City scolds the Skico for snowmaking cacophony |

City scolds the Skico for snowmaking cacophony

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The snowmaking season has ended on Little Nell at the base of Aspen Mountain, but the season didn’t go by without a couple of complaints from residents.

One complaint came into the city of Aspen before Thanksgiving. A second complaint came on Thursday, Dec. 5, from a resident who lives off of Riverside Drive, which is east of town near the Aspen Club.

The second caller complained the morning after a particularly heavy night of snowmaking on Little Nell.

“They said it seems louder than usual,” said Jannette Whitcomb, a senior environmental health specialist for the city of Aspen. “They understood it was a ski town but that it was getting unbearable.”

Whitcomb then called Aspen Mountain Manager Steve Sewell to pass on the complaint and to remind him that the Aspen Skiing Co. has an agreement with the city to use the quietest snowmaking guns possible on Little Nell.

After the call from the city, the Skico agreed to wait for colder temperatures before making more snow on Nell and also agreed to limit the use of its loudest guns.

“They came up with a plan that was acceptable,” said Whitcomb, who added she understood how hard the snowmakers were working.

“These guys are incredible,” she said. “The snowmakers and the snowcat drivers do magic with what they’ve got to work with.”

On the night of Dec. 4, however, a confluence of elements made for a louder-than-normal snowmaking session.

The temperatures were above 20 degrees that night, which is warmer than ideal conditions for making snow, especially with some types of snowmaking guns.

And the snowmaking crews were concentrating a lot of firepower on Little Nell and had set up a complex arrangement of water and air hoses and guns.

Work on the World Cup course on the west side of the mountain was done, and the push was on to make enough snow on Little Nell to prepare for the 24 Hours of Aspen.

“We needed to get some more snow down on the course,” said Mike Kaplan, the Skico’s senior vice president of mountain operations. “We need to take the racers right into the gondola, and we have to have enough snow to withstand all the racers coming to a stop right at the entrance to the gondola building.”

And so on the night of Dec. 4, the Skico had busted out all its firepower.

The Skico uses three types of snowmaking guns. The first is a tall and skinny tower gun that stands about 25 feet off the slope. These guns are the quietest but require the coldest temperatures to make snow.

The second type resembles a cannon. These round “fan” guns also work better when it’s colder.

The third type of gun is smaller and looks like a large silver nozzle on a tripod. These guns work better when it’s warmer, but they also make the most noise. The noise is the sound of compressed air being forced through the nozzle, along with the necessary water to make snow.

On the night of Dec. 4, all of the guns were in use, including the loudest ones.

“[That] night was not super cold, and when we are running in warmer conditions, we run a different gun that makes a little more noise,” Kaplan said.

Which technically is in violation of the Skico’s agreement with the city.

“We totally understand the time constraints between the World Cup and 24 Hours of Aspen events, but they have to follow their agreement,” Whitcomb said.

No citations or fines were given to the Skico. And the company said it did not lose any snowmaking time as a result of the complaint, as temperatures came back down the following night, allowing the use of the quieter guns.

Kaplan said the Skico was a little surprised to get a call from the Environmental Health Department, although it is not unusual to field calls directly from citizens about snowmaking noise. The Skico had one call this week from a Snowmass Village resident.

“We get a complaint once or twice a year,” Kaplan said. “But usually, they come straight from the individual.”

While one or two calls may not seem like much, Whitcomb said her department tends to view one call as being akin to the tip of the iceberg.

“We are sensitive to the complaints, and we respond to every complaint. And we’ve had more complaints now than in the past,” she said. “Our community knows we are a ski town but it gets to the point where it disrupts their lives.

“I’ve found that a lot of people are tolerant but it doesn’t mean that they like it.”

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is]

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