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Historic Snowfall in Western US

Is it possible to have too much snow? Ask anyone in the Sierras or Colorado right now, and they’ll say yes. A storm of rare strength, moisture content, and duration has been dumping feet of snow on many areas in the West, causing major roads and resorts to close until they can dig out and manage severe avalanche danger.

In California, several Tahoe-area resorts didn’t spin lifts for much of the first part of this week. Kirkwood, Squaw, Alpine Meadows, June Mountain, Sugar Bowl, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Northstar, and Boreal were closed today after more than three feet of snow fell in just 24 hours. Road crews are having trouble keeping up, and power is out across much of the area. Mammoth Mountain has measured as much as 15 feet in the past week, which, coupled with high winds, has made for a challenging few days, operationally.

At Arapahoe Basin, Colo., on Tuesday, the ski area closed at 1 p.m. and asked everyone—staff included—to evacuate the area at the behest of the Colorado department of transportation. Avalanche danger was so high, CDOT closed Loveland Pass, the road that accesses A-Basin, from Keystone to Loveland—a rare move.

Avalanche forecasters are telling people to stay out of the back country in areas like Crested Butte and Gunnison because of historic avalanche danger.

Kirkwood CA slide crown!
Kirkwood CA slide crown!

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has active warnings in six of the 10 avalanche zones it monitors from its headquarters in Boulder. The zone near Crested Butte has received a higher extreme warning” that is in effect through Friday.

“This is a really rare occurrence for us,” CAIC forecaster Mark Cooperstein said. “It’s maybe six to eight times a decade that we get an avalanche danger that’s extreme.”

The heightened avalanche conditions are the result of extreme weather.

According to avalanche experts, the seasonal snowfall started later than usual in Colorado’s mountains, which didn’t provide a good base for the storm that rolled in the first few days of January.

“This time is so different because it’s so much snow in such a short amount of time,” Cooperstein said.

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Crested Butte received 90 inches of new snow over the past 10 days. Experts said conditions like that can create avalanches 20 feet deep or more.

“A very big avalanche for these conditions is something that can knock down trees, it can destroy a car,” Cooperstein said. “They’re very likely and they’re going to be very big and they’re going to be bigger than normal. Almost historic size.”

The CAIC is urging people to avoid back country areas during the warnings and extreme warning.

In the avalanche condition report for the Aspen zone, the CAIC wrote: “In the meantime, keep working on those new skills and party tricks, like juggling, throat-singing, or fire-walking.”

Crested Butte has been in Ma Nature’s bullseye for much of the season, and this week is no exception. On Monday afternoon, with heavy snow falling and high winds, the resort closed operations early for safety reasons. More than seven feet of snow has fallen at The Butte in the past 10 days.

Resorts in the Pacific Norwest, Utah, and Wyoming have all been getting walloped with several feet of snow over the past week. It’s deep, and it isn’t even done yet. Snow is expected to fall across vast swaths of the West through Friday.

As long as things settle down, all this snow will make for great skiing over the US holiday weekend!

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