New snow guns aimed at earlier half-pipe opening |

New snow guns aimed at earlier half-pipe opening

— Steamboat Ski Area is making plans to stuff a little something extra in the holiday stockings of snowboarders and freeskiers this winter.

Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen confirmed that the concrete footers have been poured for a pair of high-volume, tower-mounted, airless man-made snow guns at the top of the half-pipe in Bashor Bowl.

Call it a $60,000 Christmas present.

"We've struggled to get the half-pipe operational for Christmas," Allen said. "It takes an amazing amount of snow to build the half-pipe, and it doesn't mater how much natural snow you get — it doesn't affect it. Now we're trying to use technology to get there."

The new fan-driven snow guns are fitted with ladders that snowmakers will use to operate and maintain them. They are similar to the TechnoAlpin snow guns already in place on Vagabond near Thunderhead, and lower on the mountain at the base of the See Me and Voo Doo trails. The latter was in place last ski season to help the ski area host some early season events at the Park Smalley Freestyle Complex.

The installation of the new guns coincides with the ski area's ongoing efforts to replace the buried 1981 snowmaking water pipes and airlines that form a network on Mount Werner.

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The ski area budgets between $350,000 and $500,000 annually to continue the replacement of the snowmaking lines, Allen said. The original pipes already have outlasted their estimated 20-year lifespan. The new ductile iron pipes are designed for a 50-year lifespan, he added.

The summer work keeps several veteran snowmakers at the ski area employed throughout the summer.

Snowmaking operations this fall won't begin until at least Wednesday, when the crews will begin deploying equipment after their annual orientation session.

Historically, October snowmaking has not made a substantial contribution to the ski area's winter base, Allen said, but crews will take their earliest opportunity to get going.

"When it looks like we've got a cold snap that will last, we'll go out and blast," he said.

New skiable terrain

The ongoing removal of dead lodgepole pine trees from the ski mountain is yielding the unintended benefit of creating more skiable terrain, Allen confirmed. And the trend will continue.

"It's not the purpose of the logging," Allen said. "We're doing it for public safety. And it's refreshing to see how much healthier the forest looks" after the standing dead trees are removed.

But just as summer 2010 logging operations created more skiable terrain on the side of Surprise and between Vogue and Short Cut, for example, the logging that took place this summer will provide some bonus skiing.

One example could be found between skier's right on lower Ted's Ridge and Concentration. A relatively short but inviting north-facing pitch there might be roped off by ski patrol in early season but could provide a powder stash once the snowpack builds, Allen said.

After the large logs are removed from new terrain, some of the slash will remain on the forest floor this winter. However, in future years, some of the stumps and log ends will be cleaned up.

In other cases, Allen said, logged areas are apt to be permanently closed to allow for revegetation.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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