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S.W. Colorado Sees 10 Feet of Snow; Parts of Northern N.M. Also Benefit

By Tania Soussan and Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writers
    All those Four Corners residents and ski buffs hoping for snow got what they wished for— and then some.
    A five-day storm socked the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado on Friday night through Wednesday, bringing 8 to 10 feet of new snow to areas above 10,000 feet and 3 to 6 feet to lower elevations.
    Northern New Mexico benefited from the same storm system, but in inches rather than feet.
    In southwestern Colorado, mountain passes closed, avalanche warnings went out, power failed across the region, snowplow crews put in long hours and life slowed down.
    "For the first time in six years, I've heard people say, 'I wish it would stop snowing,' '' said National Weather Service hydrologist Brian Avery in Grand Junction, Colo.
    The storm was the latest blast from the Pineapple Express, a weather pattern that dumped rain in California and snow in the San Juans for almost three weeks. "You just see storm after storm after storm move rapidly through," Avery said, adding that the forecast now is for dry weather in the region.
    The recent storm closed Silverton Mountain at the very time the extreme ski area had its best snow. The mountain passes on U.S. 550 on either side of the town of Silverton— Red Mountain to the north and Molas and Coal Bank to the south— were closed and the storm ripped down the ski area's power lines.
    The telephone message at the Silverton Mountain Ski Area on Thursday said:
    "We have received the storm of the century here with over 140 inches of snow and we're still not sure what the storm total is. The good news? Plenty of snow when we do open. Have a powdery day."
    In Durango, Colo., the streets were clear and dry Thursday, a marked difference from the 67 inches of snow delivered to the Durango Mountain Resort ski area about 20 miles north of town.
    "From here to there, it's 10 feet difference," said Gary Broad, owner of the Durango Diner on the town's main drag. "It's just the high mountains that are getting slammed."
    The town of Durango has had almost three inches of precipitation so far this year— 420 percent of normal, Avery said. Most of that, though, has been rain.
    Before Christmas, the snowpack in the San Juan Mountains was 93 percent of normal. Now it's 177 percent of normal.
    That's good news for New Mexico and Navajo Reservoir, which have been hit hard by a drought.
    "It's probably the biggest snowpack since around '97," Avery said.
    Coal Bank Pass north of Durango had more than 100 inches of new snow. U.S. 550 through that pass and Molas and Red Mountain passes remained closed Thursday afternoon because of avalanche danger.
    "It is amazing," Avery said.
    Northern New Mexico also benefited from the storm with 9 inches of snow at Red River, 8 inches at Lake Maloya near Raton, 6 inches in Jemez Springs and 2 inches in Chama.
    "They're doing pretty well up there, but certainly not as great as Colorado," said Chuck Jones, a Weather Service meteorologist in Albuquerque.
    A storm earlier this month dumped lots of rain and snow in New Mexico, including 12 inches in Red River and 9 inches in Chama, he said.
    At Taos Ski Valley, the powder deliveries have been frequent and generous.
    Taos Mountain got 8 inches of fresh snow Wednesday, with a total of 26 inches of new snow in the previous five days and 50 inches since New Year's Day.
    The ski report Thursday from Gary Johnson, New Mexico's fittest former governor and current Taos Ski Valley resident: "Fabulous."
    Johnson came off his last run about 4:30 p.m. and got on the phone.
    "The whole mountain is fluffy," he said. "Basically, it has just been snowing for the past few weeks. I think you have to go back a long time to find snow this good this early in the year. It's great. The whole mountain is soft."
    Snow started falling Monday night in Chama and didn't let up until about noon Tuesday. A dump of just over two feet closed Cumbres Pass to traffic and brought out the snow plows, snow blowers and snow shovels.
    Missy Porter, who owns Chama Ski Services, said the great snow, ironically, brought her cross-country ski and showshoe rental business to a halt.
    "People have to get plowed out and get the pass open and then they'll get ready to ski," she said. "We haven't been out ourselves. We've been too busy shoveling."