Colorado’s Deepest Snowpack
Buffalo Pass is home to one of Colorado’s deepest snowpacks. A 100-inch snow base isn’t out of the ordinary for up on the Pass come mid-February. Our special use permit, issued in 1983 from the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest allows us the opportunity to take you into this remarkable powder factory. We are very fortunate to call this place home.
In 2011, Buffalo Pass made snow recording history by recording the deepest total snowpack ever recorded on any given day in Colorado. A snow depth of 184-inches, or 15.25 feet (4.6 meters), was taken on May 3, 2011 which broke a record that was held in Colorado since the late 1970’s. Read more about this here.
Click on the below button and check out the TOWER SITE which is the snow measuring SNOTEL device high up on Buffalo Pass. It is typically the deepest SNOTEL site in Colorado and a great tool for us to use when we wake up in the morning to check on new snowfall.
Known for its Champagne Powder™, Northwestern Colorado receives some of the lightest and driest snow conditions in the entire world. While the Steamboat Ski area annual receives 330+ inches of snow accumulations per year, Buffalo Pass, just 10-miles north of Steamboat receives over 500+ inches per year. This is an amazing difference in snow amounts for just a short distance away. We take daily snow readings at our mid-mountain cabin and usually see our base of snow rise into the 100-inch range come mid-February.
Before the first fur traders, trappers, and settlers of European descent arrived in the 1800’s, the Yampa Valley was home to many indigenous people who lived in this beautiful area for thousands of years. The Yampatika Utes called this valley home and derived their name from the Yampa Plant that they found along the river. This magical place was rich with game, fertile with edible plants, and had medicinal hot springs that they utilized for many purposes. Other Native American tribes also traveled in and out of this area, including the Arapaho.
Respectfully, we now live and work on the lands of these original people, whose ancestors resided here for many generations before us. We understand that this land holds immense significance for its original stewards. We’d like to acknowledge these Native American communities whom we still live amongst and draw inspiration from, and honor them with gratitude for the land itself and the people who first called this place home.
Buffalo Pass is situated in the Park Range which is a North-South mountain range. During the winter, as storms come in from the Pacific Ocean on west and especially north-west flow, the Park Range is perfectly situated to block the moist air. As the air stalls and rises up and over the Park Range, this forms orographic lifting – which is a fancy term for ‘major snowfall’.
Read about this weather phenomenon and why the Park Range is a snow factory here.
In May of 2011, Buffalo Pass snow levels officially topped a Colorado record for snow accumulation. That’s right, the Tower Site, which measures remote snowpack levels for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, hit a level never recorded in the history of record keeping here in Colorado. Read more about this historical snow amount here in the article from the Denver Post.
Elevations on Buffalo Pass range from 8,272 feet in elevation to 10,804 feet on Soda Mountain and 10, 379 feet on Buffalo Mountain. For reference, the elevation of Mt. Werner which is at the top of the Steamboat Ski Area is 10,568 feet (3224 meters). All of the terrain on Buffalo Pass is below “tree line” which in Colorado is around 11 – 12,000 feet.
Named for the bison that remained on the Pass after they had been exterminated elsewhere, Buffalo Pass was a common route for the early settlers to the area before the road over Rabbit Ears Pass was built. The Buffalo Pass Road was originally built in 1894, south of a historic Ute trail that also went over the Pass. The Continental Divide here on Buffalo Pass is at one of it’s lowest elevations here in Colorado.
Glaciers played a big part in how the landscape of Steamboat Springs and Buffalo Pass now look. Glaciers were at their peak in our region about 125,000 years ago during the Pleistocene era. Two specific glaciers running down what are now Fish Creek and Soda Creek carved out vast canyons that border Buffalo Pass. Learn more about our local glacier history here.
Other notable historic evidence that exists on Buffalo Pass are the interesting aspen tree carvings or arborglyphs. Basque sheep herders who were brought in to tend the sheep herds for local ranchers in the early to mid 20th century carved interesting figures of naked ladies and cowboys in unique positions along their travel routes. Read Eugene Buchanan’s article from the Steamboat Pilot & Today about these carvings here.