Crews making snow with a vengeance | AspenTimes.com

Crews making snow with a vengeance

ASPEN ” The Aspen Skiing Co. will blow a lot of snow and blow a lot of dough later than usual this season to try to offset winter’s stubborn beginning.

The Skico likely will continue making snow at its four ski areas well into January ” possibly weeks later than usual, said Rich Burkley, vice president of mountain operations. The Skico typically tries to stop making snow around Christmas, when it can rely on nature’s bounty. This season isn’t so bountiful, so snowmaking must continue.

Extending the snowmaking season comes at a steep price. Burkley said it costs more than $100,000 in electricity, water and labor to make snow for a 24-hour period at its four ski areas combined. Good natural snow conditions not only make skiers and riders happy, it helps the Skico’s bottom line. Burkley said the company can reduce its snowmaking expenses by 10 percent in a “good snow year.”

The Skico has gulped water with a vengeance lately as colder temperatures settled in. Crews at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass made snow round-the-clock for four consecutive days as of Tuesday. Snowmaking was delayed in November because of warm temperatures early in the month.

“We’ve made less snow than we would like at this time,” Burkley said.

But they are catching up. In the 24-hour period ending 7 a.m. Tuesday, the Skico used about 2.5 million gallons of water to make snow at Snowmass, according to company spokesman Jeff Hanle. Snowmaking at Aspen Mountain consumed about 1.5 million gallons over that same period.

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It’s not uncommon for both ski areas to use up to 3 million gallons per day during superb conditions, according to Hanle. Snowmaking at Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk hasn’t been as high of a priority since they don’t open until Dec. 8. The Skico faces the added pressure of making snow on Aspen Mountain for women’s World Cup races Dec. 7-9.

Fortunately, water supply isn’t an issue at Ajax, Burkley said. The Skico buys treated water from the city of Aspen for snowmaking at Aspen Mountain. Raw water from the city is purchased for Aspen Highlands.

There are no limits on how much water can be used and no cut-off times for snowmaking, Burkley said. City officials didn’t respond to requests for comment on water consumption for snowmaking.

The Skico purchases water from a special district in Snowmass Village for snowmaking there. “There are water limitations at Snowmass,” Burkley said.

Minimum streamflows must be maintained in Snowmass Creek, so that occasionally requires closing the spigots on the snowmaking system.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.

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