Mild winter, low snowpack can put a damper on outdoor recreation; Ute Pass Trail closure extended
By Bob Falcone @HikingBob
It’s no secret that this winter in Colorado has been pretty mild so far. Temperatures have been mostly average or above average, but snowfall has been rather low. A drive to the Collegiate Range near Salida, Buena Vista, etc. proves there isn’t much snow in the mountains either. A quick check of ski conditions shows that almost none of the resorts have all of their slopes open, and most are reporting snow bases at about three feet or less.
According to Fox21 Chief Meteorologist Matt Meister, La Niña conditions are the main culprit for our unusually mild winter. La Niña, characterized by cooler-than-normal ocean temperatures along the equator in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean, brings milder winters to the west and northwestern U.S, and colder, wetter weather to the mid-west and eastern U.S. While there is still time for the snow to fly, Meister says there are calls for concern. “There aren’t any big signs that we’re going to see a flip-flop of the pattern,” Meister says “It may modify, and that’s what we can hope for at this point.”
A wet March and April could put a dent in the current water deficit, but it may not be enough. According to the National Resources Conservation Service at the Department of Agriculture, the current water equivalent of snow at Glen Cove on Pikes Peak is at zero percent of the median levels that were measured from 1981 to 2010.
So what does this mean for outdoor recreation both now and in the near future?
Local trail users seem to be merely adjusting to the conditions at hand, according to social media. While they’re not cross-country skiing or snowshoeing (my snowshoes haven’t been used yet this winter) they’re continuing to hike, cycle or run on the trails. I’ve also heard from people taking part in hut treks — instead of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing to the huts they’re hiking to them.
Elaine Smith of local outdoor outfitter Mountain Chalet says people are buying more equipment for activities they wouldn’t normally do at this time of year, like climbing and backpacking. And local trailhead parking lots remain busy on weekends, much like they are during the warmer months.
Local parks see the adjustment, too. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Bill Vogrin, the mild weather hasn’t had a negative impact on the number of state park visitors. If anything, Vogrin believes visitor numbers may be higher than usual since people who may not visit the parks during cold, snowy winters are visiting because of the warmer temperatures.
But a mild winter can effect more than our outdoor recreation routines. CPW staff in southwestern Colorado have reported bears coming out of hibernation much earlier than usual, Vogrin says. And a lack of runoff could negatively impact local fish populations. Decreased snowpack results in reduced river flow rates. With less cold, snow runoff, water temperatures rise and the fish have less oxygen and become more susceptible to disease.
Becky Leinweber, co-owner of local fishing outfitter Anglers Covey, says this kind of stress on the fish can not only reduce the number of fish for catching, but even catch-and-release fishing could be inadvertently fatal to fish. As a business that depends on fishing, any kind of reduction could potentially have a negative impact on the business’ bottom line. And rafting companies have a lot at stake too — a decrease in water runoff flow could be problematic for visitors looking to experience class-4 rapids during peak season.
Some may be enjoying the mild winter, but if you miss real winter recreation you may want to consider Mountain Chalet’s request to customers and “ramp up on the snow dancing.”
Ute Pass Regional Trail closure extended
The Ute Pass Regional Trail, which shares a trail head with the Manitou Incline, has been closed since August 2017 as utility workers replace a water pipe that runs under the trail. Although the work was expected to have been completed by the end of 2017, project delays have pushed the trail re-opening date back to June of this year, according to El Paso County Parks Department project manager Jason Meyer.