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Snow bunnies rejoice in western US

Associated Press logo Associated Press 29/12/2016 Dan Elliott

America's ski bunnies are rejoicing as snow rebounds to normal levels in Western ski areas following a dry autumn.

Snow totals were encouraging across most of the region on Wednesday, especially in Oregon, eastern Nevada and Utah, where it stood as high as 176 per cent of average.

"I don't want to wave 'mission accomplished' banners here, but it looks pretty good," said Klaus Wolter, a climate scientist with the Co-operative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in Boulder, Colorado. "Certainly the near term looks good."

A warm, dry autumn forced some Western ski areas to delay opening and prompted the cancellation of some men's World Cup ski races at the Beaver Creek resort in Colorado.

It also caused some worries about how much snowmelt would be available next spring for the vital Colorado River, which supplies water to about 40 million people and over 16,300 square kilmometres of farmland in seven states.

But a series of heavy snowstorms since late November improved snow conditions dramatically across the West. Beaver Creek has now recorded almost two and a half metres of snowfall for the season, said Rachel Woods, a spokeswoman for Vail Resorts, which owns Beaver Creek and 11 other resorts in seven states and Australia.

Beaver Creek reported a snow depth of over 80cm on Wednesday. Snow compacts under the weight of skiers and other factors, so the cumulative snow total is almost always higher than the depth at any given time.

Resort industry officials don't yet have numbers of holiday skiers and snowboarders to report, but they say indicators such as hotel bookings are promising.

"We had a white Christmas here," said Paul Marshall of Ski Utah, which represents 14 resorts. "Between Saturday and Sunday we had a giant storm come in."

Snow depth remained below average in isolated areas, including the Sierra Nevada range in drought-stricken California and some southern New Mexico mountains.

But above-average snow has fallen across the region known as the Upper Colorado River Basin, which produces about 90 per cent of the water in the Colorado River. The Upper Basin covers a large swath of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and smaller sections of Arizona and New Mexico.

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