Pre-winter prep work keeping city, SSWSC workers busy at Howelsen Hill
A surge of warm weather will likely prevent snowmaking at Howelsen Hill Ski Area for another week or more; however, crews from the city of Steamboat Springs and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club have been putting in hours of work to prepare the historic ski slope for winter.
If you look closely, the dark green, plastic-covered ski jumps look a little different. On top of the plastic, which allows athletes to use the jumps in the summer, is a thick, blue, nylon netting. The nets are anchored to the jump with nylon straps that hide under the plastic material all summer. Over the course of a very busy day, volunteers and coaches and athletes place the nets on the HS 75 and HS 45 jumps and secure them.
The netting gives the snow, manmade or natural, a place to stick and hold to, rather than slipping down the slick surface. A safety wall on the western-most jump was also removed, allowing crews to build small jumps for younger athletes on the hill next to the jumps.
With the nets in place, athletes can’t jump until the snow falls, and the jumps and in-runs are packed down and ready for winter jumping. That could possibly be a month from now.
“We’re trying to find that sweet spot and reduce the time that we can’t jump,” said SSWSC Nordic combined program director Todd Wilson. “The time between our last plastic jumps and our first snow jumps, we’re trying to get it as short a gap as we can. Once the athletes are not doing their sport for a month, three, four weeks, that’s harder. Then it’s a slower build up. Like anything athletic, once you don’t do it consistently, you start to lose it.”
There is also a brand new, HS8 in the works alongside the magic carpet. For years, the smallest jump had been build out of snow, but that required days of snowmaking to accumulate the volume needed to build the in-run and landing slope. Now, the perfect contour was built with dirt, so all that’s needed is a few inches of wet, packed snow to complete the jump.
Next spring, the jump will be covered in the same plastic that’s on the larger year-round jumps, allowing young athletes to practice during the summer too.
Once snowmakers or a storm covers the jump, either volunteers or a winch cat — a groomer attached to a winch at the top of the hill — will pack down the snow to create a solid surface on which jumpers will land. There is a 2×6 board along the safety wall 18 inches off the surface of the plastic.
“It’s just like building a sidewalk. We pack the wet snow in and (even) it off perfectly, hopefully before it sets up,” Wilson said. “Then it sets up, and you’ve got a nice hard surface for the rest of the year.”
On Friday, a trio of Nordic combined coaches gathered to dismantle the sprinkler system that wets the plastic before use in the summer and stack the removed safety boards. Other work includes working with the city to get snow guns in ideal places, so when the weather allows, snow making can go on without a hitch.
A lot of little things
The part-time city staff will begin work Nov. 1, but the year-round staff has been hard at work getting everything ready. Howelsen Hill Ski Area Supervisor Robbie Shine and employee Ben Glassmeyer have been setting up snowmaking equipment in high-priority areas, which they help determine with the SSWSC.
Before officially making snow, the system is flushed out and tested.
“The stagnant water that sits in the pipes, it’ll be rust-colored water,” said Brad Setter, Howelsen Hill and rodeo manager. “We don’t want rust-colored snow, so we flush all those out.”
The Face is the biggest priority for snowmaking, but other big locations are the Nordic trails at lift loading and unloading areas, the rodeo grounds, the jump complex and the base area.
Primarily, they make large piles near the base, then push the snow to where it’s needed. Hopefully, natural snow accumulates before the Nov. 27 opening date.
The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board conducts a pre-season inspection on the lifts, and the poma seats are replaced.
“Most years we take off a third to half of the hangers. This year we took them all off,” Setter said. “We rebuilt a lot of them. … We have a new mechanic this year. He took them all off, went through every single one, painting them and rebuilding them.”
Staff has also been getting basic electrical work done on the new lift, so when an electrician comes in to complete the job, some of the most tedious work has already been done.
Grass has been trimmed, and trees and shrubs have been pruned. Signs have been installed, That work is mostly cosmetic but still takes time and makes the first weeks of winter much smoother.
Now all that’s needed is snow.
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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