A cut-off low pressure storm returned the Rocky Mountains to winter this past week. Skiers and snowboarders flocked to the the ski areas that were still open and to their local backcountry slopes to enjoy the ridiculous amounts of snow that fell. Snowbird, Utah reported 42 inches from April 15 to 16 while the resorts of Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, and Winter Park received 32, 25, and 20 inches respectively. Photos from Snowbird’s powder pillaging can be seen here and snow reports from Loveland, A-Basin, and Winter Park can be seen here, here, and here.
While this snowfall won’t help Colorado resorts hit their record mark of 12.6 million skiers in 2013/14, it will help boost skier numbers from the anticipated low levels. Snowfall reported at Loveland last year is currently more than one and one half times the amount received this year and is a big part of the reason why resorts won’t match their numbers from last year. Not only will this recent snowfall help float Colorado’s ski areas, but the increase in snowpack will also help Colorado’s summer tourism industry.
Colorado’s snowpack not only contributes water for municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses but supports millions of dollars in tourism with non-consumptive uses like whitewater rafting, fly-fishing, and more. The state hosted around 500,000 rafters last year but likely won’t meet those numbers again this year. The smaller snowpack this year will reduce flows in the river, and how long the rivers are are able to be rafted. However, many reservoirs statewide are near capacity, which will help dam-released rivers keep their flows throughout the summer.
Before this storm, the Colorado snowpack was at 65% of average. While this storm dropped incredible amounts of snow, it did not make a huge impact on the state of Colorado’s snowpack. The snowpack still sits around 65% of average but is being dragged down by an incredibly dry winter in the southern portion of the state. The Upper Rio Grande Basin is currently sitting at 38% of average while the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin is sitting at 41% of average. This is in comparison to the South Platte River Basin, which is sitting at 95% of average. The snowpack current report can be viewed here. Many industries vital to Colorado, and the West’s, identity and economic survival are dependent upon the winter precipitation their mountains receive. While this storm has bolstered the meager snowpack, it will only serve as a bandage on the severed artery that is the West’s water woes.