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Sopris ‘snow saddle’ ain’t giddyupin’ just yet
Epic snowpack extends white stuff on mountain’s north side
Sopris saddle
This year, following recent storms that created a new snowfield well below the saddle ridge line, the question is whether a clearly defined snow saddle will re-emerge before the winter of 2019-2020 settles in. The snow saddle is easily seen from several vantage points around the Roaring Fork Valley, including from Highway 82 in the Carbondale area. by Jane Bachrach

Long after most of last winter’s snowpack melted and trickled off to the Colorado River, a half-mile stretch of the white stuff still grips a rocky gray perch on the north side of Mount Sopris.

The snow in question sits along the “saddle” that connects Sopris Peak and West Sopris Peak. After recent snows on Mount Sopris, the snow saddle is less defined than before, but for the most part it hasn’t gone anywhere. The question now seems to be whether the snow saddle will emerge again and manifest itself before the winter snows of 2019-20 put it to bed until the warm sun returns to expose it next June.

Catching a glimpse

Saddle
A "snow saddle" forms on the north side of Mount Sopris each year and is usually the last patch to melt every summer. This year, it's still looking sturdy well into the fall. In fact, a longtime Mount Sopris observer in Satank said she can't remember the last time she saw snow on the saddle in October. The snow forms on the saddle that connects Sopris Peak and West Sopris Peak, both of which log in at 12,953 feet above sea level. by Jane Bachrach
Most residents from Basalt to Glenwood Springs probably catch at least a glimpse of the 12,953 Mount Sopris nearly every day but likely don’t think about how long its shadow is. Actually, folks on East Hopkins Avenue in Aspen can even spy one of the mountain’s shoulders if they cast their view west and know what they are looking at. 

Folks motoring down the Crystal River Valley catch a quick look of Sopris’ backside as they exit Redstone and it presents itself as a big hump with no defining features. 

Roll into Glenwood Springs on eastbound I-70 for the first time and the thing jumps right out at you and seems to shout its own “Greetings from Colorful Colorado.” Mount Sopris is even visible through the haze from the road to Deep Lake on the Flat Tops north of Glenwood Springs – a distance of at least 20-30 miles as this writer figures it.

Most Missouri Heights residents are eye-level with Mount Sopris and get the “full monty” view, complete with the craggy bowl on to the east, both peaks and the saddle that connects the two. Carbondale residents in Sopris Park look up at the thing and during Mountain Fair every July start asking each other, “Will all the snow melt off Sopris this year?” What they really mean is whether the snow saddle will entirely melt and evaporate from view.

Some years, the saddle melts completely. Others years there’s a pretty good patch into October. In recent years on at least one occasion, the sun reduced it to about the size of a living room midway between the two peaks.

This year

The sun’s job is just about finished for this year. We’re well into fall and the strand of saddle snow was clearly visible before the recent snows. 

Marge Palmer has kept an eye on Mount Sopris from her home in Satank for more than 30 years. She told the Roaring Fork Weekly Journal “ … I haven’t seen it (the snow saddle) go past August since I don’t know when.”

The eastern half of the snow saddle is/was even visible from Dry Park Road, which runs for about five miles and connects Four Mile Road south of Glenwood Springs to Thompson Creek Road south of Carbondale. 

“Most years it’s gone by now,” said Four Mile resident Ken Neubecker, who frequently drives the shortcut from Glenwood to Carbondale.

Epic snows during the 2018-19 season built the deep base on Mount Sopris that eventually shrunk to the snow saddle and a few scattered pockets below it by early fall. But there’s more to this year’s story than that.

A forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said that heavy snows and southwest winds “loaded up” the snow saddle in March. 

“It was an Atmospheric River Event,” he said. “It used to be called the Pineapple Express.” The atmospheric river sent moisture west from the Pacific and it reached the Roaring Fork Valley as wet, heavy snow. “That led to the avalanches,” he continued. Two months later, snows on Sopris stuck around longer than normal due to a cool June. “Snow there wasn’t melting much until July.” That’s about when folks at Mountain Fair were wondering whether all the snow will melt off Mount Sopris this year.

With most of the snow saddle tucked away in the barn for this year, a different kind of horse race is on and the question becomes, “Will the snow saddle reemerge?” this year after recent storms put it under a gauzy bedspread.

For this question, we return to the National Weather Service forecaster in Grand Junction. The next 10-day forecast calls for a cold front in the area with possible snow on Thursday and Friday, then another system with possible snow at 10,000 feet and higher. A third cold front is expected at the end of next week. After that, skiers and boarders should be putting snow to good use in Aspen by Thanksgiving.

So, as for speculation on whether recent snows will conspire to hide the snow saddle until winter snows cover it up for good, remember this Colorado rule of thumb: The temperature drops 4-6 degrees for every 1,000 feet in elevation gain, according to experts. So, when it’s 60 degrees in Carbondale (elevation approximately 6,000 feet) and you peer up at the snow saddle at about 12,953 feet, it’s probably about 30 degrees up there. 

Cold enough to preserve the new snow so it hides the snow saddle until next June? We’ll see.