Skico has new way to probe snow depth |

Skico has new way to probe snow depth

John Colson

A Glenwood Springs company has come up with a high-tech system for mapping snow depths on local ski slopes, using radar and computer programming to produce picture-maps.

The new system, developed by SnowQUEST, was used by the Aspen Skiing Co. recently to ensure that today’s World Cup course is in good shape.

And according to the Skico’s Steve Sewell, Ajax mountain manager, “It’s pretty cool.”

Aspen joins Copper Mountain and Stratton, Vt., as the first ski resorts in North America to use the SnowQUEST technology, according to a company statement.

The system is in a lightweight box that is towed behind a single skier who traverses back and forth over the trail of interest.

“It looks like one of those little Playmate coolers,” Sewell said, “except there isn’t any beer in it.”

Energy pulses are shot into the snow and are reflected off the ground surface back to the radar device. The depth of the snow is calculated by timing the interval of the reflected signal.

The measured snow depth is simultaneously correlated to a precise position on the ski trail by the use of the Global Positioning System. A GPS antenna mounted in the skier’s backpack receives radio signals from multiple satellites orbiting high above the earth. These satellite signals are used to pinpoint and track the skier’s position.

A small computer stores the pertinent data for subsequent analysis and use in creating maps.

Sewell said the Skico provided SnowQUEST with copies of topographical maps of Aspen Mountain as part of the pilot program.

Technicians from the company then used the machine on the World Cup course and provided maps that showed shallow snow in shades of red and deeper snow in blue.

“We took a look at what he had and made the determination that we’re in good shape,” Sewell said of the World Cup terrain.

But, he added, “I’m interested in it not just for World Cup, but also in other areas where we do snowmaking.”

He said he hopes to hire the company after the Christmas holiday season. Skico wants to see if there is some way the SnowQUEST system can be used to fine-tune the snowmaking program on its four mountains.

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