The San Luis Valley Outdoor Report for the week of March 6. This report is updated every two weeks following each recording of The Outdoor Citizen podcast.
GREAT numbers of Sandhill Cranes are stopping by to relax on their migration path, meaning around 18,000 to 20,000 tourists mainly from Colorado Front Range coming in view. Check The Valley Calendar for full events with the Monte Vista Crane Festival.
March and April snowpacks will determine length of spring runoff
Craig Cotten, the Colorado Division of Water Resources engineer in the San Luis Valley, joined Marty Jones as the guest on The Outdoor Citizen podcast. He talked about how the spring winds impact the upcoming spring runoff and the need for good precipitation in the months of March and April.
“March and April are our biggest snowpack months,” Cotten said, “and so we’re going to have to wait and see how those play out. We’re really hoping that we continue with good snowpack.”
Intense spring winds
To give you an idea of just how intense recent winds have been, the regional weather station reported an early afternoon max wind gust of 64 mph in Alamosa County. And on Tuesday morning, March 7, the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Fire Warning and Fire Weather Watch warning for Tuesday and Wednesday. The alert is Valley-wide. Winds are coming from the Southwest at speeds of 20-to-30mph. Wind gusts are expected to be around 45 mph.
This wind and shine is in stark contrast to February’s snow storms, which left behind some great spring ski conditions. Here are the most recent numbers from our local ski areas:
Wolf Creek Ski Area has received 26 inches of snow over the past week. They are 100 percent open, with 9 of 10 lifts operational. Wolf Creek is once again proving it has the most snow in Colorado with a 130 inch summit depth and a season total of 356 inches. The rest of the week will be windy and partly cloudy, with a chance of patchy blowing snow during the end of the week.
Monarch Mountain has received 4 inches over the past week. They are 100 percent open with 5 of 7 lifts operational. Monarch is reporting a 54 inch base and 202 inch season total. Monarch will be seeing much of the same weather as Wolf Creek, with a partly cloudy and windy week, and a chance of that patchy blowing snow during the late week.
Taos Ski Valley will have a much better weather outlook during the week with more sun and less wind. It’ll still be breezy, though. Snow is likely this weekend. As far as fresh snow goes, Taos has received about 8 inches this past week. They are reporting a 71-inch summit depth.
Cross Country Ski and Snowmobile conditions
SAN JUAN NORDIC CLUB GROOMING REPORT
Big Meadows was groomed with track set on March 3rd.
In Rock Creek, the trails into the meadow and the meadow itself were groomed with some track set on March 2. The telemark hill was groomed, while the upper trails on the hillside did not get groomed.
The Chama Ski Trails were groomed March 3. Grooming for the season will be wrapped up on March 12.
At the Upper Rio Grande Nordic Club Trails, Sixmile Flats, Deep Creek, and Ivy and Lime Creek were all groomed on March 3. Grooming has not yet begun on the Lower Meadow.
For more information on higher elevations, we’ve got the most recent…
Before we dive into the current backcountry conditions, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, on Feb. 25, two backcountry tourers and a snowmobiler were killed in two separate avalanches in the South San Juans. James Sutton of Durango and Jurgen Montgomery of Pagosa Springs were buried and killed in an avalanche near Vallecito Reservoir. Snowmobiler Kevin Gray of Antonito was buried and killed in an avalanche on La Manga Pass, near the Red Lakes trailhead.
Our thoughts go out to their friends and families, and our thanks goes out to all the volunteers and first responders who were able to bring them home.
Today, avalanche danger is MODERATE in the South San Juans. Wind-drifted snow has been a driving factor for increased danger. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center says the most dangerous areas for travel are northerly and easterly slopes near and above treeline.
They have also advised backcountry tourers to “look for and avoid slopes where you see cracking, stiff surface snow, fresh cornice growth, lens-shaped pillows of snow, or sculpted features, all of which indicate more dangerous wind-drifted areas.”
Wind-sheltered slopes less than around 30 degrees, without steeper terrain directly overhead, offer safer options.
The next significant snowfall for the South San Juans should arrive Friday night, March 10.
Colorado backcountry avalanche conditions are updated every evening at 4:30 p.m. For the full forecast details and more, go to Avalanche.state.co.us
Outdoor News Briefs
Golf: Alamosa’s Cattails Golf Course opened for the season on Saturday, March 4. Its new resident restaurant, Knee Knockers Grill, is also open in the clubhouse.
Fishing Licenses: Fishing licenses for the 2023-2024 season are now available. Colorado residents and non-residents can purchase their fishing license at any of the local CPW offices, at one of many authorized retailers around the state, or online at cpwshop.com/licensing.page
Prescribed Burns: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be conducting prescribed burns this spring on the Alamosa, Baca, and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges to remove old, matted vegetation to improve wildlife habitat. Professional fire personnel from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Mid-Plains Fire Zone and State and Federal Partners will conduct the burns. The exact burn dates will depend on weather conditions and other prescription requirements. Target dates start mid-March but may extend through mid-April. Watch for those.
Big Game: Colorado Parks and Wildlife is now accepting applications for the 2023 Colorado Big Game Primary Draw. The deadline to submit applications is April 4 at 8 p.m. Changes and fees can be reviewed in the 2023 Big Game Hunting brochure.
Mountain Lions: Over in neighboring Gunnison, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials have concluded the second year of the Western Slope Mountain Lion Density Study. The purpose of the study is to tag and GPS collar Gunnison-area mountain lions to learn more about their populations. During this study, they’ve been able to collar 35 lions and track their hunting patterns, home areas, and movements. These collars were able to help CPW officers locate the mountain lion that died of highly-pathogenic avian flu in January. They said without the collar sending a mortality signal, they may have never found the animal. More information on the study can be found on AlamosaCitizen.com.
Calendar of Events
The 40th Annual Monte Vista Crane Festival is this weekend, March 9-11. The Crane Festival typically draws in 18,000 to 20,000 visitors, largely from the Front Range and northern New Mexico. This year’s event has some extra specialness given it is the 40th annual event. On Saturday there is a premiere of the short documentary “Where the Cranes Meet the Mountains” by filmmaker Christie Bode-Skie. The premier is at the Ski Hi Complex and tickets are available at mvcranefest.org.
Also Saturday, March 11, in the town of San Luis is the 11th annual Congreso de Acequias hosted by The Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association (SdCAA). The Congreso is a vibrant gathering of acequias and community members from across the San Luis Valley. The event includes special workshops relevant to acequia users and flood irrigators. Workshop topics include talks on how to preserve and improve the health of your soil, opportunities to enhance acequia infrastructure and wildlife habitat, and how to legally protect your water rights. The Congreso is free and open to all.
Upcoming Guests on The Outdoor Citizen
March 22 – Kathy Faz from the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Elizabeth Sumner and, Savannah Schlaufman with Visit Alamosa to discuss We Love Our National Parks Month.