It needs to snow about 40 inches before the end of January for Aspen to hit its snowfall average for the month, according to a local weather forecaster and reaffirmed Tuesday by an Aspen Skiing Co. spokesperson.
That’s not unheard of though unlikely in this season of weather extremes, in which a polar vortex is pummeling the Midwest and a weekend storm that blessed Colorado ski areas to the north and south — Winter Park and Wolf Creek — left Aspen nearly untouched.
For the month of January, Aspen Mountain has received only 3 inches of snow, with Snowmass getting 5 inches during that time period, said SkiCo vice president of communications Jeff Hanle. Last year, both mountains reported 34 inches of snow from Jan. 1 to 19.
Until 2021 rolled in, Aspen Mountain and Snowmass were tracking close to last year for the season.
“From my calculations, we have had about 99 inches of snow at Snowmass and 83 inches at Aspen Mountain from Nov. 1 through Jan. 19. Last year through this date, we had roughly 124 inches at Snowmass and 129 inches at Aspen Mountain,” Hanle said.
For now, it’s all on Mother Nature’s shoulders: “We wrapped up snowmaking quite a while ago, and at this point we are not making any more snow,” he continued.
The folks at aspenweather.net believe there’s some hope for a change in the weather this weekend until early next week, when dry conditions may return.
“In December, we were super dry, then we had that big change. It all came from the 13th through the rest of the month,” said Ryan Boudreau, spokesman foraspenweather.net.
He said about 50 inches of snow fell in Aspen during the second half of December and “we need about 40 inches to catch up to average for January.” Measurements used byaspenweather.net are taken at the Aspen water treatment plant and not on one of the four area mountains.
Up on the ski areas, snowmaking enhancements on Aspen Mountain and Snowmass made in advance of the 2020-21 season appear to be well-timed.
During the off-season, Aspen Mountain saw the installation of 7,700 feet of new snowmaking pipe, a pump house, 28 new snow guns, a storage pond and infrastructure for the new lines, which came with a $4 million price tag.
The investment in Snowmass’ snowmaking cost $1.6 million to cover about 28 acres of terrain in the vicinity of Lunkerville and Lodgepole.
“Early and efficient snowmaking, including the new systems on Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, plus very delicate and expert grooming have been key so far,” Hanle said.
On the cusp of the winter season, aspenweather.net produced a winter forecast showing several global models, and potentially different strength levels, of the La Niña phenomenon.
Eleven “moderate” La Niña seasons examined by the forecaster between 1964 and 1965 and the 2017-18 winter season showed three with below normal, three with normal and five with above normal snow, according to the site. Of Aspen’s 11 moderate La Niña winters, the average was 175 inches, the report noted.
Boudreau sees some natural snow on the local horizon which should clear out in time for ESPN X Games Aspen 2021, Jan. 29 to 31. "As of now, we see dry weather after next Wednesday," he said.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction’s forecast through Monday shows a system dropping out of the Pacific Northwest that has the potential for some moisture.
On Tuesday, the snow water equivalent sites in the Upper Colorado River basin were 69% of median, according to data from the National Resources Conservation Service.