Early-season ice crust might have salvaged Steamboat ski season
Steamboat Springs — Turns out the thick layer of ice that blanketed Steamboat Ski Area on opening day may have been a blessing in disguise.
The infamous crust covered 40 inches of fresh powder that never got poached, but the added moisture contributed to the staying power of the snow going into closing weekend, according to a ski area official. Groomers also deserve a lot of the credit.
“I have to hand it to the guys who pull the levers,” said Doug Allen, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. vice president of mountain operations. “They take a lot of pride in their work, and they kept it going.”
In terms of snow totals, this season has been very similar to the 2011-12 season, when snow conditions forced the ski area to close the lower mountain and start downloading passengers on the Gondola April 2. The only lifts open in April 2012 were the gondola, Burgess Creek and Preview.The season snow total that year was 228 inches.
With closing day on Sunday, the ski area this year has seen 231.75 inches of snow. Record-low snowfall of 11.75 inches in January did not help the situation. The snowpack held on though.
“It didn’t really turn to sugar,” Allen said. “It never really rotted out like you might expect.”
Currently, those wanting to just ski on green runs need to download the gondola, but the ski area will be able to have enough of its intermediate runs open through closing day.
Because of a lack of snow, the ski area chose to cancel the pond skim competition scheduled for Sunday.
“It takes quite a bit of snow to do that,” Allen said.
With this winter’s unusual weather pattern, the ski area continued making snow through Feb. 18. Over a period of 960 hours, the ski area this season pumped 104 million gallons of water to make snow. That is enough water to fill up the lap pool at the Old Town Hot Springs 433 times.
On average, Allen said the ski area pumps about 93 million gallons of water each season.
With more efficient snowmaking equipment, the ski area is now able to make more snow with less water because less water is lost to evaporation.
Allen said additional snow was made in areas where it could be stockpiled. This spring, groomers have been robbing snow from those stashes to keep runs open. For example, the halfpipe at the base of the ski area also serves as snow storage.
After a fresh four inches of snow on the slopes Thursday morning, it is shaping up to be a warm and sunny closing weekend with high temperatures in the lower 60s.
“The remainder of the season looks to be great skiing despite some periods of puny snowfall this winter,” Allen told Ski Corp. employees in a March 27 email. “I’m not sure I would have ever said it, but I’m suggesting those early rains are really paying off in the end.”
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