Spring powder skiing in early January

Saturday, January 11, 2014

You could take today and place it in April, except for the low sun angle! The difference between today and yesterday was shocking as base temperatures warmed to almost 40F while the top warmed from 14F yesterday afternoon to 24F this afternoon. I believe the wind last night carried the warm air into the snowpack and made the top several inches or half foot heavy and sluggish. This seemed true everywhere in Shadows as the shady aspects skied very similar to the sunny aspects. Still deep pockets of the storm total from the last few days, but these had to be skied deliberately and powerfully.

The trees off of Rolex skied better, though the evergreens in the upper half skied better than the more open Aspen on the lower half. After popping out of the trees, I enjoyed great soft packed powder on the sides of the trail. In fact, that was so good that my last run up top was down Twister below Four Points, and the left side skied great. The snow got heavier and less skied near the bottom, but still good consistent skiing.

I was thinking the lower mountain powder would be even heavier due to the warmer temperatures, but I was wrong! After skiing a very pleasant soft and carveable Lower Vagabond, I noticed some skiers in the powder under the Thunderhead lift kicking up some powder snow, which was NOT happening up top. I figured a poke into the Why Not trees was worth the effort, and I was very pleasantly surprised to find the heavy layer missing. The snow skied a bit heavy since it was so warm, but deep and consistent through the entire turn depth. I had a few minutes before the bus, so I hopped on Christy and ripped some soft GS turns down Sitz and See Ya that left huge trenches in the packed powder. Really fun skiing on a beautiful sunny day!

We are back to winter sometime around midnight tonight, with snow lasting through Monday and maybe even Tuesday before the sun and another false spring returns starting midweek.

Heavy snows begin again around midnight and last through Monday

Another 9” of snow was reported at mid and top this morning, and skies have partially cleared and temperatures have warmed. The last trough in this very impressive storm cycle arrives around midnight tonight, leading to falling temperatures and moderate to heavy snows. I still expect 4-8” for the morning report, but I expect some Steamboat magic during the morning hours, with lighter but still sometimes moderate snow continuing through Monday as additional impulses of energy periodically increase snowfall rates. I’m raising my initial 4-8” by Monday morning to 6-12”, with still an additional 3-6” during the day and overnight Monday that will be reported Tuesday morning.

Snow showers may hang on for some of Tuesday on the hill, even as the valleys see some sun by the afternoon. The atmosphere then warms and dries as the west coast ridge bring gorgeous weather to our area, though a dry and grazing wave will cool temperatures a bit for Thursday and may bring some high clouds.

We should have a stretch of continuing beautiful days as the ridge is currently forecast to dominate our weather through the early part of the next workweek. Models then struggle with how energy from the Pacific interacts with the ridge, so the forecast for midweek will have to wait until models resolve their differences.

Really good storm skiing this afternoon

Friday, January 10, 2014

It’s been snowing about an inch per hour the entire day, and at 1pm the Steamboat ski area reported 13” had fallen at mid and top in the last 24 hours. It was a bit windy on the hill, and with winds increasing during the afternoon, conditions evolved through the day. In general and as you might expect, any aspect sheltered by the wind skied better as the afternoon progressed, but the wind was even starting to get into the trees and create some drifting there.

An early run down Shadows skied well, especially the lower half, as did the left side of Lower Shadows. The wind was strong enough to buff Sundown liftline so that it skied very consistently, encouraging high speed and bouncy GS turns for a couple of runs. Even the gully just above Duster was skiing great as many (but not all!) of the rocks were covered. Rolex trees also skied very deep if you could find the untracked lines, and the Aspen near the bottom were sublime.

The lower mountain received similar amounts of snow, so that was skiing great too. A quick run down the middle of Concentration had tons of untracked turns. Vertigo is a smaller trail than Concentration and had less untracked snow, but the skiing was still soft and consistent.

Current storm cycle is delivering the goods

The morning report had 6” at mid and 9” up top, with 3.5” at mid falling overnight. By 9am, and additional 2” of snow had fallen at mid and top, and by 11am, another 3” mid and 1” up top had fallen, and it is currently snowing.

Snowfall should increase again this afternoon as a trailing wave passes over the area, producing another 3-6” of snow. Snowfall will rapidly diminish after midnight as the airmass stabilizes and winds increase. Considering that 5” of new snow has already fallen at mid-mountain between 5am and 11am, I’m expecting tomorrow’s report to be in the 8-12” range.

Snowfall will continue to taper off during Saturday and might even end for a short time during the day and possibly into the evening. Sundays forecast storm has slowed a bit, shifting some of my original 6-12” prediction to after the morning report. So I would expect 4-8” on both Sunday and Monday morning to be reported, with most of the snow for Monday occurring during the day Sunday. Snowfall will be becoming lighter but still persistent starting later Sunday and lasting through midnight Monday before ending, likely adding another 3-6” during the Monday that will be reported Tuesday morning.

Dry air and warming mountain temperatures will overspread the area in earnest later Tuesday into Wednesday with beautiful sunny days and cold valleys due to inversions reforming and strengthening. The grazing wave for Thursday may be even further east than earlier forecast, minimizing any cloudiness associated with it as the western ridge rebounds over our area Friday into the weekend.

There are indications that Pacific storms may weaken the ridge and allow energy to move into the west coast and then over our area later in the weekend or early in the next workweek, but lots of model disagreements at this time.

Storm cycle on track to continue through Monday

Thursday, January 9, 2014

We are currently in a lull between the departing weak wave last night and the far more impressive wave timed for tonight. Snowfall will be increasing again this afternoon, especially after sunset as the cool air begins moving over the area. Accompanied with moderately strong northwest flow, I would expect 6-12” by Friday morning, with optimistically some Steamboat magic occurring between 5am and 9am. Snow will lighten later in the morning before picking up again later in the afternoon as a trailing wave moves just northeast of the area.

Models have trended further northeast with this trailing wave, reducing expected snowfall late Friday into Saturday and increasing the chance that high winds will impact the ski area. Snow will become lighter by midnight as the air mass warms and stabilizes, and the snow will likely stop for a short time Saturday, though troublesome winds will continue. I might expect another 5-10” by Saturday morning with only a small amount of that occurring after midnight Friday.

The final wave affecting our area by Saturday afternoon is also cool, moist, energetic and from the northwest. Cooling temperatures will help reduce winds later in the day, and I would expect another 6-12” by Sunday morning, again optimistically with some Steamboat magic occurring between 5am and 9am. The morning snows should lighten during the day, but will likely persist through Monday afternoon. Most of the forecast 3-6” of snow by Monday morning will have fallen Sunday.

A dry and grazing wave in northwest flow looks to bring more cool air into the area Monday night, but no precipitation is currently expected. Likely a couple of brilliant sunny days Tuesday and Wednesday as mountain slopes warm, though valley inversion will reform and strengthen. Another grazing wave in northwest flow may bring some cool air into the region around Thursday, though models are currently struggling with the westward extent of this wave.

Big model differences emerge for the next weekend as the American model breaks the west coast ridge down and allows substantial energy and moisture into the central west coast where they desperately need it, while the European model hints that the ridge will dominate.

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