Central U.S. Rocky Mountains Snow Drought — Time for Wider Skis?

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | November 15, 2007      

Here in the throat searing dryness of the central U.S. Rocky Mountains I don’t let a drought streak bother me much. After all, any high school geography teacher will tell you we basically live in a high altitude desert. But you always wonder how the winter will pan out, and this one (2007) is off to a rather inauspicious start.

After a couple of nice wet storms early on, we’ve had weeks of high pressure systems; beautiful Indian summer days that are nice for things like bicycle rides and rock climbing, but tend to leave less than the required snowpack for our WildSnow.com endevors. What tells the tale is that the Aspen ski resorts may not have enough snow to open much, if any terrain. “Right now, we couldn’t open anything,” is how Aspen Skiing Company spokesman put it (just before he was fired?). Normally the Aspen ski resorts get some accumulation up at higher altitudes. By combining that with snowmaking they can usually open something, but this year they don’t have the snow up high. That’s mainly because it simply hasn’t snowed much, so shrill screams about global warming have not been emanating from the usual sources.

Nonetheless, the slightly warmer climate no doubt causes a reduction in snow making capability and can at least be partly blamed for the lighter accumulation up high. So I’d give this a Gore Panic (GP) rating of of 90/10, 90 for normal climate fluctuation and 10 for contribution of global warming. Meanwhile, back here at WildSnow.com world HQ we do know the snow is coming in its own good time, and we’re incredibly busy shipping and receiving gear, modding things like packs and boots, and planning this winter’s travels.

Primer for journalists who land here for back story: For Colorado backcountry skiers, the biggest problem with this type of weather is that we’ll probably end up with a somewhat thin snowpack. Combine that with our usual high altitude cold and we get layers of re-crystallized snow known as “sugar snow” or “depth hoar” that causes avalanches and can be difficult to ski.

So, knowing we may be in for a “sugar snow winter” I’m wondering if I made the right choice in my primary planks for this season. I’ve got a nice new unmounted pair of BD Voodo skis leaning against the wall next to me. They’re 123-88-112 in dimension, which makes them lightweight and nimble but not the big wide floaters that can help with a weak snowpack. I’m not letting the Voodos go and I’ll mount ’em with some Dynafits in the next few days. But I’m thinking I’d better get some fat sticks on tap pronto, or it could be a suffer fest.

Continuing those thoughts, one positive aspect of global warming is that the high Rockies might receive warmer and denser snow, as well as higher average temps reducing the amount of recrystallization. I know it’s a sin to see anything positive about climate change, but there, I said it.



24 Responses to “Central U.S. Rocky Mountains Snow Drought — Time for Wider Skis?”

  1. cory November 15th, 2007 11:42 am

    A couple of things…
    1) On a year like this, I want to know where I can ski. The ice climbing world has sites that say what is “in”. Is there such thing for skiing, or… is there a site that tells snow totals and not just the report from the marketing guys at the ski areas?
    2) I hate to be “that guy”, but Lou it seems that the debate is not about the existence of gobal warming, but rather the cause of global warming.

  2. Guy November 15th, 2007 1:13 pm

    Hey Lou,

    That’s funny – I’m sitting up here in Vancouver, also with a brand new pair of unmounted Voodoos, also waiting to get mounted with Dynafit bindings!

  3. jason November 15th, 2007 1:57 pm

    In response to cory’s post:

    there is a website (http://www.bestsnow.net/ ) that is run by a statistician who loves to ski (as unbiased as you can get). it focuses on resorts, but that can be useful if you’re backcountry skiing in that specific area. he usually does weekly updates through the winter, and he goes over all the major geographic (hence different climates) areas that we ski in North America. check it out!

  4. Bdc November 15th, 2007 9:41 pm

    Clean out the carb, Whistler/Blackcomb opens this weekend with 80 cm in the last storm cycle and a 100cm base. A little bit of fire for those ridiculous resort rating debates.

