STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
The mid-March burst of warm weather had local businesses that cater to summer crowds revving up their operations earlier than expected. For the tourism industry especially, it was time to change the focus from late-winter skiing to early-summer recreating.
“We’ve shifted earlier to our spring message,” said Anne Klein, spokeswoman for the Durango Area Tourism Office. “In town, the trails are dried out, so we’re pushing biking and new restaurants and businesses on Main.”
Spring breakers from Arizona and New Mexico who had expected to hit the slopes while visiting Durango are turning to bicycles instead, said Joe Nicholson, store manager at Pedal the Peaks bike shop.
Three people who rented bikes from Nicholson on Friday had planned ski trips here but decided to switch gears after seeing less-than-ideal snow conditions, he said.
Thanks to snow-free trails, the shop is seeing the kind of early-season business that usually doesn’t come until mid-April, Nicholson said.
The warm weather has helped bring customers into the newly opened Top That Frozen Yogurt, Durango’s first self-serve frozen yogurt shop. Owner Jeff Bardin said he hopes the frozen-yogurt shop, which opened Feb. 29, can become a year-round stop for customers who want a healthful alternative to ice cream. But first he needs customers to come in the door, and in that respect, the balmy temperatures have certainly helped, he said.
Once customers are hooked it won’t matter what the weather is like, Bardin said.
The Durango T-Shirt Co. usually sees a rise in customer traffic around spring break, said Mac Ader, store manager.
Recently though, Ader said people are buying T-shirts not for souvenirs, but for themselves because they didn’t pack enough warm-weather clothes.
Kroeger’s has seen more people cruising through the aisles in recent days, which is typical when the temperature begins to climb, said Bob Thom, store manager. The store is seeing lots of sales on lawn-and-garden sets, soils and vegetable seeds, Thom said.
The month of March had an average of 1.7 degrees higher than average, said Dan Cuevas, a technician with the National Weather Service. For the month, the area received 0.28 inches of precipitation compared with an average of 1.17 inches.
The numbers may not seem huge, but “climatologically speaking, it is significant,” Cuevas said.
Meanwhile, warmer temperatures have caused higher-than-usual rates of snowmelt in the high country. Over the weekend, water flow in the Animas River was more than three times the 101-year median.
The rapid melting, combined with less-than-normal snowfall, has contributed to snowpack levels that are only 59 percent of normal, said Rege Leach, division engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
“With only 59 percent of average, you have to really be an optimist to think there is going to be snow left (in July),” which could be bad news for rafting companies catering to summertime tourists, Leach said.
Rafting companies are still holding onto hope for cool weather and high-country snow this spring, said Molly Mickel, co-owner of Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours. That late-season snow is what makes for great rafting in the summer.
“We like yucky weather in April and May because that’s our July water,” Mickel said.
Being in a business that is so weather-dependent, Mickel said she also has learned not to waste too much energy fretting about what the skies will do.
“It is our 17th season, and a long time ago I stopped getting gray hair worrying about what was going to happen (with the weather),” Mickel said.
In the meantime, the company is readying its equipment, in case any rafters want to take advantage of the early-season flows that Mother Nature has brought.