Here in the throat searing dryness of the central U.S. Rocky Mountains I don’t let a drought streak bother me much. After all, any high school geography teacher will tell you we basically live in a high altitude desert. But you always wonder how the winter will pan out, and this one (2007) is off to a rather inauspicious start.
After a couple of nice wet storms early on, we’ve had weeks of high pressure systems; beautiful Indian summer days that are nice for things like bicycle rides and rock climbing, but tend to leave less than the required snowpack for our WildSnow.com endevors. What tells the tale is that the Aspen ski resorts may not have enough snow to open much, if any terrain. “Right now, we couldn’t open anything,” is how Aspen Skiing Company spokesman put it (just before he was fired?). Normally the Aspen ski resorts get some accumulation up at higher altitudes. By combining that with snowmaking they can usually open something, but this year they don’t have the snow up high. That’s mainly because it simply hasn’t snowed much, so shrill screams about global warming have not been emanating from the usual sources.
Nonetheless, the slightly warmer climate no doubt causes a reduction in snow making capability and can at least be partly blamed for the lighter accumulation up high. So I’d give this a Gore Panic (GP) rating of of 90/10, 90 for normal climate fluctuation and 10 for contribution of global warming. Meanwhile, back here at WildSnow.com world HQ we do know the snow is coming in its own good time, and we’re incredibly busy shipping and receiving gear, modding things like packs and boots, and planning this winter’s travels.
Primer for journalists who land here for back story: For Colorado backcountry skiers, the biggest problem with this type of weather is that we’ll probably end up with a somewhat thin snowpack. Combine that with our usual high altitude cold and we get layers of re-crystallized snow known as “sugar snow” or “depth hoar” that causes avalanches and can be difficult to ski.
So, knowing we may be in for a “sugar snow winter” I’m wondering if I made the right choice in my primary planks for this season. I’ve got a nice new unmounted pair of BD Voodo skis leaning against the wall next to me. They’re 123-88-112 in dimension, which makes them lightweight and nimble but not the big wide floaters that can help with a weak snowpack. I’m not letting the Voodos go and I’ll mount ’em with some Dynafits in the next few days. But I’m thinking I’d better get some fat sticks on tap pronto, or it could be a suffer fest.
Continuing those thoughts, one positive aspect of global warming is that the high Rockies might receive warmer and denser snow, as well as higher average temps reducing the amount of recrystallization. I know it’s a sin to see anything positive about climate change, but there, I said it.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.