A Colorado winter to remember so far, but for entirely the wrong reason
by Allen Best
MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – If there were people skiing at Crested Butte Mountain Resort on Sunday afternoon, more telling of this season of snowy abnormality were the driveways of homes and condo parking lots.
Poles had been placed along the edge of asphalt, to give snowplowers an idea of where to scrape. The poles stood in just an inch or two of snow, if that.
A bountiful winter this is not, at least so far in resorts in Colorado and more southerly locations of the continent.
In the San Juan Mountains, even less snow was evident over the weekend. Travelers to Telluride commonly will travel from Ridgway to Dallas Divide, passing as they do the stunningly beautiful hay meadows of the ranch owned by Ralph Lauren. Snow is the common denominator for Christmas week, but almost no snow was evident Friday amid the hay stubble.
At Telluride, one man was walking in shorts, and skis were almost entirely absent from the town streets. The Plunge, the famed ski run, showed as much grass as snow. Along Colorado Avenue, the town’s main artery, doors were open and shops were busy.
Vail had more natural snow but still not very much. A resident reported the village streets were busy—too busy. There were people in town because there just wasn’t that much excuse to be on the ski hill.
Shops along Crested Butte’s Elk Avenue were busy, too, the doors wide open because it just wasn’t that cold.
In Tahoe, it was much the same story: abnormal heat and not much snow. The National Weather Service reported several highs were broken during the days after Christmas. The Tahoe Daily News reported many injuries on the ski slopes. “Without fresh snow, injuries are more common at ski resorts because of the hard-pack conditions,” the website noted.
Have their been more barren winters in Colorado during the modern ski era?
At the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte, billy barr (his choice of capitalization) has been keeping track of snow and temperatures since 1974. This winter has been surpassed by the lack of snow only by that of 1976-77. What is also notable about barr’s weather records for this winter is the string of highest temperatures, including the highest temperature in his data base for New Year’s Day: 37 degrees.
That said, another winter, of 1980-81, invites comparisons. It, too, had sparse snow and warm temperatures. On Jan. 1 of that winter, the Denver Post published a photograph of a lift-op at Steamboat wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sitting in a lawn chair, no snow in sight.
From Pagosa Springs, Colo., comes this memory from Rod Proffitt: “I must be getting to be an old timer. I remember the 1976-77 winter very well. I had just moved from Aspen to Cripple Creek to start a law practice, but I had promised some friends I would come back for Winterskol that year.
Believe it or not, I was able to drive over Independence Pass mid-January that year. I had a cousin living in Crested Butte that year. With no snow, the perma-frost went down below the water lines and froze up the whole town. They had a miserable winter that year.
Cripple Creek rarely had a snow cover so their wood pipes were much deeper and survived that winter, but in the Spring a mountain goat died and fell into one of the reservoirs on Pikes Peak. The whole town of Cripple Creek got sick that year. Yes, it was a memorable year….”the year of no snow” to us old timers.”