May 25, 2011 / 2:45 PM / 6 years ago

Colorado mountains in grip of winter-like conditions

DENVER (Reuters Life!) - Memorial Day weekend at the end of May is the unofficial start of the U.S. summer tourism season in the Colorado mountains, but this year visitors will encounter mid-winter snow conditions.

Relentless snow storms prompted Aspen and Arapahoe Basin ski resorts to reopen ski trails for as long as the snow keeps falling.

“(We‘re) having our greatest season in years, ideally we would like to stay open on the weekends until the 4th of July, but it’s too early make that call,” Alan Henceroth, Arapahoe Basin’s chief operating officer, said in a statement on the ski resort’s website.

Arapahoe Basin has seen 420 inches of snow this season.

Rich Burkley, vice-president of operations at Aspen Mountain, said heavy spring snowfall and cold temperatures prompted the resort to open 25 ski runs to skiers and snowboarders for the Memorial Day weekend.

Summertime activities such as hiking, mountain biking and golf will start later than normal, Burkley said.

“We figure that if we open for skiing maybe it will quit snowing,” he joked.

At Rocky Mountain National Park, massive snowdrifts have postponed the traditional opening of Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the United States that snakes over the Continental Divide at an elevation of 12,000 feet.

“With twice the normal snowpack, we are facing one of the most challenging years for opening Trail Ridge Road in recent memory,” park superintendent Vaughn Baker said.

The park’s snowplow drivers said they haven’t encountered this much snow in 30 years. A snowstorm last week produced 17-foot snowdrifts, and there was 114 inches of snow at Lake Irene near Milner Pass.

Park visitors should be prepared for hazards not usually seen in late May, such as snow bridges covering mountain streams, steep snow slopes, and thin ice over other water sources.

The park’s three campgrounds are filled for the three-day holiday weekend, and “avalanche danger remains a concern,” park managers said in a new release.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Tim Gaynor

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