Skiers and snowboarders are rejoicing in abundant early snowfall, helping Colorado resorts get off to an exceptional start to the season after struggling through the Christmas holidays last year.
In the northern mountains, the snow came early in November and kept falling, with accumulations well above average. Since Thanksgiving the central mountains have done well and the southern mountains have received “decent” snow, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Winter Park has received 90 inches as compared to 52 inches at this point last year and a 10-year average of 71 inches. Currently the resort is offering 1,309 acres of skiable terrain as compared to 107 acres at this time last year. Winter Park spokesman Steve Hurlbert did not divulge specific skier visit numbers, but said the number is double what it was at this time last year.
“At the end of the season last year, we finished about average, but it came late so it felt like we were always trying to catch up because we got that slow start,” Hurlbert said. “When you start strong like we have this year, it makes a world of difference. I feel a little bit like Mother Nature owed us after the last two starts that we got, and she’s definitely delivering this year because it has been great.”
Breckenridge offered more terrain and snow at Thanksgiving this year than it did at Christmas last year. Sara Lococo, senior communications manager at Breckenridge, said the amount of skiable terrain and snow there and at the other Front Range mountains owned by Vail Resorts — Keystone, Vail and Beaver Creek — is comparable to what was offered in mid-January last year.
Breckenridge stands out, having received more than 11 feet of snow.
“Things at Breckenridge are awesome right now,” Lococo said. “We’ve had a bit of a record-breaking season so far with earliest openings ever for the Imperial Express Chair, the highest chair in North America, and we just opened Peak 6 on Friday, which was the earliest opening since that terrain first opened in 2013.”
Vail has the most open terrain in North America at more than 5,000 acres. The famed Back Bowls were open for Thanksgiving weekend, one of the earliest openings for that terrain in the last decade.
“There’s definitely an energy you can feel in all of our mountain towns right now, how excited everybody is with the snow and the number of powder days already, and we haven’t even hit Christmas yet,” Lococo said. “There’s definitely a lot of happy skiers and snowboarders out there.”
At this time a year ago, Copper Mountain had 225 acres and eight lifts open, serving 19 trails. This week it stood at 1,093 acres with 15 lifts serving 90 trails. Copper Mountain doesn’t divulge year-to-date snow totals, but spokeswoman Taylor Prather said November snowfall was 58 inches this year and 20 inches last year.
“This is the earliest year we’ve been able to offer skiing out of all three villages on opening day,” Prather said. “We’ve never been able to do that before. Aside from that, we’ve already opened terrain off of the Alpine lift and in Spaulding Bowl, which is huge. It’s a great start to the season. We’re definitely excited, and we hope the momentum continues.”
In southwest Colorado, Telluride has received 84 inches of snow, which is slightly above average, and is operating 10 of its 17 lifts. This weekend it will open the Prospect and Gold Hill lifts, which didn’t open until late January last year.
Jim Kalina, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Boulder, said the season began with a persistent flow of moist air from the northwest that is typically a favorable pattern for the mountains to get snow.
“The pattern has kind of changed a little bit,” Kalina said. “We’re now in a more progressive pattern, where an upper-level trough (low pressure) moves across, followed by a ridge (high pressure) and a trough. It’s probably not as favorable for the mountains to get snow. They’ll still get some, but not as much as they’ve seen.”
The difference, Kalina said, is that the early storms lasted three or four days. Going forward, he expects a repeating pattern that will see a day of snow followed by a couple days without. It still adds up to great skiing and big Christmas holiday business for Colorado resorts.
“This is the best start to the season we’ve had in at least five or six years,” said Winter Park resident Joan Christensen. “Thanksgiving weekend conditions were like midwinter.”