  5. Chase November 15th, 2007 10:33 pm

    Hey Guys,
    Long range forcast for next week is SNOW starting Mon.
    night and lasting all week with a little repreave around thanks
    giving. Best senario is we have a big slide cycle and start over

  6. Markian November 15th, 2007 10:33 pm


    I’m no expert on climate change, however, from my lay persons percpective I have yet to find a resource that confirms your predictions of a “warmer and denser” snowpack here in CO due to global warming. If this is your personal prediction, I think it is wishful thinking. If you have a resource I would enjoy reading it.

  7. Lou November 16th, 2007 7:33 am

    Markian, the resource I’m using is simple logic, something we humans can apply at least once in a while. Snow in a warmer climate is denser, thus, global warming could make the snow denser. Even if one is an unqualified lay person, they can use their brain and draw conclusions. Or should we just become mindless robots who choose to follow supposedly qualified experts?

    Cory, my point is that in this case here in Colorado it would be a reach to start screaming about global warming, though I’m sure doing so is tempting for a lot of folks. That said, I agree the climate is warming. Just because I like to think things through and ask a few questions doesn’t mean I deny that global warming exists. Whatever happened to free and open inquiry, anyway? It seems like every time a person asks a few tiny simple little questions about global warming, or tries to see anything positive about it, they’re shouted down by some kind of mob mentality. That’s wrong and we should all be on guard about it, otherwise we’re going to look pretty dumb fifteen years from now.

    The history of science is riddled with stuff that should have been questioned more. Research eugenics if you want an example. Crichton’s essay about that is pretty interesting. it’s here: http://michaelcrichton.com/essay-stateoffear-whypoliticizedscienceisdangerous.html

  8. AJ November 16th, 2007 8:21 am

    global warming is big business

    a lot of people are earning a living from it, research, industry, etc.

    when money is involved, corruption is around the corner

    not everything “scientists” say is true

    doubt is the father of all wisdom!

  9. Andrew_L November 16th, 2007 9:30 am

    Oh my God, please tell me you didn’t just link to Michael Crichton!!

  10. Scott B November 16th, 2007 9:54 am

    Still, In the last 20 years, the winters around here have become shorter and less intense. The few remaining permanent snow fields in Colorado amd Wyoming have shrunk dramatically, leaving many popular mixed alpine climbs a distant memory.

    For those of us interested in winter recreation and/or alpine climbs like the the Black Ice Couloir, there doesn’t seem to be much to cheer about.

  11. Lou November 16th, 2007 10:15 am

    Andrew, I simply found his essay to be interesting regarding how the pop view of science shifts, sorry to panic you into prayer. You’ll live. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve not read Crichton’s “State of Fear” book and I have watched Gore’s movie.

    Scott, yep, it’s gotten warmer. I’m not sure all winter recreation will die, but it does change things, that’s all I’m saying.

  12. Randonnee November 16th, 2007 11:15 am

    I would agree with Lou’s idea about warmer and denser snow. It is interesting to observe the different climate zones in the mountains of Washington, and see the continuum of temperature, amount of sunshine, differing snowfall amount and type and the resulting snowpacks. Near my home is the wet Cascade crest to the west and around my home the Wenatchee Mountains that literally run from the Cascade crest eastward into the desert. There are the extremes of white-glue dense snow on the crest at times which covers rocks well with less than a foot, to the desert-margin weak poofy snow, all within 50 miles. The key is to know where to find the just right not-too-wet and not-too-dry snowpack- there the epic conditions live.

    In regard to GW, there are similar weather patterns shown in weather data in the past 100 years, and within the memories of some of my old-timer friends. Having said that, I will be subject to attack from the GW-doom-theory-worshipping fanatics. If the GW-fanatics truly believe what they say, there should be a lot of (their) cars, skis, boats, oversized homes, etc., all sort of evil GH gas producing implements, for sale cheap (not). In regard to “proving” GW, rhetorically I ask, if the GW-fanatic experts (priests) cannot convince intelligent, well-educated individuals of the infallibility of GW-doom-theory, is the theory at fault or have the experts been promoted to a level of importance that actually exceeds their abilities? One would like to think that pure science would be unaffected by politics. Unfortunately, when one reads the material about GW-doom-theory the usually included obvious one-worldview-politics diminishes the bits of true science. Oh yeah, the answer in return from some GW fanatics may be about my lack of intellect, or my corrupt nature, or some other attack. Fortunately, public discourse and disagreement ( eg “global warming denier”) is not an unlawful activity.

