This week’s storm could bring up to 5 feet of snow to some Colorado ski areas, but forecasts vary wildly

Winter Park employee Michael Rodriguez gets a run in 10-inches of fresh powder on the Hughes run before working the top of The Gondola on Feb. 13, 2021. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
Winter Park employee Michael Rodriguez gets a run in 10-inches of fresh powder on the Hughes run before working the top of The Gondola on Feb. 13, 2021. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
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It’s way too soon to lock in the forecast, but there may be a storm system headed into the Front Range foothills this weekend that could rival the historic storm of March 2003, according to OpenSnow meteorologist Joel Gratz.

Gratz, whose site issues mountain-focused weather forecasts and tracks snowfall for skiers and riders, sees the potential for 15 inches to 5 feet of snow from an upslope storm in the foothills and mountains east of the Continental Divide — if the storm track sets up just right.

“This storm potentially has some parallels to the March 2003 storm,” Gratz said. “It’s far too early to know if it’s analogous, but the key ingredient for this storm is that it could provide snow for about 60 hours. If the storm is in the right position for the majority of those 60 hours, we could hit the high end of the range.”

The storm of March 2003 brought 32 inches to Denver, 72 inches to Evergreen and 87 inches to Rollinsville. The Eldora ski area received 62 inches.

In fact, skiers and riders may be in the position of hoping it doesn’t snow so much this weekend that traveling to the slopes to ride it becomes problematic.

“In a storm like this, you may not want to be exactly where the deepest snow is,” Gratz said. “I don’t say that often. If we hit the low end of the range, we get a foot or two or even three over two or three days, that’s manageable. The skiing or riding will be great east of the divide at places like Eldora, and we’ll get some snow at the divide. But if this truly turns out to be a historic storm like March 2003, it’s almost too much snow. To have five feet of snow, you run into all sorts of driving, logistical, operational challenges.”

It’s important to be clear: Because the storm is due Friday night into Saturday, it’s impossible to predict this far out where it will set up with any degree of certainty. Bur four of the six major meteorological models Gratz trusts are suggesting areas just west of Denver could expect “lots of snow,” Gratz said.

“Two other models keep the storm farther south with a lot of snow for areas south of Pueblo and into New Mexico,” Gratz said. “But we’re not cherry picking. Four of six models are on board, and have been for a day or two. It becomes more likely that we could see a pretty hefty storm. But we’re still many days away from fine-tuning the details.”

Gratz said wherever the storm’s bullseye falls — it could be anywhere in the Front Range from Wyoming to New Mexico — the deepest snow totals could be found from 7,000 to 10,000 feet. The elevation of Lookout Mountain overlooking Golden is 7,379 feet, and it received 58 inches in the March 2003 storm. Genesee got 45 inches.

The weekend storm is only part of the weather story this week. Beginning Tuesday night into Thursday, Gratz expects 5-15 inches across the Colorado mountains with the highest totals favoring the southern and south-central mountains.

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