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Series of snowstorms set to hit Colorado high country before New Year’s Day

December 22, 2021, 10:11 am

Editor’s note: Both Vail and Beaver Creek received about 15 inches of new snow starting Thursday afternoon and lasting through Christmas morning (Saturday, Dec. 25). After a break on Saturday, more snow is in the forecast Sunday through Wednesday. Both ski areas are providing more terrain, with Beaver Creek opening Rose Bowl on Friday.

After a very warm and dry fall that has limited the amount of skiable terrain at Vail and delayed opening day at Beaver Creek, a storm last week and colder temperatures have combined to get the 2021-22 ski season back on track. Now Mother Nature appears poised to deliver some big Christmas gifts starting Thursday and lasting into the new year.

“Wednesday will be the calm before the storm with dry weather and warm temperatures,” Opensnow.com meteorologist Joel Gratz wrote. “On Thursday, snow will get going, but the most snow will likely wait to fall until Thursday night with intense snow continuing on Friday and Friday night. Total snowfall by Saturday morning should be 8-30+ inches. Then we will have four more storms to talk about…”

Game Creek Bowl is open at Vail, but so far resort officials have been unable to open the Back Bowls or Blue Sky Basin. That could change in the coming week.

“The shortest day of the year means winter is here!” Vail Mountain officials wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. “With just about 1,000 acres open and a storm on the way, we are excited to officially head into winter.”

Vail officials directed social media followers to Vail.com for insight into the prep work being done to open the Back Bowls. A thousand acres is only about 20% of 5,000-plus-acre Vail Mountain.

Visitors to the Eagle River Valley should also be aware that the Eagle County commissioners, in their dual capacity as board of health commissioners, voted on Wednesday morning to reinstate an indoor mask mandate due to the rapidly spiking number of COVID-19 cases locally.

Should the weather forecast pan out fully over the next week, a great deal of pent-up backcountry demand is also likely to send snow riders beyond the ski area boundaries. State officials are urging extreme caution. Here’s a press release from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center:

DENVER – “New snow and the holiday weekend will provide a much needed outlet for all sorts of powderhounds, but we also expect HIGH (Level 4 of 5)  avalanche danger on Friday,” said Ethan Greene, Director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “The first in a series of storms will increase the avalanche danger on Friday and Saturday. People headed into the mountains or backcountry for recreation should check the avalanche forecast before their trip at www.colorado.gov/avalanche. We recommend people avoid traveling on or under steep snow-covered slopes during periods of high avalanche danger. We want to make sure people get out, have some fun, but get home safe to spend time with their families.”

Why is this important? 

After a dry fall, the snowpack in Colorado is quite weak. Storms in December produced an uptick in avalanche activity. Avalanches are easy to trigger, and many are breaking wider than usual. Over the past two weeks backcountry travelers have triggered avalanches from low-angle slopes below, next to, and above steeper slopes. 

What can backcountry users do?

The most important thing you can do is check the avalanche forecast before going into the backcountry. Go to www.colorado.gov/avalanche or get the Friends of CAIC’s mobile app. Look at the current avalanche conditions and plan backcountry travel accordingly. Make sure you and every member of your group carry an avalanche-rescue transceiver, a probe pole, and a shovel – and know how to use this equipment. If you’re unsure about the conditions, stay on slopes less than 30 degrees steep that are not connected to steeper terrain. 

About the CAIC

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) is a program within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources’ Executive Director’s Office. The program is a partnership between the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Department of Transportation (CDOT), and the Friends of the CAIC (FoCAIC), a 501c3 group. The mission of the CAIC is to provide avalanche information, education and promote research for the protection of life, property, and the enhancement of the state’s economy. For current information on avalanche conditions and more information on the program, visit www.colorado.gov/avalanche

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