Near-record snowpack in parts of Colorado River Basin

A faint sheen of color above Buffalo Mountain marked sunset, with more moisture rolling in from the West.

A faint sheen of color above Buffalo Mountain marked sunset, with more moisture rolling in from the West.

Colorado’s north-central mountains favored by this winter’s storm track

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Summit County remained a target for above average precipitation in February, with both official weather stations reporting surplus snowfall for the month. The Upper Blue in particular benefited from the storm track, with the snowpack now approaching record levels.

To date, the snowpack  in the Blue River Basin is the third highest on record, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Chad Gimmestad, who said there is a moderate potential for spring flooding in the basin. Continue reading

Dartmouth study suggests clearcutting and ‘snow farming’ as global warming mitigation

This near-total clearcut near Frisco, Colorado, may provide a higher-value ecosystem service than a slow-growing forest. bberwyn photo.

This near-total clearcut near Frisco, Colorado, may provide a higher-value ecosystem service than a slow-growing forest. bberwyn photo.

Higher albedo of snow-covered ground a factor in climate mitigation calculations

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Snow farming is nothing new for ski area operators, who have long been cultivating the white stuff to help keep their slopes covered. Now, a recent study by researchers at Darthmouth College suggests that snow farming could also make sense on a larger scale, in the context of climate-change mitigation.

In a novel look at forests and snow, their report says that replacing forests with snow-covered meadows may provide greater climatic and economic benefits than if slow-growing trees are left standing in snowy high latitudes. In those areas, persistent snow cover reflects heat back into space, partially offsetting the effect of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Continue reading

Avalanches kill two in Colorado

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High avalanche danger prevailed across the Colorado mountains when two backcountry skiers died in snow slides Feb. 10.

High slide danger persists across the mountains

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Colorado’s exceptionally deep snowpack turned deadly this week, as a backcountry traveler near Kebler Pass was killed in a large avalanche. Search and rescue crews also found  another victim in the backcountry between Keystone and Breckenridge after a two-day search.

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the Feb. 10 Kebler Pass slide involved two snowmobilers caught in a “very large avalanche” on a south- to southeast-facing slope below treeline. The slide broke between two to five-feet deep, about 600 feet wide and ran about 750 vertical feet. Debris at the bottom of the slide piled up to 20 feet deep.

Continue reading

Morning photo: Sunday set

Winter wonderland

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Shooting into the sun with an iPhone, using the camera’s HDR to capture a bit of the iridescence in the upper level clouds as a winter storm descended on Summit County.

FRISCO —It certainly feels like the heart of winter right now in Summit County, as well it should. Mid-January is the time for snow and ice, and this year Mother Nature has delivered on time. Today’s Sunday set is a little photographic homage to the white stuff, an important part of life in the Colorado high country in so many ways. Visit our online gallery at Fine Art America for a full selection of Colorado landscape images, available as fine art prints or greeting cards. Continue reading

Environment: ‘Extreme’ dust-on-snow events can speed runoff in Colorado River Basin by six weeks

2013 brought record levels of dust to Colorado’s mountains

More frequent desert dust storms dropping pollution on the Rocky Mountain snowpack is one of the climate change impacts affect the high country.

More frequent desert dust storms dropping pollution on the Rocky Mountain snowpack is one of the climate change impacts affecting the Colorado high country.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Dust storms that darken the Rocky Mountain snowpack and speed snowmelt are becoming more extreme, according to new research. Particularly heavy dust-on-snow events can speed the melt-out of the snowpack by a full six weeks, all other factors being equal, said Jeffrey Deems, a researcher with the Western Water Assessment and the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

“In 2006 we were impressed at how much dust there was. Then 2009 turned up, and 2010, and 2013 was the dustiest year we’ve recorded in the San Juans,” Deems said, explaining that the latest study, put together by researchers with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences was aimed at updating previous work with data from those heavy dust years.

Last spring, on April 8, a single 16-hour dust storm dropped more dust on the San Juans than the annual totals in any previous winter since scientists started taking detailed measurements, said Chris Landry, director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, which tracks the dust-on-snow events via a network of observation sites. Continue reading

Morning photo: Celebrate skiing!

