Last week’s arctic outbreak brought extreme cold, as we all know. Often warmer winds, called chinooks, follow on the heels of such cold snaps. They arrive quickly and take the nip away. Alas, that is not the case with this bout of cold. It is warmer now than the sub-zero temperature a week ago, but still on the cold side. That is likely to continue until at least the end of the week. The arctic air is proving stubborn. Keep those long johns handy since the cold persists for a while yet, and the wind kicks in by the weekend.
Snow is plentiful, and more is in the forecast for the high country. There was a significant blast of snow Monday night into Tuesday in northwest Wyoming and in the Sierra Madre and Snowy Range mountains. That continues through today. That’s good news for the snowpack, as well as those who enjoy powder conditions.
There’s plenty of fluff as well as groomed slopes at the Snowy Range Ski and Recreation Area. When temperatures get so cold, it can be warmer at the higher elevations since cold air is heavy and tends to stay in low-lying areas. That was the case with the extreme cold Sunday. While it was 15 below in Laramie, it was 16 above at the ski area. It’s worth checking temperatures at higher elevations when deciding whether to head out or not.
It sounds like a broken record when reporting about the big snow dumps in northwest Wyoming. That description repeats again. In the past six days, 42 inches of snow fell at Grand Targhee, on the west side of Teton Pass. The forecast is for another 23 inches in the next four days. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort saw 48 inches of new snow since last weekend and is forecast to see another 16 inches by Saturday. Bring out the snorkels. Both resorts report bases in triple digits, breaking the 100-inch mark.
Snow also fell to the south across Colorado, although not to the same extent. Winter Park saw 13 inches of new snow since last weekend with another 10 inches in the forecast by Saturday. Steamboat fared even better with 22 inches since the weekend and another 18 inches in the forecast by Saturday.
Anyone hoping to enjoy the slopes at ski areas across the region, is reminded to plan ahead and make reservations well in advance. Safety measures for COVID-19 continue with masks, social distancing, and limited access to the warmth of lodges.
The cold last weekend also delivered the snow in the Medicine Bow Mountains with the snowpack reaching 105% of average. At Keystone, near Rob Roy Reservoir, there have been a total of 140 inches of snow so far this season according to Don Day Jr. at www.dayweather.com. This is a 10-inch increase from last week. This is still well behind the 220 inches reported by this time last year, but closer to the 154 inches reported by this time in 2019.
Conditions “up top” in the Snowy Range are excellent to outstanding. The big news is the instability of the snowpack.
Personnel at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center report the avalanche danger for the southern Wyoming and northern Colorado mountains is rated “considerable” at all elevations. Avalanche fatalities are in the news with two lives lost this past weekend. Conditions are dangerous. The most hazardous slopes are areas where recent winds built fresh slabs atop widespread layers of weak snow. Even in wind-sheltered terrain avalanches can occur and bury skiers and snowmobilers.
Backcountry skiers report outstanding conditions heading out from the Green Rock Trailhead. A group of skiers broke trail, going along Sally Creek. They said the new powder made for quite a workout.
Snow depths are very good on the Barber Lake Trail and at the lower elevation trails at Corner Mountain. Most any route off of Highway 130 offers plenty of snow.
Conditions are very good on the trails at Chimney Park, off of Highway 230. About 6 inches of new fluff fell the last few days. Use of the trails has increased, making for a decent base with user-developed classic tracks. Actual mechanical packing of the snow last occurred over a month ago.
The one area getting left out of all the snow bouts is Pole Mountain between Laramie and Cheyenne. Storms hitting the Snowy Range just haven’t made it to Pole Mountain. The typical upslope conditions that bring the big dumps have also avoided the area. While the Nordic ski trails at Happy Jack Recreation Area are packed after every dusting of new snow, the base remains thin. The trails are covered, although dirt still shows through thin spots. Actual grooming of the skate lanes and setting of classic tracks has not been possible yet this season due to the thin base.
The multi-use trails on Pole Mountain and at the Happy Jack Recreation Area are in good shape. The exceptions are some of the lower trails where ice is prevalent, making for rather treacherous conditions for those crossing via snowbike. The lower Happy Jack Trailhead is the start and finish line for the Snow Dawg snowbike race being held by Laramie BikeNet on Sunday. Feb. 21. The trails remain open to all users. The race is somewhat unique in that only short sections of the actual loop course are timed. Participants can take their time in between the timed sections.
The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service snow measuring stations report 52 inches of snow at Cinnabar Park, a four-inch increase from last week. The station at Brooklyn Lake reports 67 inches of snow, a four-inch increase from last week. On the north end of the range, the station at Sand Lake shows 74 inches of snow, an increase of nine inches from a week ago. The station at Medicine Bow, at an elevation of 10,500 feet, reports 93 inches of snow, an increase of seven inches from last week. The station at North French Creek, on the west side of the Medicine Bow Mountains, reports 73 inches of snow, an increase of seven inches from last week. The Crow Creek station on Pole Mountain shows nine inches of snow, an increase of two inches from last week.
Pole Mountain/Happy Jack Recreation Area Nordic ski trails: A few inches fell this past week, but the base remains thin. Groomers pack the snow after each new snowfall.
Pole Mountain Multi-Use Trails: Grooming for snowbiking, trail running and snowshoeing continues as needed. Expect icy segments at the lower elevation trails.
Chimney Park Nordic ski trails: Very good conditions with about 6 inches of new snow this past week. Trails are user-packed with no recent grooming.
Snowy Range backcountry conditions: Outstanding conditions at the higher elevations. There’s about a foot of new snow atop a user-packed base.
Snowy Range: Conditions are very good, but the new snow combined with wind action creates areas of instability in the snowpack. Avalanche risk is rated considerable.
Wyoming Downhill Areas
Snowy Range Ski Area: 76-inch base; 5 lifts, 33 runs and 100% of terrain open.
Grand Targhee: 112-inch base; 5 lifts, 95 trails and 100% of terrain open.
Hogadon: 15-inch base; 2 lifts, 28 trails and 100% of terrain open.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort: 110-inch base; 13 lifts, 114 trails and 86% of terrain open.
Sleeping Giant: 66-inch base; 3 lifts, 49 trails and 100% of terrain open
Snow King: 54-inch base; 4 lifts, 30 trails and 91% of terrain open.
Colorado Downhill Areas
Arapahoe Basin: 53-inch base; 9 lifts, 123 trails and 85% of terrain open.
Breckenridge: 47-inch base; 33 lifts, 135 trails and 72% of terrain open.
Copper Mountain: 40-inch base; 23 lifts, 141 trails and 89% of terrain open.
Eldora: 30-inch base; 10 lifts, 61 trails and 94% of terrain open.
Keystone: 40-inch base; 20 lifts, 119 trails and 92% of terrain open.
Loveland: 46-inch base; 9 lifts, 72 trails and 77% of terrain open.
Steamboat: 75-inch base; 17 lifts, 169 trails and 98% of terrain open.
Vail: 52-inch base; 30 lifts, 192 trails and 98% of terrain open.
Winter Park: 59-inch base; 21 lifts, 148 trails and 89% of terrain open.