It’s a big snow year…but how big is it?

Town sees 120 inches in December and January

While some Crested Butte residents can be heard on the street declaring this winter “epic,” others argue it doesn’t compare to the glory years of the late ’70s. Both may be partly right, but only the numbers tell the truth.



So how much snow has Crested Butte received so far this winter? According to Taylor Davis, National Weather Service observer for the town, more than 125 inches (just shy of 10.5 feet) have fallen thus far, with more expected in the coming months.
Davis says it’s an unprecedented amount of snow, considering weather forecasters predicted the area would experience a La Niña phenomenon with dry and warm conditions.
“We have already received half of our average winter snow totals and it came during the first six weeks of the winter,” Davis says. While October and November provided only 10 inches total, December and January most definitely picked up the slack, with 80 inches during the holiday month and 40 inches so far in January.
The average snowfall for January is 42 inches. “We’re close to it, and hopefully we’ll exceed it,” Davis says.
The last time Crested Butte had such an auspicious start was in December 1996 and January 1997 when 82 and 80 inches fell, respectively.
Crested Butte’s average annual winter snowfall is 221 inches. Davis says, “It would take a lot to exceed the record amount,” referring to the 1977/1978 winter when the town was covered with 380 inches of snow.
The town’s records go back to 1962.
Last year, the town recorded 121 total inches of snow, and during the 2005/2006 winter the town received 221 inches of snow.
And how is Crested Butte Mountain Resort fairing so far? Snow totals this winter have already exceeded last year’s season totals, and are expected to top some of the epic seasons of the past, according to April Prout, CBMR’s communications director.
More than 129 inches fell in December, and 69 inches have been recorded this month so far, for a total of 201 inches of snow on the mountain, Prout says. The base at the top of mountain was 68 inches as of press time.
“This is what you dream of,” Prout says. “… and our snowiest months are yet to come.”
Prout says the record year for snow was during the 1979/1980 winter when the mountain received more than 415 inches. More than 113 inches fell in January 1980 alone. “It was our biggest year,” Prout adds, noting the record winter followed two 350-inch-plus winters.
Prout says the conditions are not only positive for the mountain now, but will also help later in the season. “All this snow means it will continue to be great all year long, and we don’t have so many worries about snow for the rest of the winter—it’s what ski resorts love,” Prout says.
While the town and the mountain may be experiencing surprising snow totals, the backcountry has been extremely blessed, according to Jayson Simons-Jones, owner of Crested Butte Mountain Guides. Simons-Jones says Schofield Pass has 130 percent of average snow pack for this time of year, and in some spots in the backcountry the snow pack is measuring 10 feet deep.
“In nine years, this is the biggest winter I’ve seen. It’s awesome,” Simons-Jones says of the conditions. The avalanche expert says it’s likely backcountry enthusiasts will be able to ski late into the summer as long as conditions continue.
Keith Bauer, executive director of the Crested Butte Nordic Center, says he always welcomes the snow although a “powder” season can sometimes be difficult for grooming Nordic trails. However, Bauer says, the record snowfall will assist with this year’s Alley Loop Race, set for Saturday, February 2.
Last year, the Nordic Center was forced to move the race’s start and finish locations because a lack of snow on Elk Avenue.
As for this season compared to previous years, Bauer says, “It was definitely the most concentration of snow in the shortest period of time that I can remember.” Bauer adds that the Nordic Center shoveled more than three and half feet of snow off the Nordic Center yurt.
All this snow means more than just great riding conditions—it also contributes to a healthy spring run-off. According to SNOTEL data, precipitation for the Gunnison Basin was 220 percent of average for December. In comparison, November was only 30 percent of average. SNOTEL is an automated system of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that collects snowpack and related data from the western United States. The data is used to produce water supply forecasts.
“December was quite wet,” says Frank Kugel, manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWC). “We’re cautiously optimistic it will be a good water year in 2008—but it’s too early to tell.”
Kugel hesitates to celebrate fully yet, as the 1989/1990 winter season proved conditions can change. During that winter, snowfall started out strong, but the valley received very little precipitation from February to April and the run-off was less than anticipated.
However, Kugel says, there is no indication of that this year, and the snow depth in the Gunnison Basin area is much greater than average, which points to a strong early run-off. He adds the low-elevation snowpack is also approaching record levels.
According to the National Weather Service, there is a 30 percent chance of snow throughout the coming weekend, with a high-pressure system expected from the Northwest. One can only guess how much snow will actually fall, but it may just help the town exceed the single-month record of 126 inches.

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