Aspen Journalism is compiling a data dashboard highlighting metrics of local public interest, updated weekly by mid-day Tuesday.
Winter occupancy hit over 60% for Aspen and Snowmass this season
Paid occupancy in Aspen reached 39.4% in April, up from 32.9% last year, while Snowmass recorded 29.5% paid occupancy, down from 33.9% in 2021, according to the April 2022 occupancy report for Aspen and Snowmass lodges, compiled by local tourism officials and reservations tracking firm Destimetrics.
“For reference, our best April ever was 2019, the year we hosted The Après music festival, when both towns exceeded 40%,” the report noted.
Total winter occupancy hit 61.3% for Aspen and Snowmass combined, up from 42.2% last season and 47.7% in the pandemic-shortened 2019-’20 season. It puts this most recent winter just behind 2018-’19’s 62.9%. The report said that the 2021-22 winter season was “essentially on track to what we would consider a traditional winter performance.”
May’s paid occupancy for Aspen and Snowmass is at 17.3% on the books as of April 30, close to 17.5% last year. “Many lodges opted to close this spring to give staff a break and perform standard facility improvements,” according to the report.
Streamflow down after the weekend’s cooler temperatures
The USGS gauge on the Roaring Fork River near Aspen at Stillwater, located upstream of town, measured streamflow at 178 cfs on Sunday, May 22, which is 68% of average. That’s down from last week, when the river was flowing at 247 cfs. The Fork ran as high as 317 cfs on May 19 before dropping to 178 cfs on May 22 due to the cooler temperatures. On May 22, 2021, the river ran at 169 cfs.
The ACES gauge, located near the Mill Street Bridge in central Aspen, located downstream of significant diversion ditches, measured the Roaring Fork River at 150.6 cfs on May 22. That’s down from 223.66 cfs last week and 334.69 cfs on May 19.
The Crystal River above Avalanche Creek, near Redstone, flowed at 862 cfs, or about 87.7% of average, on May 22. The Crystal reached up to 1,670 cfs on May 19. The Crystal River at the CPW Fish Hatchery bridge ran at 1,080 cfs on May 22, down from 2,030 cfs on May 19.
As to the question of whether the high flows seen around May 19 were in fact the seasonal flow peak — which would mark a peak weeks early of historic averages — a representative of the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy told Aspen Journalism that “the short answer is, it depends.”
“It’s possible the river already peaked,” RFC Director of Director of Science and Policy Heather Tattersall Lewin wrote in an email. “However some of the reduction in flows right now is due to lower temperatures. So whether we see a second peak or not will depend on the weather. If it gets really warm, we will likely see the river go up again, then drop out. If it stays cooler, we may see a more sustained flow that is not quite as high as peak, but does not drop down as quickly. Either way, it does seem likely that local rivers will peak earlier than the historic average.”
Snowpack keeps dropping below average
Snowpack in the Roaring Fork Basin was at 40% of average, according to NOAA on May 22. It’s been below average since April 20, reaching that designation for the first time this season, the Roaring Fork Conservancy wrote on April 21.
SNOTEL sites that monitor snowfall throughout the winter measured the snowpack at Independence Pass at 5.6% of average on May 22, with a “snow water equivalent” (SWE) of 0.31 inches. The size of the snowpack relative to the 30-year average is up from last week’s 4.1%. Snowpack dropped from over six inches on May 8 to about less than one inch on May 15 due to warmer temperatures. Last year on May 22, the SNOTEL station up the pass (located at elevation 10,600 feet) recorded an SWE of 0.31 inches.
The monitoring station at McClure Pass recorded a SWE of 0.2 inches, or 10.9% of average, on May 22. A week before, the station reported 0.2 inches of water contained in the snowpack, or 4.6% of average. Last year, on May 22, the station measured a snowpack holding 0 inches of water.
On the northeast side of the Roaring Fork Basin, snowpack at Ivanhoe now contains lower water levels than the 1991-2020 average, with 2.6 inches on May 22, which is 32.9% of the average of 7.9 inches. It dropped from 8.11 inches of SWE on May 15. It’s down from last year’s 5.91 inches of SWE.
Snowpack at Schofield Pass reached 13.58 inches on May 22, which represents 58% of average. Schofield Pass’ snowpack has been below average for about a month. Schofield Pass sits at an elevation of 10,700 feet between Marble and Crested Butte.
Snow water equivalent — the metric used to track snowpack — is the amount of water contained within the snowpack, which will become our future water supply running in local rivers and streams.
Lake Powell is back above target elevation two months after falling below
Lake Powell‘s storage remains at one of its lowest levels recorded since it began filling in the 1960s. However, the amount of water stored in the reservoir increased over the past month, as the annual runoff boosted river flows.
On May 22, the reservoir was 25.2% full. Last week, on May 15, it was 24.3% full. The reservoir’s capacity has fallen since last year, when on May 22, 2021, the reservoir was 34.23% of full.
The surface elevation of Lake Powell exceeded the target elevation of 3,525 feet on May 16, after dipping below it on March 15. On May 22, Lake Powell’s elevation reached 3,528.3 feet, or 171.7 feet from full pool, up from 3,524.78 feet on May 15. Last year, on May 22, the reservoir reached 3,560.04 feet, or 139.96 feet from full pool.
The “minimum power pool” for turbines generating hydropower at the Glen Canyon Dam is 3,490 feet, and 3,525 feet has been set as a buffer to ensure that the reservoir and the turbines can continue to function properly.
Air temperature on the rise
Temperatures have been on the rise over the past three weeks. Maximum air temperature reached up to 75°F on May 16, which is about 13 degrees above normal, according to temperatures recorded at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. The minimum ranged from 24°F on May 13, which is about nine degrees below normal, to 39°F on May 16, about five degrees above normal.
Air quality in Aspen was ‘good’ last week
The air quality in Aspen was “good” this past week besides May 21 when air quality was moderate and the AQI index for ozone reached 61. This decline in air quality was probably caused by wildfires burning in New Mexico and Arizona and prescribed burns across Colorado. Jannette Whitcomb, Aspen senior environmental health specialist, wrote in an email that it is commonplace to see moderate AQI for ozone in Aspen in the spring.
For the remainder of the week, the AQI index for ozone ranged from 42 on May 18 to 48 on May 22.
- Colorado’s Division of Water Resources
- Bureau of Reclamation
- Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District
- Aspen Global Change Institute