  13. Andrew_L November 16th, 2007 1:13 pm

    Okay…but don’t scare me like that again. 🙂

  14. Lou November 16th, 2007 1:52 pm

    Andrew, LOL

  15. Lou November 16th, 2007 1:54 pm

    Indeed Randonneee, I sure see a lot of talk and not much action. Seems like for starters one would sell any low altitude ski resorts right away, as well as shorline property.

  16. Brownie November 16th, 2007 5:19 pm


    You’re right – people should put their money where their mouth is.

    After they sell that low altitiude ski resort property they can invest in Rifle to take advantage of the oil and gas situation there.

    (inset eye-roll here)

  17. LB November 16th, 2007 7:17 pm

    You can never go wrong with wider skis. Although it cuts down on your face shots, and since you don’t teleski, you need all the help you can get. Touring on the fattest skis is great training, and it helps trailbreaking. Praying for snow in the Roaring Fork!

  18. Ang$t November 16th, 2007 9:37 pm

    There is little doubt the planet is getting warmer, the debate now is about how much is caused by people. I can tell you for sure that humanity has a big impact on the climate. As much as I hate to say it…I am responsible for the dry winter in the rockies, a brand new pair of Jaks, Scarpa Spirt 4s, skins , poles the whole works even a mid week pass to Durango Mountain Resort. So, sorry everyone, could someone buy a convertable or surfboard at least.

  19. Chase November 16th, 2007 9:59 pm

    Hey Lou,
    What do you think about a mass snow prayer. They did
    it in Atlanta for rain. The prayer session was attended by
    more than three thousand people and it was held on the
    steps of the capital in downtown Atl. The Governor led the

  20. Lou November 17th, 2007 7:59 am

    I think a mass snow prayer would be good if this goes on very long. As it is, just a blip on the radar screen so no angst here yet.

  21. cory November 18th, 2007 6:34 pm

    Wow…I guess I’m the bee in alot of bonnets. My point was simple… call it climate fluctuation or call it global warming or call it a nice fall day. It’s warmer. I haven’t heard anyone arguing that point. The earth has gone through warming cycles before (I also haven’t heard anyone arguing this point.) Like I said, The debate is the cause of the warming…natural or man made. I’m not smart enough to argue either side. Maybe Randonee is (I haven’t checked his credentials). However, if you don’t want people binging it up, don’t introduce it into a discussion. Sit back an wait…someone will and then you can jump on them. All that said, I skied yesterday and today…ah the bliss of backcountry! I’m sure we can all agree it’s a good thing not to have to rely on a lift to get the soft stuff.

  22. Njord November 19th, 2007 5:57 am

    The late snow might make for a super stable snowpack, since you won’t have as much warming in the lower pack for the season. I suspect that there will be less depth hoar…. which would work our for me! Early snow leads to some garbage conditions when things warm up after some early season dumps.


  23. Lou November 19th, 2007 8:29 am

    Cory, don’t cop out, I’ll bet you’re smart enough to study just about any issue and develop a valid take. Sure, we can leave it all up to the scientists, but last time I looked back at history they had some pretty wacked out ideas that should have had more scrutiny.

    As for ski lifts, yeah, they’re over rated and not exactly green.

  24. Marko Pyhajarvi November 19th, 2007 1:18 pm

    AJ said:

    “global warming is big business

    a lot of people are earning a living from it, research, industry, etc.”

    I agree. I work in a company developing meteorological observation systems and the future seems bright for the company. The reason is the great hype related to global warming. I don’t say there something wrong in preparing for the future, but it is also true that global warming is a big business and it provides a great income for many people.

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