Snow conditions OK for rec; ice looking good

Feb 3, 2015 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

On Togwotee Pass above Dubois, there were 55 inches on the ground Tuesday.

Winter recreation enthusiasts have managed to enjoy the outdoors this year in Fremont County despite less-than-ideal conditions on the ground.

"It's good considering the lack of snow we've gotten, but it's requiring a lot of work," Lander Nordic Ski Association groomer Web Webster said Thursday.

He has been out almost every day maintaining the Beaver Creek Nordic Ski Area near South Pass, as well as the cross-country skiing trails at the Lander Golf and Country Club.

Webster says conditions are better in the mountains than in town, but both locations are suffering due to the weather. There still are times when the snow is great for skiing, however.

"During the day it's wet and a little bit sticky," Webster said. "But as soon as the sun starts to set, it starts turning slowly back to ice. If you hit it at the sweet time it's perfect. ... There's been some of the best skiing possible. It's just hard to predict when."

He noted that, during some winters, there isn't any snow at all at the golf course. This year, the precipitation is sticking, drawing lunchtime visitors from the Lander area.

"Generally we try to have the trails in good condition by late morning for the lunch-hour crowd," Webster said. "We're getting quite a few more (people on the golf course) than previous years it seems like."

On South Pass, he has had to reuse old snow to keep the trails covered this year. Webster says he hasn't seen any appreciable snowfall in that area since Jan. 6.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service measures snowpack throughout the United States using a system called SNOTEL, which stands for SNOwpack TELemetry. Local SNOTEL data shows 27 inches of snow on the ground at South Pass south of Lander as of noon Tuesday.

On Togwotee Pass above Dubois, there were 55 inches on the ground Tuesday.

Wyoming State Trails program manager Ron McKinney said many people from Riverton and Lander opt for the deeper snowpack on Togwotee when they want to take a snowmobiling tour in the mountains. But regional trails supervisor Josh Milek said most areas are experiencing warm weather that leads to crunchy snow conditions, despite the depth.

"The whole state's pretty much in the same boat," he said. "There's enough snow to go ride, but it's going to be hard-packed and icy."

He noted that most trails have stayed fully covered despite the low snow levels.

Ice fishing

Winter fishers don't worry as much about the snow as the ice. At Boysen State Park, assistant superintendent Rick Helm said the layer of frozen water above Boysen Lake was about 11 inches thick last week on the north end and even thicker to the south.

"The south end is shallower, so it freezes up first," Helm said. "The north end is deep, and it's got warm water underneath, so it takes longer to freeze."

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department on Monday said warmer weather of recent weeks has deteriorated ice conditions throughout much of the state, and the ice on many waters may no longer be safe.

Helm encouraged ice fishers to take precautions as they travel the surface of the lake.

"Everybody still needs to check as they go," Helm said. "The ice is constantly changing."

When temperatures are colder, the ice tends to grow. Last week, however, Helm guessed Boysen was losing ice.

"It'll start heating it up from the bottom side up," he said. "That's why (fishermen) need to go out there with a bar and check where they're going."

He recommends fishing on ice that is at least 4 inches thick, but Helm says he has seen people venture onto the lake with only half an inch of ice below their feet.

"That's pretty reckless," he said.

Accidents usually take place at pressure ridges, which open when ice is pushed up from below the surface of the water. Helm said the more dangerous pressure ridges are the ones that have risen, then flattened to cover the weakness in the ice.

"If the pressure ridges are pushed up it's probably good," he said. "But everybody needs to be careful and just check ahead of them where they're going."

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