This winter’s snowfall has been tremendously scarce, resulting in a Jan. 18 decision by the Grand County Council to declare a state of drought in order to prepare for the possibility of a shortage of water later this year.
The ramifications of a drought to outdoor tourism in Utah and Colorado have been extensive, with many resorts cutting staff and closing earlier than normal. Many who geared up for the 2018 ski season have not had a chance to get out and do what they love.
Despite the snow conditions, there are a few fun options currently available. The La Sal Mountains received 16 inches of snow during the storm on Jan. 20 — and ski enthusiasts are making the most of it.
“With the last snowstorm the backcountry skiing can’t get any better, it’s a great year to pick up Nordic skiing,” said Marshall Dvorscak, owner of Moab Gear Trader.
Starting at the Geyser Pass parking lot there is a network of groomed Nordic skiing trails that can be explored for days. The Moab Gear Trader website (moabgeartrader.com) offers snow and avalanche reports as well as a map in the shop with trail details.
The road to Geyser Pass trailhead is plowed but four-wheel drive or chains are highly encouraged given the thin ice layer that may be present on steep turns. When going backcountry skiing in the La Sals, it’s also essential to check a weather and avalanche report.
From the parking lot the groomed uphill slope goes to Gold Basin. After a few hundred yards there are trail intersections with the possibility of going off into side-loops. At the top of the next hill the trails through powder begin. In various places there are sets of tracks of skiers who’ve ventured out to make their own runs through the trees.
Another great opportunity to get on the snow is Powderhorn, one of the nearest resorts to Moab, about 45 minutes east of Grand Junction.
“I went to Powderhorn for the first time and given how warm it’s been, I was somewhat surprised there were that many runs open,” said Sam Lieberman, a guide with Moab OARS. “It’s great being back on the skis; I wasn’t sure I’d have many chances to get out this winter.”
Powderhorn is now open all week long for the first time this season after a very slow start that utilized artificial snow. Most of the green and blue runs are currently open. While some brown patches are starting to show, a good number of slopes have the necessary amount of snow to carve one’s way down.
“It’s been a rough winter, we’ve had 45 inches in the season and we’re about 100 inches down from an average year,” said Ryan Robinson, marketing director at Powderhorn. “In the last storm we got about 18 inches in two days and that’s what allowed us to open temporarily all days of the week.”
Powderhorn also has extensive mountain-biking trails, which is the basis for the use of their facilities during their summer season. On Feb. 24 the resort will be hosting its second annual fat tire bike race on the ski slope.
“It’s awesome. We partner with local bike shops and we put on two races on our private property and on the hill,” Robinson said. “We had 30 people participate last year and we’re hoping to grow that this time.”
With sunny days and little precipitation ahead of us in February, winter enthusiasts may want to take advantage of what snow is left of this abnormal winter before putting the skis away and gearing up for spring.
For more information on La Sal Mountains snow conditions visit utahavalanchecenter.org, and for information on Powderhorn visit powderhorn.com.