After a bit of a slow start to the ski season at Monarch Mountain, snow storms have been steadily hitting the ski area during the last month.
The mountain has received 25 inches of snow in the last seven days as of Thursday and received a measurable amount of snow in 12 of the first 18 days of February, said Scott Pressly, Monarch’s vice president of mountain operations.
On Jan. 18, Monarch had a 25-inch base. A month later on Feb. 18, Monarch’s base had more than doubled to 54 inches.
While the new snow has been piling on top of a weak layer and adding to the avalanche danger around the state, the situation at Monarch, and other ski areas, is different because of the amount of skier traffic .
“Skier compaction is a big part of mitigation work at ski areas,” Pressly said. “The layers are more consolidated because of skier traffic; every storm gets skied down and packed down. When skier traffic is constantly breaking up those layers, you don’t have those big consolidated layers (that could break).”
Knowing that, Monarch works to open terrain as soon as it can so skiers and riders can help pack the snow down.
“We make a big push to open terrain because we know in the long run it will mitigate avalanche pressure,” Pressly said. “It’s key to get in on everything as early as possible and get the terrain open as early as possible.”
Monarch Ski Patrol also continually works to prevent slides. Pressly said a lot of the mountain’s lift-accessed terrain can be mitigated with ski cuts and cutting cornices. He described Monarch’s avalanche mitigation efforts on the lift-served terrain as “pretty much normal” this year.
The hike-to terrain in Mirkwoord Basin and also the mountain’s cat-skiing terrain require some extra effort and explosives.
“Those need a more in-depth approach,” Pressly said. “They receive more snow and there’s not as much skier traffic.”
Monarch’s cat skiing operation started at the end of January this season, operating at 50 percent capacity with guides riding separately from the guests.
Some of the cat terrain has seen some slides.
“There are a few areas in the cat terrain that we didn’t get on early,” Pressly said. “Some of those areas are seeing some avalanches release.” Pressly added that the areas where avalanches have occurred remain closed.
While avalanches do occur in bounds at ski areas, it’s less common than in the backcountry.
Salida mayor P.T. Wood addressed the state’s avalanche danger, which has resulted in 11 fatalaties this year, at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
“It’s really dangerous in the backcountry,” Wood said. “If you’re going skiing, go to Monarch. We don’t need to lose any of our friends.”
“It’s not 100 percent fail proof, but it’s a lot safer than going into the backcountry,” Pressly said.