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Snow, high winds cancel ski races, bolster snowpack, open more terrain

December 2, 2023, 9:34 am

Monty Williams grooves to the new powder near Ski Cooper recently (Kyle Nelson photo).

Editor’s note: On Sunday morning, Dec. 3, high winds and heavy snow forced race organizers to make it a clean sweep, with all three spend events at the Xfinity Birds of Prey World Cup in Beaver Creek cancelled. Vail Pass was also shut down in both directions Sunday morning, but, if you can get here, Vail jumped to 20% of its terrain open (still no Back Bowls), and Beaver Creek jumped to 7% open.

It always seems to be the case. If you’re a ski area hurting for snow, just go ahead and schedule a World Cup downhill race. The snow will come, and your race will be cancelled.

That’s the case at Beaver Creek on Saturday morning, where for the second day in a row the Xfinity Birds of Prey Downhill race has been cancelled due to wintry weather that recreational skiers love but downhillers launching themselves into the abyss at speeds approaching 80 mph tend to hate. Friday’s downhill was scrubbed as well.

By the way, Vail Resorts has upped the charge for the formerly free parking lots at the base of Beaver Creek from $10 to $13, whether the still-free-to-watch races get cancelled or not. There’s an enormous amount of work by both Vail Resorts, the Vail Valley Foundation and an army of volunteers to pull these races off every year, so I’m bummed for them on that front, but it’s not bad publicity to report you have too much snow for ski racing.

“Due to the present weather situation with the snowfall throughout the night and into this morning with heavy winds together with the updated forecast the Jury together with the OC have decided to cancel today’s Men’s DH 2,” race officials reported Saturday morning. That’s race official speak for great conditions if you’re a weekend warrior, although good luck getting here on icy, snow-choked roads.

The snow, high winds and cold temps are expected to last into Monday, giving mountain ops crews plenty of opportunity to blast tons of manmade snow and drop ropes on dozens of trails. As usual, Beaver Creek is a bit behind on the recreational side of things due to the races, which may or may not continue Sunday with a super-G.

A littler turnier and therefore less speed-dependent than a downhill, and with the possibility of lowered start, Beaver Creek may at least get one race in with Sunday’s super-G. But since Birds of Prey no longer includes the giant slalom that Ted Ligety dominated for years, it’s even less likely (the tech events of GS and slalom are significantly slower), especially given the current forecast.

“As of Saturday morning, many mountains have received 5-10 inches of snow, with the highest totals of about 20 inches at Telluride and Irwin,” Opensnow.com meteorologist Joel Gratz wrote Saturday. “On Saturday, we’ll see snow in the morning, a lull in the afternoon, then intense snow and gusty winds will arrive between Saturday night and Sunday night with 10-20+ inches of snow for the northern 2/3rds of Colorado. The best riding could be Monday morning.”

Again, great for powder skiing, not so great for ski racing.

The only problem, of course, even for recreational skiers, is the lack of skiable terrain at this early point of the season. Beaver Creek on Saturday, in part due to the focus on the races, is just 4% open to the public. Nearby Vail, on the other hand, which recently cranked up Chair 3, is 15% open and boasts village-to-village and top-to-bottom skiing despite the low snowpack so far this season.

Backcountry skiing is always dicey in a low-snow start to the season, with personally experienced bony conditions up the Stone Creek drainage out of Beaver Creek on Friday night. Be very careful selecting any out-of-bounds routes at this point of the season, and, as always, check in with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Here’s some more good news about the recent snowfall from the U.S. Forest Service in a press release sent out Friday:

Recent storms have brought much-needed snow to the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area, which officially begins its winter season [Saturday].

Vail Pass is an extremely popular winter recreation area for backcountry skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. Fee collections will begin tomorrow. Day passes are $10 and season passes are $65.

“These user fees fund trail grooming, plowing, ranger patrols and visitor information services, which we provide in partnership with the Vail Pass Task Force,” said Vail Pass Program Lead Anne Gaspar. “Forest Service rangers will be staffing the entrances at Vail Pass seven-days-a-week this season.” 

The Vail Pass Task Force is currently plowing the parking lot and will begin grooming trails once there is enough snow.

“Right now, the snow on the roads is good for tracked vehicles such as snowmobiles, but there isn’t enough snow for grooming yet,” Gaspar said. “We’re still discouraging use of tracked vehicles off of designated roads until we see a significant increase in snow coverage to help protect the area.”  

Vail Pass snow rangers encourage visitors to plan ahead. The visitor parking lots typically fill by 9:30 a.m. on Fridays, weekends and holidays. Visitors are asked to park only in designated areas; parking in unauthorized areas causes road safety issues and inhibits plowing. 

If the lots at Vail Pass are full, visitors will need to come back at a later time or access the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area from trailheads at Camp Hale. 

Day passes can be purchased with cash or credit cards at Vail Pass, and with cash only at Camp Hale. Season passes are also available at the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District in Minturn, 970-827-5715, and the Dillon Ranger District in Silverthorne, 970-468-5400.  

Additional information on the winter recreation area, including georeferenced Avenza trail maps for mobile devices, is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whiteriver/recarea/?recid=40891.

The latest avalanche forecast is available at: https://avalanche.state.co.us/forecasts.  

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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