City OKs snowmaking in Rio Grande Park | AspenTimes.com

City OKs snowmaking in Rio Grande Park

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

City officials reached an agreement with snow polo organizers Wednesday that will allow snowmaking in Rio Grande Park, but Aspen Skiing Co. is waiting to hear more before committing the snow guns the event would need if there's inadequate snow.

Last year, Skico provided snow guns that helped the Piaget World Snow Polo Championship meet a compacted snow-base requirement of 6 inches, which was imposed by the Aspen City Council. With a renovation project delayed at Wager Park this year, the city agreed to a snow polo event in Rio Grande Park.

Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said event organizers have been in contact, but right now there is no agreement in place.

"We have supported them in the past, but at this time we are waiting to hear more from the organizers and their discussions with the city," Hanle wrote in an email Wednesday.

Heading the event, Aspen Valley Polo Club President Marc Ganzi wrote in an email that he is "hopeful that Mother Nature graces us this weekend with a storm that will produce an adequate playing surface at Rio Grande this year."

The event schedule includes first-round games at the Aspen Valley Polo Club arena in Carbondale on Dec. 18, followed by a playoff Dec. 19 at Rio Grande Park.

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"We all know that the snow pack this time of year is difficult to predict, and like last year, we have engaged the Aspen Skiing Co. to assist us in preparing the field for a world-class event such as this," he wrote.

City spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin said the Parks Department is requiring a snow base of at least 12 inches. However, she said if the base is inadequate, Parks could make a discretionary call closer to the event.

"If there is not 12 inches, the event may go on if the Parks Department deems it's okay for the turf," Rapkin wrote in an email.

Mike McDill, deputy director of utilities for Aspen's Water Department, met with the event coordinator and the Parks Department on Wednesday morning. He said if snowmaking is required, the city would divert water from a Rio Grande well into the storm drain system, which would be drawn out north of the field.

"I think we have a viable option for them," McDill said, adding that a concern is water temperature. "Hopefully, by the time it runs through all that system, it will cool down and function well for them."

The city has three inactive drinking-water wells in its core area, one of them near the Rio Grande field. That well has an estimated capacity of 400 gallons per minute, McDill said. The city has never used the well for such a diversion, and McDill called it a good opportunity to exercise the dormant structure.

The snow polo group will post a $25,000 bond, which covers incidental damage to the field. The group also will pay a $3,500 events fee to the city.

McDill said he doesn't anticipate the city charging for water, as it would be difficult to track the amount of use. It's not an exact science like it was in Wagner Park last year when the city attached a water meter to its irrigation tap.

"We'll have that conversation with them, but at this moment, it would be hard for us to tell how much of that well water they're using," McDill said. "My inclination is that it's a short-term issue, and it's maybe not worth the effort to try to figure out how much it's going to be and charge them the $100 or whatever it would be."

McDill said organizers initially reached out Monday about potentially connecting to a fire hydrant. The city has a strong policy of reserving hydrant use to fighting fires and maintaining the water system, McDill said.

herk@aspentimes.com

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