Howelsen Hill, Steamboat Resort start snowmaking season strong (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The past few days, a cloud has covered the face of Howelsen Hill Ski Area as crew members begin the snowmaking process a month ahead of opening day, Nov. 28, transitioning North America’s oldest operating ski hill into winter.
During the cold snap that hit Steamboat Springs, the snow guns operated for 98 hours straight, according to Robbie Shine, Howelsen Hill ski and rodeo supervisor.
Over the past five days, the small fleet of snow guns have used 2.3 million gallons of water from the Yampa River. Each gun has produced three or four 10-foot deep piles of snow around the base and up the face of the hill.
“We’re doing good. We’re sitting pretty for October,” Shine said.
The guns take water from the nearby river and break it down into droplets. The mist of water then meets air blown by a fan, which not only helps cool the droplets, but propels it onto the ground in front of the fan. Meeting the cold and the air, the tiny water drops turn to snow.
New to the guns this year are smaller nozzles that use less water.
“We’ve greatly reduced our gallons per minute, but we’ve upped our snow quality and quantity,” Shine said.
The nozzles also allow snowmaking in warmer weather. Even if it’s 32 degrees, if there is no humidity, the guns can run.
In order to determine if the conditions are right for snowmaking, Shine refers to the wet bulb temperature. Typical thermometers measure a dry bulb temperature simply by being exposed to air. The wet bulb temperature is measured by a moist thermometer exposed to airflow.
The wet bulb temperature will always be lower than the warm bulb temperature, but they will be equal at 100% humidity.
Steamboat Resort also took advantage of the cold, starting its snowmaking efforts with 64 guns at 6:30 a.m. last Sunday. The operation peaked at 112 guns, ceasing Wednesday morning.
At the base of the mountain are “whales,” or expansive heaps of snow that resemble the largest mammals on the planet. Sitz, Jess’ Cut-Off, Vogue, Short Cut, Stampede and All Out have piles of snow ready to be spread out by groomers and other equipment.
“It was a really great effort that’s going to help lay the foundation for our winter season,” said Loryn Duke, Director of Communications at Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.
As the weather warms, the machines on Howelsen Hill won’t run during the day but will still keep churning out the fluffy white stuff all night long. The forecast for Steamboat predicts a few more days over 50 degrees in early November, but Shine doesn’t expect Howelsen to lose much snow.
“Even though it’s going to get warm, Howelsen is pretty north facing. We try to plan our snowmaking in areas that see more shadows,” Shine said. “The sun really does not hit this place much during the day.”
The Resort isn’t sure when snowmaking will resume.
Despite the early season snow, Howelsen Hill is still slated to open Nov. 28. Season passes can be purchased online at steamboatsprings.net/131/Howelsen-Hill-Ski-Area.
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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