Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Colorado Snowpack

I have a meeting in Boulder this week, so I'm taking the opportunity to sample the remarkable snowpack that presently exists over the northern Colorado Rockies.

Yesterday we skied the Apache Couloir on Apache Peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, which is west of Boulder and just east of the Continental Divide.  Some Snotel stations in this area recorded record snowpacks this year, but the nearest one to our tour, University Camp, did not reach record levels.  Nevertheless, the snowpack snow water equivalent reached remarkably high levels in May, but is now melting in earnest.

The snowpack here is climatologically meager compared to the Cottonwood Canyons, and as we geared up at 10,000 feet in the early morning light, I found it remarkable that there was no snow at such a high elevation!

The snowpack improved quickly, however, as we peddled up the closed but plowed road to Brainard Lake.

This area of the Rockies is extremely windy, so an interesting aspect of the snowpack is that in some areas there's no snow, but in others, there are banks like those above. 

As apparent in the Snotel data above, the snowpack is melting before our eyes.  Mother Nature is improvising and creating ponds and streams on the snowpack as the streambeds have yet to melt out.

Winter is still dominant in the upper elevations.  After a long approach, the Apache Couloir was in sight.

You might be wondering where the couloir is.  Well, there's so much snow that it's not much of a couloir this year!  It's in the saddle just left of center in the photo above.

Eventually turns were had.  Here Atmospheric Sciences alumnus and Colorado Avalanche Information Center Director Ethan Green gets the goods in the so-called couloir.

Looking back up at what may be the first "scratches" of the season in the couloir.

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