Snowmaking begins on Steamboat Ski Area |

Snowmaking begins on Steamboat Ski Area

Zach Fridell

— It’s dumping snow at Steamboat Ski Area, with piles 4, 5 and even 6 feet deep. But it’s not just the occasional early winter storm that is doing the trick.

Snowmaking on the slopes began in earnest Sunday night and Monday morning, with crews now on standby 24 hours a day to make as much snow as possible in the 28 days leading up to the ski area’s opening.

Doug Allen, vice president of mountain operations for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., said the resort’s snowmaking operators went through orientation last week and hit the slopes Sunday night when the temperature reached the 24-degree threshold for artificial snowmaking.

Allen’s crews operated the snow guns throughout the night and until about 11 a.m. Monday. Their efforts were concentrated on the Sitz, Vogue, Short Cut and Stampede ski trails.

Allen said there are about 36 workers on the snowmaking team, working in crews of about eight at a time. Improvements to stop leaking pipes and install more hydrants this year will speed along the snowmaking process, he said, as they are more energy efficient and require less air volume.

Ski Corp. officials said the ski area expanded and upgraded its snowmaking system this summer, including the addition of new hydrants and 11 low-energy, high-efficiency tower guns. The new guns use 30 percent less energy than conventional snow guns while producing the same amount of snow, according to a Ski Corp. news release. Resort officials say the ski area’s snowmaking system covers nearly 400 acres of top-to-bottom terrain and includes a network of more than 300 hydrants, four pump houses, 121 high-efficiency guns and a digital operating system.

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That system will be put to good use for the remainder of 2009.

“Before opening day, we’ll just go and make as much as we can, until Christmastime,” Allen said. “We’ll open what we have available. Our goal this year is we would like Christie Peak Express open” on Scholarship Day on Nov. 25.

If there is enough natural snow, however, the mountain will open with top-to-bottom skiing.

Jim Daniels, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, said a potential for heavy snow this week, coupled with a cold blast, will keep snow on the ground and temperatures low enough to continue snowmaking operations.

Forecasters predict at least some chance of snow from Tuesday night through Friday, with a 70 percent chance of snow Tuesday night and Wednesday.

“I think you’ll see several inches there in town, and we’re expecting some more at higher elevations,” Daniels said.

Allen said snowstorms sometimes can raise temperatures in the area, putting snowmaking on hold, but because of a double-blast of cold air coming through this week, Daniels said that likely would not happen.

“It’s looking like a pretty good storm coming in there, especially for this time of year,” he said.

The area is under a hazardous weather outlook for the rest of the week, with dangerous driving conditions possible later in the week, especially on Rabbit Ears Pass.


This week’s forecast for Steamboat Springs

– Today: 30 percent chance of showers, high of 48, low of 26, with rain turning to snow in the evening

– Wednesday: 70 percent chance of snow, high of 32, low of 14.

– Thursday: 30 percent chance of snow, high of 32, low of 13.

– Friday: Slight chance of snow, high of 41.

Source: National Weather Service

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