Snowmaking put to test
Snowmaking crews will be swimming in unknown waters on Aspen Mountain soon, as desperation forces them to try something they have never done before – make snow near the very top of the mountain.
The move is a risky one, an Aspen Skiing Co. official said this week, because it could put a strain on the snowmaking system and damage some of the older parts of the system.
But the risk is worth it, the official said, if it’s the only way the company can put on the 1999 Gulfstream 24 Hours of Aspen ski endurance event.
According to Mike Baumli, head of the Skico’s Aspen Mountain snowmaking operation, his crews were getting ready to ferry roughly 450 feet of metal water-line sections to the area known as Dipsy Bowl either today or sometime this weekend, to set up a temporary snowmaking “fan gun.”
The water lines, which were borrowed from the Snowmass ski area, were either to be taken up the backside of Aspen Mountain by pickup truck, or up the front side in a special Snowcat outfitted to carry snowmaking gear.
The problem is not the placement of the gun, though that is expected to be a tricky operation. The real problem is the need to get enough water pressure in the system to reach that altitude without blowing out the pipes lower on the mountain.
Normally, according to 12-year snowmaking veteran Eric Reische, snowmaking guns are run from the Little Nell slope, up Spar Gulch and the top of Bell Mountain, reaching an elevation of 10,600 feet in the area of Deer Park. Coverage the rest of the way up the mountain has been left to the historic pattern of early-season, high-altitude snowstorms.
But with abnormally warm autumn temperatures this year, Mother Nature has not deposited sufficient natural snow on the upper reaches of the mountain to allow the Skico to put on the 24 Hours of Aspen race on Dec. 12 and 13.
To pressurize the system to force water 600 feet farther up the mountain, Reische said, “The pressure down here is gong to be huge.”
Asked if he was worried about the system’s ability to take the pressure, Baumli admitted, “Yeah, I am. I’m really worried about it. We’ll have to isolate Spar [Gulch], because Spar is the oldest and most delicate part of the system.”
Just in case there’s a blowout, Baumli said he will wait until the manmade snow on Spar Gulch is deep enough that it can be considered “finished.” Only then will the Dipsy Bowl snowmaking attempt be made – probably “in a couple of days,” he said.
Baumli said it is also possible the Skico will authorize the use of water stored in a tank high on Aspen Mountain for the snowmaking attempt. The tank supplies drinking and fire suppression water to the Sundeck and Gwyn’s (formerly Ruthie’s) restaurant facilities.
He said the decision has not been made about using the water from the storage tank, although he predicted his crews might try a test run to see if it is feasible.
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