Aspen Skiing Co. prepares for big runoff |

Aspen Skiing Co. prepares for big runoff

ASPEN ” The Aspen Skiing Co. is making unprecedented preparations to handle spring runoff at its ski areas, particularly Aspen Mountain.

The Skico will lease a D8 bulldozer to plow snow on Aspen Mountain and ensure that crews have access to any potential problem areas during runoff, like breached ditches or clogged culverts, according to Rich Burkley, vice president of mountain operations.

A “mud and flood” crew will be stationed at Aspen Mountain 24 hours a day, seven days a week, once winter truly yields to spring, Burkley said. Crew members will check various areas to make sure any problems with runoff are caught and fixed as quickly as possible.

Problems usually start small, like water breaching a ditch in one small area. One person with a shovel often is able to deal with a problem like that, Burkley said. But if it isn’t detected for a few hours, the runoff can blow a hole in the ditch.

Filled sandbags and other material will be cached at numerous strategic points at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, so that if problems do develop, crews don’t have to venture far for supplies, Burkley said.

He stressed the Skico isn’t expecting water or mud from Aspen Mountain to create problems for the town. Officials just want to be prepared.

“I want to reassure people in Aspen ” we’re on it,” Burkley said.

The Skico’s internal mud and flood committee will meet the week of April 7 to review plans. No action will be necessary for probably more than a month, Burkley said. Conditions still resemble winter more than spring, particularly on the upper slopes.

The concern is understandable. The Skico is reporting a base of 135 inches in Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands. Snowmass is reporting a 106 inch base at the mountain top; Aspen Mountain is at 82 inches and Buttermilk is at 73 inches.

The snowpack in the Aspen area was 39 percent above average as of Friday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency that tracks snowpack.

The runoff preparations will run in the “tens of thousands of dollars” for the Skico, Burkley said. The bulldozer for Aspen Mountain will be leased from a Grand Junction outfit for a brief period, with an option to keep it longer. Usually, roads are cleared on the mountain by SnoCats. But the beefy base this year and the need to open more access quicker requires heavier equipment, Burkley said.

A bulldozer also will be on hand at Snowmass Ski Area, although not specifically for runoff preparations. The ‘dozer already was needed to help clear routes for the Sam’s Knob restaurant construction, Burkley said.

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