Snowmakers ready to roar
Dropping temperatures this week have driven snowmaking crews up the slopes of Vail and Beaver Creek mountains to get their gear ready, though they haven’t whipped up any of the man-made white stuff yet.
The snowmakers need the nighttime temperature to drop below about 28 degrees for several hours before the guns go off, says John Garnsey, chief operating officer of Beaver Creek Mountain.
That has almost happened, Garnsey adds.
“We’re all ready. We were hoping to fire up the last couple of nights, but we haven’t had any sustained temperatures to allow us to do so,” Garnsey says. “We’re just waiting for favorable weather patterns to allow us to make snow.”
Despite the snow overnight Wednesday and Thursday, temperatures didn’t quite get cold enough for worthwhile snowmaking. Garnsey says rain was falling in the village Thursday morning.
A cold front is hung up east of the Continental Divide. The temperate in Eagle Thursday morning was 40 degrees. The temperature in Denver was 22.
But weather forecasters say clearing skies Friday night should make the snowmakers happy.
“The temperatures should start cooling off pretty rapidly once clouds clear,” says Chris Cuoco, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “I’m pretty sure it will be cold enough.”
Snowmaking crews a few miles to the east of Beaver Creek are also watching the weather, says Brian McCartney, vice president of Vail Mountain.
“We’re ready to start,” McCartney says. “When we get the low temperatures – which it looks like we’re going to get in the next few days – we’ll throw the switch and start to go for it.”
Vail Mountain snowmakers will start work where they usually start – on Born Free, the long intermediate run that drops from the top of the Gondola down into Lionshead.
Snowmakers will then move to the trails between Lionshead and Vail Village, McCartney says.
The plan after that depends on the weather, he says.
“We have four or five different plans and we’ll wait and see how Mother Nature’s helping us out, and that will determine where we go,” McCartney says.
Earlier this month, Vail unclogged one of the pipes it uses to draw water from the Dowd Junction confluence of Black Gore Creek and the Eagle River.
“We’re set to pump all the water we can pump out of that portion of the river,” he says. “That will be an improvement.”
But Beaver Creek Mountain has expanded its snowmaking capacity this season so snow can be made on the main part of the mountain and at Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead at the same time, Garnsey says.
The resort has purchased 15 new “fan snow guns,” or “big tower guns,” to be used between Strawberry Park and Bachelor Gulch. Two new air compressors have been added to Arrowhead’s facilities, as well, to increase capacity for snowmaking at Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead.
“It allows us to make snow on the west side of the resort at the same time as the main mountain,” Garnsey says. “We’ll be able to open Bachelor Gulch around the same time we open the main mountain.”
Vail Mountain and the main part of Beaver Creek Mountain are scheduled to open Nov. 23. Garnsey says Bachelor Gulch should follow on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28.
Opening day was delayed about a week last season – before a blizzard pounded the valley on Thanksgiving Day, kicking off the winter with some of the best powder days of the year.
But Vail and Beaver Creek are never in competition for “first tracks” of the season. That competition is usually between Loveland, Copper Mountain and Keystone Mountain.
This year, an upstart resort in southwestern Colorado was the first to fire up its lifts – though they have already stopped running. Silverton Mountain Ski Area opened a slope or two during a blizzard in mid-September, but has since shut down as the weather warmed. Silverton doesn’t make snow.
Loveland Ski Area, on Loveland Pass, opened last weekend with a mile-long run covered by 10 to 20 inches of snow. Snowmaking there is supervised by a trio of year-round snowmakers from New Zealand, who made snow for about 19 hours a day in the days before the slopes opened.
The snowmakers at Vail and Beaver Creek will be ready at a moment’s notice, Garnsey.
“If we looked out and saw we had a window of six hours at 28 degrees or below, we would start some of our systems this evening,” he says.
Wednesday the temperature got cold enough for about an hour, he says.
McCartney says the weather looks good for snowmaking.
“The forecast is still real promising for the temperatures to drop,” McCartney says. “I suspect we’ll be turning the machines on in the next few days.”
The Summit Daily News contributed to this report.