Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The White Ribbon of Death

Two Colorado ski areas are now open, Loveland and Arapahoe Basin, each with one lift, a trail or two, and an 18 inch base.  For a price, you can ski the infamous white ribbon of death, a corridor of man-made snow that enables first-scratch bragging rights for the ski season.

Snow guns are blasting at A-Basin this morning.
Source: Arapahoe Basin
Opening early requires two key ingredients.  The first is will.  Loveland has traditionally pushed to open early and their close proximity to Denver means they apparently get enough die hards to make it worth their while.   Why A-basin has joined the race I have no idea, but it may have more to do with marketing than putting cheeks in the chairlifts since they can claim a remarkably long season (they are traditionally one of the last ski areas in North America to close in the spring/summer).

The second is meteorology.  Loveland and Arapahoe Basin are cold resorts compared to those in Utah owing to their high base elevations (each ~10,800 feet) and more interior location.  In Utah, only the very top of Snowbird reaches to 10,800 feet (the top of the tram is a shade under 11,000).

At about 11,000 feet in the Colorado Front range, the average minimum and maximum temperatures in October are 21F and 43F.  At 8800 feet in the Wasatch they are 30F and 49F.  The lower altitudes and warmer temperatures make snowmaking more difficult in Utah during October.  Fortunately, Mother Nature more than makes up for it by giving us far more natural snow during the course of the winter.

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