Skiing + Snowboarding

What The Heck! Where is the Snow?

This year seems to be an anomaly, until you realize that Vail has kicked off the season with only the Born Free run on tap plenty of times.

By Tom Winter November 8, 2016

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Will Vail's Back Bowls look like this for Christmas? There's a good chance they will, despite warm weather in early November and a 2016 opening day that looks like it won't be quite as memorable as the amazing start to the season in 2015.

Image: Jack Affleck

It’s true. We’ve been spoiled the last few years, with Mother Nature turning on the snow machine in late October and massive amounts of terrain opening up right out of the gate.

For example (and to add to your frustrations this year), in 2015, Vail Mountain chalked up a solid 39 inches of snowfall in early November prior to opening day on November 20. Those November storms, along with late October snowfall, meant that the mountain had a whopping 1,150 acres green-lighted for the first day of the 2015-16 season along with nine lifts operating. Not a bad way to start the season.

2014 was also pretty good, with skiing out of both Vail Village and Lionshead and more than 500 acres of skiable terrain along with Chairs 4 and 2 serving the runs above mid-Vail when that season kicked off on November 21.

But turn the clock forward to 2016. Right now things are looking rough, with late October and early November temperatures so warm that even the snowmakers have been stymied. And with the clock rapidly ticking down to Vail Mountain’s scheduled November 18 opening day, there’s no doubt that most of us in the valley are now looking at the sky and wondering when winter will arrive.

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It might be dry in Lionshead and Vail Village on opening day for Vail Mountain this year, but with colder temperatures allowing the snowmaking crews to do their thing, expect the ski area to open as scheduled on November 18.

To get a handle on where the heck the snow is, we turned to some trusted sources: Joel Gratz and Dan Moroz.

Gratz is probably well known to most Colorado skiers and snowboarders. As a snow-focused meteorologist and founder of, a website for powder hounds, Gratz, a Front Range resident and regular Vail skier, has become a bit of a local weather celebrity.

Moroz is a bit more underground. A fire marshall with the Copper Mountain Fire Department, Moroz is a Summit County resident who posts highly informed local weather updates on his Facebook page. In other words, you have to know where to look (or be one of his Facebook “friends”) to see his reports.

According to Gratz, “most models show a big change [to our current warm weather] sometime around November 19/20, with storminess in the western US instead of the dry weather we are seeing now.”

Gratz adds, “of course this doesn’t guarantee that it’ll snow starting on November 19, but this is the pattern change that we’ve been talking about, and I don’t see a reason to change my expectation that the final 10 days of November should bring us the chance for a good snowstorm or two.”

Moroz adds that the weather is going to get colder, which is good news for snowmaking. “A blocking weather pattern will keep the storm track away with no hope of measurable snowfall till next Sunday at the earliest,” says Moroz. But, he adds, “nighttime will be cold enough to make snow. So as time goes on more white ribbons will open as Copper, Breck, and Keystone all plan on a trail or two by Friday.”

Bottom line: although it’s going to remain on the warm side and we’re not going to see – at least in the next week or so – the massive storm that will jump start our season, at least it will be cold enough to make snow.

Which brings us to another bit of history.

While last year was amazing, in 2012, 2009, and 2008 Vail opened with just Chairs 8 and 15 running and Born Free as the only non-beginner terrain available for skiers and snowboarders on opening day. And those winters all turned out OK.

So don’t worry. Winter is coming.

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