Wolf Creek opens with 50-inch base

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DENVER (AP) - What a difference a year makes. The Wolf Creek Ski Resort opened Thursday with a 50-inch base on top.

Last year, in advance of a record drought, Wolf Creek opened Nov. 22 with 4 inches on top. It usually gets the deepest snowfall of all Colorado resorts.

Although it doesn't mean the drought is over, or even subsiding yet, the precipitation recorded at several Colorado major river basins was near or above the 30-year average.

"We are excited because we are opening a week before we are scheduled," said Melissa Arnold, spokeswoman for the resort.

Wolf Creek has already received 73 inches of snow, compared with 238 last year. Its average is 465 inches.

The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration has forecast that El Nino could mean more snowfall than usual in southern Colorado and other Southwestern areas. The effects of the phenomenon decline farther north.

"Our current snowpack is about equal to about what we had last year at the end of November. So we are about a month ahead of last year - but that is not saying a lot," said Mike Gillespie of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the Agriculture Department.

"October has been about average, maybe slightly above average," he said.

"It's still depressing because our reservoirs are still only about half of average" and when the snowmelt occurs in the spring the parched soil will suck up much of the moisture before it can get into streams, Gillespie said.

But ski resorts across the state are cheering the early snowfall. Breckenridge got 24 inches in the last 24 hours. Keystone, which opens Nov. 8, got 14 inches and Beaver Creek and Vail both 13 inches.

"Last year we didn't have any snow on the ground. Today we had a settled base of 20 inches, beating the previous record of 19, set in 1996, the last big snow year we had," said Nicky DeFord, spokeswoman for Vail.

Winter Park got 13 inches overnight.

"It is wonderful. We open Nov. 13 and that snow last night will be a great addition to the snow we have been making. It is snowing again today. We are doing a snow dance up here," said Kate Roberts, spokeswoman for Winter Park.