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Gazette Premium Content Colorado snow is lagging but has time to catch up

Staff reports Updated: December 29, 2011 at 12:00 am

DENVER — Snowfall in the Colorado mountains is lagging this season, but forecasters say the winter is young and there's plenty of time to catch up.

The snowpack statewide was 73 percent of the long-term average as of midweek. It ranges from 90 to 98 percent in the south and southeast parts of Colorado to just 63 percent in the northwest corner.

The jet stream has been steering snow to the south of Colorado and cold weather to the north, despite La Nina conditions that would normally bring the storms over Colorado, said Kyle Fredin, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Boulder.

The pattern could shift back to normal in mid-January, bringing more snow, he said.

"With the climatology favoring (snow) January through April, there's still a lot of snow season left," Fredin said.

Klaus Wolter, a climatologist at the University of Colorado and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Colorado won't see a repeat of last season, which brought record snowfall to some parts of the mountains.

The last four to six weeks have been dry, but Colorado has had five snowstorms since October, he said.

"That's a pretty good pace," Wolter said. "I've seen bigger, but it's pretty respectable."

Jeff Hanle, a spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Co., said this year's Christmas-New Year's period is shaping up as the resort's busiest since 2007.

"We haven't had the snow we wanted in December, but we had a good start, so that gave us some good momentum," he said.

Aspen Skiing's four ski mountains reported a base of 16 to 34 inches on Thursday.

Lodging occupancy rates in Aspen are running from 80 to 90 percent, said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, the central reservation agency for the Aspen and Snowmass resorts.

"We're having an exceptional year so far," he said.

He attributed the improvement to relatively positive signals in the national economy, including rising consumer confidence and encouraging unemployment figures.

Vail Resorts — which owns the Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone ski areas in Colorado — said snowmaking and grooming crews have been able to open more runs despite the dry spell.

Vail and Beaver Creek reported an 18-inch base on Thursday. Breckenridge reported 27 inches and Keystone 19.

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Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP

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