Thursday, January 12, 2012

Colorado Snowpack

The big topic of discussion these days in the Front Range of Colorado, besides Tim Tebow, is a discussion that happens all too often in these parts. From my balcony here in Louisville, I can clearly see the Continental Divide Regions of the James Peak Wilderness, Indian Peaks, Roosevelt National Forest and the Southeast Corner of Rocky Mountain National Park and the closest 14er known as Longs Peak. For much of this winter, and as late as yesterday, I can glance up at the divide and see a snow depleted ridge. During this time of year, the divide should be buried under feet upon feet of snow. Take for instance last year when during a mid June bike ride, we coasted past 22 foot high snow drifts along the famous trail ridge road.

Things are different this year and the locals are not only starting to get worried.. but they're growing restless and down right concerned for the lack of water up high. Obviously the major concern is water woes in the plains as there is no snow to melt and replenish the reservoirs, rivers and streams. Things could get ugly. But it's not all doom and gloom for folks.. as a lack of deep snowpack here in the West actually excites some of us adventurers and ultra-runners. Here's why.

Above is the SNOTEL Snowpack map for the state of Colorado. As you can see, Colorado is at 65% of it's normal snowpack on average. Statistics from years past have indicated that snowpack levels have never returned to normal levels before the spring melting season. Obviously you can understand why folks are worried. Take a careful look at the Colorado River Basin which is at 58%. Huge implications for major cities that live downstream like Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Snow Water Equivalent for 1/11/11
Compared to

Snow Water Equivalent for 1/11/12

But the good side of this story comes from an adventurers perspective. As I look up at the divide from my balcony, I can actually still see plenty of grey mixed within the patches of white (We call is Apache Snow.. Apache here and Apache there). Why this has me excited is because snow out will be much earlier this year as compared to last. Last year saw many failed attempts at long distance runs in the mountains due to a deep snowpack well into July. Many of the regions June Ultras (Big Horn 100 and other 50s) were forced to implement course changes due to the snow pack. Western States had runners travel over 50K before seeing their crews. Without the snow pack that was present this time last year, runners can expect trails to re-emerge sooner, dry quicker, and the number of adventures to be had this year in the mountains will be incredible.

And so I'm excited. While not pleased about the water worries, which I totally get; I've decided to not only run Big Horn in June but to also spent much of my year exploring Colorado. Peak-bagging. Trail-Bagging and exploring those popular 30 miles loops over passes and through the wild wilderness of The Rocky Mountains. This could be one epic year full of personal discovery, inner journey and self-transcendence. The weather gods are cooperating nicely.

For more on water issues throughout the Front Range and the Colorado River Basin Especially, I invite you to once again check out this awesome video.