Paul E. Anna: High Points
December 3, 2009
How’s your ski season so far?
Though we could clearly use some more snow, the skiing and the sunshine have been a great combination. Until Wednesday it almost felt like spring skiing out there on the slopes. A little sketchy down low on the hills and on some of the steeps, but still not too bad if you stayed on the groomed runs.
But Wednesday morning gave us the first shot at “winter skiing” this year. It was the first day you needed goggles, the first day your chin got chilled, and the first day that you could ski while snow fell from the sky. And it felt damn good. It felt like December. The three to five inches we picked up helped a bit but as the sunshine, though cold sunshine it was, returned Thursday, it is evident that we should be thankful for the snow makers on our mountains.
“God and man,” as in natural snow coupled with the machine-made stuff, is how one skier described the conditions on Wednesday on Aspen Mountain. You could feel the natural stuff as the big flakes floated in the air, but you also caught the sting from the blowers as you skied by. In fact, as good as the snow from the clouds was, the snow from the machines was likely piling up just as quickly, if not quicker.
And that man-made stuff is much better on Aspen Mountain than it has been in the past. I don’t know how they do it, but it seems that the snowmakers have dialed the machines in this year to give the snow a more powdered, sugary texture than the icy bits that have been blown in years past. The combination of the God-made and the man-made snow on Wednesday actually climbed up my boots on a few turns, giving me a powder vibe. Sweet.
Snowmaking guns have been around since the early ’50s and there are many resorts around the world that have endured dry winters and survived thanks to the “guns” that take water, mix it with supercharged air and spew it forcefully and loudly onto the slopes. In a dry climate and a dry year, they are the most important part of the ski resort equation.
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We all, of course, hope that this season we will get into the pattern where the Pacific storms target the central Rockies as their final resting place. That way, we will get into a groove where one system after another comes cheek to jowl to the one before and just, well, dumps on us. But if not, we will all be glad that the machines are here, supplementing what nature has provided and letting us take ever softer turns.