Another season under way …

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Flying high in the superpipe at Copper Mountain.

FRISCO — With another ski season starting today at Arapahoe Basin, it’s time to dust off a few pictures from the Summit Voice archives to celebrate the best sport ever invented. As far as I’m concerned, skiing is the closest you’ll ever come to flying with your feet on the ground (or not), and floating through a blanket of fresh powder is pure bliss. Dream on, do your snow dances and get ready — winter is coming! Continue reading

Colorado ski season begins!

Arapahoe Basin opening Oct. 13

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Arapahoe Basin Ski Area from an overlook on U.S. Highway 6.

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After a few cold nights for snowmaking, Arapahoe Ski Area will open for the season on Sunday, Oct. 13.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The wait is over.

Arapahoe Basin will officially open for the 2013-2014 season this Sunday, Oct. 13 with skiing off the Black Mountain Express chair, serving the High Noon trail. The first chair will start up the mountain at 8:30 a.m.

The opening comes four days earlier than last year, after a series of winter-like storms rolled through the Colorado mountains in late September and early October.

“This is a very exciting time for us, and all of Colorado,” Arapahoe Basin Vice President and COO Alan Henceroth said in a statement. “We’ve had tremendous early season snowmaking and natural snow, and we can’t wait to kick off the 2013-14 ski and ride season.”

The ski area will offer rental services, and will open restaurant facilities at the base area A-frame and at Black Mountain Lodge. While wrapping up a $1 million renovation of the 6th Alley Bar & Grill, a temporary bar will be set up in the A-frame.

Tickets can be purchased in advance at  ArapahoeBasin.com and urrent lift ticket window pricing will run through December 20, 2013, with adult (ages 19-59) full-day tickets priced at $67, youth (ages 15-18) window tickets priced at $55 and child (ages 6-14) window tickets priced at $32. Children under age 5 ski free every day all season.

Morning photo: Leaves

falling …

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Ever since the U.S. Forest Service added this fence, this has become one of may favorite spots for landscape photos. The fence adds a strong linear element to the scene.

FRISCO — Getting one last look before the incoming winter season knocks the last of the colors off the branches, and trying to look for these spectacular autumn leaves in a new way … Continue reading

Historic Alpine glacier decline linked with soot

Study shows pollution melted glaciers even as temperatures cooled

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Atmospheric pollution in the form of soot from fossil fuel combustion, apparently caused a rapid retreat of Alpine glacers even as regional temperatures cooled at the start of the Industrial age. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Matching climate records with ice core samples, scientists say the rapid retreat of Alpine Glaciers in Europe at the end of the Little Ice Age was probably linked with the sudden accumulation of soot particles associated with the beginning of the industrial Age.

Soot from industrial sources and even from wildfires has recently been implicated in the darkening of the Greenland ice sheet, leading to increased surface melt.

The new study helps resolve what had been a puzzle, as the sudden glacier decline coincided with a period of cooling regional temperatures. Between 1860 and 1930, temperatures in Europe cooled by nearly two degrees, yet at the same time, any large valley glaciers retreated by an average of about 0.6 miles (1kilometer).

“Something was missing from the equation,” said lead author Tom Painter, a snow and ice scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The study was published Sept. 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Continue reading

Colorado resorts report modest growth in skier visits

A strong spring season helped boost skier visits to Colorado ski areas.

A strong spring season helped boost skier visits to Colorado ski areas. Bob Berwyn photo.

Strong spring fuels rebound

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Visits to all Colorado ski areas recovered from another slow start, reversed last season’s downhill slide and rebounded 3.95 percent to pass last winter’s totals, according to figures released this week by Colorado Ski Country USA. Visits to all Colorado resorts totaled 11.44 million during the winter of 2012-2013.

For the 21 areas that are members of CSCUSA, visits totaled 6.4 million, up about 3.8 percent (about 235,000 skier visits) from the previous season.

Colorado resorts outperformed the rest of the Rocky Mountain region, which tallied a 1.9 percent increase, but fell short of the national overall increase of 11 percent. The biggest growth nationally was in the Pacific Southwest and Northeast regions, which showed increases of more than 20 percent as they rebounded from a horrible snow year the previous season. Continue reading

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