Starting the first weekend of October, more than two feet of snow fell from the sky onto the upper mountain of Telluride Ski Resort. Following the miserable winter of 2017-18, Telluride residents would be forgiven for wondering how this alien white precipitation came to be. Other, smarter residents, however, didn’t bother with questions — they simply beelined for the high country, boards in tow.
Salvador Garcia-atance was one of them. A Spaniard with a wife and four children who moved from Houston to Telluride “for the skiing” last year, Garcia-atance may have wondered if he moved to the right place. Then came October, which not only delivered local snowfall but also a report from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center stating there’s a 70-75 percent chance of an El Niño weather pattern governing the northern Hemisphere winter of 2018-19.
According to the NWS, “El Niño winters typically feature wetter-than-average conditions across the southern tier of the U.S.,” including the Telluride region.
There certainly was moisture aplenty when Garcia-atance ascended the ski mountain Oct. 12.
“I went up to Prospect Bowl, first on my mountain bike and then on climbing skins from about the top of Ute Park lift,” he reported. “I did one run on the Crystal run next to Black Iron Bowl, with an amazingly positive result: safe, no rocks and some great turns. The snow was light, fresh, fluffy, basically amazing. I encountered only one backcountry skier at the top of Prospect going up to Palmyra Peak.”
Three days later, Garcia-atance returned. He walked up See Forever from the San Sophia gondola station, donning skis and skins near the top of North Chute.
“I had a pleasant skins walk to the top of Revelation Bowl,” he said. “I encountered a local walking up as well. I could not believe the quality of the fresh snow up there, not only that, the amount of snow. I would say two feet of accumulated snow or even more on some portions of the run. I was so excited, that I did three runs on Majestic and Golden Cross.”
Garcia-atance reached out to the Daily Planet with his story and photos to provide skiers and snowboarders “an incentive and motivator for the season to come after such a dreadful season 2017-18.”
With a high chance of an El Niño, 2018-19 can’t possibly be worse than last winter’s “El Nada.” Yet sojourns such as Garcia-atance’s are now prohibited: Telluride Ski Resort announced last week that “the mountain is closed to uphill access for a variety of safety-related reasons. This year the closure period will be Monday, Oct. 22, through Opening Day, Nov. 22.”
As Telski Director of Mountain Operations Scott Pittenger explained, “This is the time of year when we have a lot of heavy equipment moving around the hill; excavators, snowcats, cranes, etc. Removing the variable of public on the mountain helps us stay safe and work efficiently. We don’t want to see anyone get hurt, whether it is a guest from out of town, a local or one of our own employees.”
Added Pittenger, “We have a lot more going on in the early season these days. Our snowmaking system continues to expand, we try to be as aggressive as necessary to retain natural snow through snowcat-packing and the rolling program, as well as stay on top of our variable snowpack and mitigate as much risk as possible in avalanche terrain early in the season and not let anything get away from us.”
Although uphill skiing the mountain in fall has occurred since the resort’s earliest days, this century’s advancements in alpine touring gear and split-snowboards have made journeys up Ho Chi Minh Trail more tempting to more people.
Telski won’t waste resources on a full-time preseason border patrol, as it were, but that doesn’t mean illegal ascenders will go unnoticed.
“It’s pretty easy to spot an uphill traveler,” Pittenger said. “We encourage all of our employees to help educate the public and empower those employees to ask offenders to head back from where they came. It’s a small town, and many times everyone knows each other and these interactions are simple.”
No one has ever been arrested for preseason incursions, Pittenger said, because “we try to take an educational approach. People are excited to ski, so are we, but no one wants to, for example, A) get caught in an avalanche or B) be the guy that initiated an avalanche through the course of his work that buried someone he didn’t know was there. If there are repeat offenders, we may have to take a more stern approach, but I have not encountered this situation.”
Before he signed off Tuesday afternoon, Pittenger also revealed that another 5 inches of snow had blessed the upper mountain in the previous 24 hours.