average.
It’s easy to get lost in the details, so before I move on with more graphics, I’ll write the summary again: The 2019-2020 season brought roughly average snowfall, with more snow in the north and less in the south.
Now let’s look at graphics for a handful of mountains across the state. All of the graphics below were created by us at OpenSnow using publicly-available SNOTEL information and interpolating the data to estimate snowpack at each mountain or resort. All-Access subscribers can see these and other similar graphics, updated each day, by going to OpenSnow, selecting a mountain, and taping the "Snow Report" section. These graphics are available on our website and our iOS and Android apps.
We’ll move from north-to-south across Colorado.
Steamboat had a wonderful season with a snowpack that was above average from start to finish.
Rocky Mountain National Park had a phenomenal season. Like Steamboat, the snowpack was nicely above average all year.
Eldora, located east of the continental divide and just south of Rocky Mountain National Park, also had an amazing season. There were a few times in late 2019 that the snowpack set new records (the orange line went above the dashed grey line).
Moving to Summit County and the surrounding area, the snowpack at Arapahoe Basin shows the tendency to be close to average. There were cycles with drier weeks and also with rapid increases in the snowpack. Then they stayed nicely above average following the February storm cycle. Nearby Winter Park's numbers were higher than Arapahoe Basin, but The story for Arapahoe Basin is similar for the other Summit County and Eagle County ski areas (Loveland, Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper, Vail, Beaver Creek).
In the central mountains, Aspen Highlands is no average ski area, but their snowpack was pretty close to average for this season.
Just a bit farther south, Crested Butte started slow, ramped up nicely in December, and then trended just below average for a lot of the rest of the season mostly due to a few weeks of drier weather from late January into early February. But end-of-season storms pushed the snowpack back to average during peak depth in early April.
In the southern mountains, Telluride rebounded from a very slow start and spent much of the season with above-average snowpack. The story holds for nearby Silverton as well.
In the far southern mountains, Purgatory went from famine through October and most of November, to feast in late November and December. Then a lot of the rest of the season was drier-than-average, but the feast of late 2019 kept the snowpack above average for most of the season.
And finally, at Wolf Creek, it was a mixed year with many drier periods (the flat segments of the orange line) as well as fun and deep storm cycles, especially in late 2019 and early 2020.
Thanks for sticking with me through all of those graphics.
If you were not overwhelmed, welcome to the snow nerd club!
If you were overwhelmed, just remember the following graphic which shows that on the balance, the 2019-2020 ski season across Colorado was around average.
The guaranteed long-range forecast is that May will bring warmer weather than April along with a few snowstorms over the mountains. Then June, July, and August will be even warmer than May and we’ll see lots of thunderstorms.
Even if social distancing rules continue, we’ll all be responsibly hiking, biking, climbing, kayaking, etc through the summer. While summertime weather is usually supportive of all our fun activities, the number one weather risk to all of us will be lightning.
Check out our other service OpenSummit.com and the OpenSummit App for iOS and Android for hourly forecasts for hundreds (soon to be thousands) of peaks and trails around Colorado and the United States.
OpenSummit clearly shows lightning risk each hour as well as temperatures, winds, precipitation, and cloud cover at the elevation of the trails. The accuracy of hourly forecasts is reasonable for 1-2 days into the future and then declines. Still, even 3, 4, and 5-day forecasts provide a reasonable idea of what to expect.
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While the 2019-2020 snow season was near average, ski area operations and our lives for the last 4-6 weeks of the season were as far from average as possible.
I hope that you, your friends, and your family are healthy and stay well as our society tries to get a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic.
While this will be my last scheduled post of the season, I’ll write updates through the spring and summer if there are intense snowstorms in the forecast, or if there are announcements about ski areas reopening for the 2019-2020 season, or if there are major operational updates and the rules and procedures that might be in place for the 2020-2021 season.
Thanks so much for your support of myself and all of us at OpenSnow that work hard each day to help you learn about and find the best snow.
Stay healthy, stay happy!
Steamboat, Granby, Beaver Creek, Vail, Ski Cooper, Copper, Breckenridge, Keystone, Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, Winter Park, Berthoud Pass, Eldora, Rocky Mountain National Park, Cameron Pass
Along the Divide
Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, Winter Park, Berthoud Pass
East of the Divide
Eldora, Echo, Rocky Mountain National Park, Cameron Pass
Aspen, Sunlight, Monarch, Crested Butte, Irwin, Powderhorn
Telluride, Silverton – north side of the southern mountains | Purgatory, Wolf Creek – south side of the southern mountains
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