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Storm delivers big for Southwest Colorado ski areas

Purgatory GM: ‘This was great to finally get some natural snow’

Need some time to take mental health days on the slopes? The two days leading to New Year’s might be the prime mind-clearing powder window of the season.

The biggest snowstorm of the season left Southwest Colorado late Tuesday afternoon, but not before blessing Southwest Colorado ski resorts with the best conditions of the season.

As of Tuesday morning, Purgatory Resort had received 19 inches of snow, with 13 inches falling in the last 24 hours. Tuesday’s tail end of the storm brought a few more inches that will be reported Wednesday. On Tuesday, the resort reported a base depth of 36 inches with eight of 11 lifts open and 51 of 105 trails open.

“This storm is going to help us quite a bit up on the upper mountain,” said Purgatory General Manager Dave Rathbun. “We’ll have crews out on the backside all day today. We had the grooming fleet out packing during the storm.”

The storm left more snow at the top of the mountain than the bottom, and the resort is still evaluating what that means as far as the ability to open more terrain, Rathbun said

“But you know this was great to finally get some natural snow. We’ve been quite dry as you know. So hopefully, this is the beginning of a new pattern,” he said.

Rathbun said he expected the final days of December through the end of January to be Purgatory’s busiest days of the season.

A break in a winter storm made way for blue skies and snow-covered mountains Tuesday in Durango.
A winter storm dumped a second round of snow Tuesday night in Durango. Blowing snow left this stop sign covered.

On Tuesday, Telluride Ski Area reported 9 new inches from the storm, 7 inches in the last 24 hours and a base depth of 34 inches. It has 94 of 148 trails open and 12 of 17 lifts in operation.

Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 25 inches from the storm, 19 inches in the last 24 hours with a midway base depth of 77 inches. The entire ski area is open and eight lifts are in operation.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued an avalanche warning until 8 a.m. Wednesday for most of the Western Slope, including the San Juan and La Plata mountains.

The avalanche danger in the backcountry is high because a large load of new snow fell on a weak snowpack, creating “very dangerous” avalanche conditions, CAIC said in its warning.

Kris Sanders, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the final piece of the storm was over Grand Junction early Tuesday morning but it missed lower elevations in Southwest Colorado, with Durango receiving only brief flurries and no accumulation.

High-elevation passes did receive 2 to 3 inches Tuesday.

Some snowfall amounts reported to the Weather Service as of Tuesday morning: 26 inches measured 18 miles east, northeast of Vallecito; 24 inches on Coal Bank Pass; 15 inches on Red Mountain Pass; 15 inches recorded 10 miles north of Hesperus; 14 inches in Dunton; and 3.2 inches 1 mile north of Durango.

A break in a winter storm made way for blue skies. Blowing snow on Tuesday covered some sides of the “Reflection” public art piece on the southeast wall of the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
A winter storm dumped a second round of snow Tuesday night in Durango. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad prepares for a morning departure.

U.S. Highway 550 from mile marker 59 to mile marker 81 was closed Tuesday morning for avalanche mitigation.

Also Tuesday morning, Colorado Department of Transportation had been slated to conduct winter maintenance operations on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass.

Tony Vicari, aviation director at Durango-La Plata County Airport, said Tuesday flights were on schedule and the airport operated normally.

“Thankfully, conditions are comparatively good at the airport,” he said.

The next chance of snow looks like Thursday, although Sanders said the system looks like it is getting weaker

“You might get some snow, but it’s definitely going to favor the northern mountains,” he said.


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Herald Staff

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