“Historic” storm buries area under 7 feet of fresh
Written by Mark Reaman   
Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Plowing, skiing, billboards, closing roads and blowing minds

More than seven feet of snow has fallen on Crested Butte Mountain Resort since Thursday, January 30. That doesn’t always happen, even at a ski resort. So when it does, it is something to note.


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“The PowCam hasn’t been completely buried in a 24-hour period in a very long time...or in its entire existence but it was buried by 4 p.m. last Saturday,” boasted CBMR public relations and communications manager Erica Mueller. “In the past two seasons, we never reported 16 or 22 inches in one single day, but we reported 22 inches on Friday, January 31 and 16 inches on Sunday, February 9. We’ve received 212 inches to date, or over 17.5 feet. This is far beyond the season snowfall totals of the past two winters.”
Irwin Mountain Manager Billy Rankin says even more has fallen 12 miles west of Crested Butte at the Irwin ski area. “We are having an absolutely epic season with 335 inches so far,” he said. “We’ve received more than 100 inches of snow in the last two weeks. Every day was fresh tracks for the ten guests we bring up each day. To ski completely fresh untouched lines all day long blows their minds.
“We are on track for a 600-inch season as long as the rest of February and March come through,” Rankin continued. “We are hoping for a good ‘ole fashion March where it just dumps all month. I’d like to say it is the best season we have ever had, but coming off of two below average seasons I want to say we are back to normal, which is a lot of deep powder skiing.”

The towns are seeing it too...
The town of Crested Butte is reporting a sweet 40 inches in town for the first ten days of February, while the town of Mt. Crested Butte is citing 51 inches since February 4.
“We are dealing with this storm cycle the best we can,” explained Crested Butte night plow supervisor Kenny Wilson. “The streets are certainly getting very narrow. When people don’t move their cars for us or we are unable to tow them in some areas we can’t even get the plows between them to plow the street.”
Up in Mt. Crested Butte, the situation is similar. “Our equipment operators and ground snow removal staff are working long hours but are holding up well, and are doing a great job with our snow removal,” said Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick. “We are extremely grateful to the Gunnison County road staff for doing a fantastic job working with the Mt. Crested Butte maintenance staff in keeping roads clear and open. The roads are definitely a little narrower; however, we are working on regaining full width.
“We all should stop for a minute and reflect that this is more of a “normal” year and the snow will hopefully keep coming through at least April,” Fitzpatrick continued. “The water is a welcome gift and we all should be enjoying a ‘fantastic’ ski season with great conditions.”

Monarch Pass is getting it too...
Monarch is seeing its share of the bounty as well. According to the Monarch Mountain website, the resort received 116 inches of snow in 13 days. As a result of that, the skiing was off the hook but a section of Highway 50 running by the resort was closed for almost 10 hours on Sunday.
According to Colorado Department of Transportation communications manager for Region 3 Tracy Trulove, a natural avalanche at mile marker 199.5 sometime early Sunday morning came across three lanes of the highway. It was 150 to 200 feet wide and 14 feet deep. “We waited until daylight for safety reasons to inspect that area and then closed the road to conduct avalanche mitigation. We did get the road open to the ski area from the Salida side but overall we had to close the road for about nine and a half hours to set off avalanches and then clean up the debris. We had to be cautious all day.”

Getting tired?
While the legs of skiers are a bit worn, those having to deal with the work of snow are hanging in there but understandably tired. “After two rough winters, every inch of snow that falls this winter is so worth it,” said Mueller. “It’s much more exciting to market snow, and we’ve been given ample opportunities to measure the snow in feet instead of inches! It has also been amazing to see the smiles, excitement and stoke among not only our employees, but our guests as well. It has been a winter wonderland. You couldn’t swing a dead cat around here without inhaling a snowflake or catching an infectious smile.
“Ski Patrol has done an incredible job getting terrain open, yet still focusing on safety,” Mueller continued. “Monday they opened the High Lift first thing and then realized that snow started sluffing due to how fast it was coming down, so they closed it. It’s last-minute decisions like this that are focused on safety that make our patrol some of the best in the biz.”
“I have to admit that we get a little tired and stressed when it is like this,” said Wilson. “We were dealing with the Alley Loop and the start of the storm. We have only had one car hit so far (knock on wood). Most people won’t go out of their way to make sure their car is tucked over to the snow bank as close as they can get it so each night they grow farther out, which makes it harder for us.”
Wilson explained that plowing the snow during a storm takes place generally between midnight and 9 a.m. Snow maintenance on the town streets occurs during the day. But during the day, unlike in Mt. Crested Butte, cars are allowed to park on both sides of the town streets. That means there is nowhere to push the snow. So with a break in the weather, the town crews will likely start getting the snowpack off the streets during the day, and that means moving cars. The step after that will be widening the streets.
“We’ll prioritize by hitting the bus and emergency routes first,” explained Wilson. “And from there we will spread out to the side streets. We’ll have to place cones on both sides and not allow parking, but the citizens seem to like that better than dealing with the work at night when [the work] is noisy.”

CBMR marketing the pow...and it makes a difference
So while all this snow can sometimes be a pain to store and maintain, it is having a positive impact on attracting tourists, according to Erica Mueller. “This past week we saw a 60 percent increase in February bookings, compared to the same week last year. I would say that’s drawing people to the valley,” she said. “Also, I know I’ve said it before but snow directly affects skier days in this industry. With both pass scans and tickets sold, we are above where we expected to be.”
CBMR pounds social media sites when the PowCam gets buried. “Powder photos are gold,” said Erica Mueller.
CBMR also uses the snow as a hook to promote lodging and lift ticket specials. “We’re sending hundreds of thousands of e-mails to our database as well as through third-party marketing outlets in order to spread the word and encourage bookings both regionally as well as nationally.” And some of the biggest hits in the CBMR marketing world are the digital billboards in Grand Junction and Denver. The marketing team can update the billboards extremely quickly and get the word out to nearby skiers about the great conditions at Crested Butte. “We utilize these during every storm for snow messaging. We can change the message once we have the creative done within an hour, so they are very real time and pretty cool,” Mueller said.

Catching up!
So the town of Crested Butte plans to use any lull in the weather to catch up. They pulled the snowbanks from Elk Avenue Wednesday and will move to start cutting the snowpack this week. “All this can’t happen over night as we are a small crew and only have five machines,” said Wilson. “I would ask people to please be patient with us.”
Fitzpatrick has a similar attitude in Mt. Crested Butte. “We have not experienced any ‘major’ breakdowns and no unusual incidents. Our guys are feeling it but doing great,” he said. “The one major challenge is that snow removal operators and companies, plus property management companies, are using town rights of way to store snow from private property. It’s important to store private property snow on the private property, as is stated in our town ordinances.
“When driveway snow is stored on the town right-of-way then there is no room for the snow from the roads to be stored,” Fitzpatrick continued. “This situation creates piles of snow that harden and tend to break town and county equipment when we are trying to complete the push back process when we are widening the roads after a major snow event such as we have just experienced. We would appreciate the cooperation of snow removal contractors and property management companies in keeping private property snow on the private property. Yes, this may mean using a snow blower and/or hauling out the snow but that’s what has to be done.”

When is the next one?
Is it over? According to one of the best ski area forecast sites out there, Opensnow.com, “If you’re looking for powder over the next 6 days, I think your best bet will be on Thursday and Monday morning at the mountains along and north of I-70. Monday through Thursday of next week will likely be dry and sunny, then a stronger and colder storm should arrive around Friday the 21st.”