Tom Ross: Snow calling is a last resort
December 3, 2011
Steamboat Springs — We've come to take it for granted that we will have remarkable ski conditions for Dec. 3. But you couldn't always count on it in the past. And that's no B.S.
B.S. — it's the abbreviation for before snowmaking!
Steamboat Ski Area invested $4.5 million in its first snowmaking equipment in summer 1981 after the rough winter of 1980-81, when no more than 133.25 inches of snow fell.
It is the ski area's willingness to modernize its snowmaking system during the past three decades that allows us to contemplate top-to-bottom skiing this weekend.
And anyone who survived winter 1976-77 can tell you what happens without snowmaking during periods of meager natural snow. The owner of the ski area at the time was LTV-RDI, a Dallas aerospace company. The Steamboat Pilot reported Dec. 23 how 400 people had volunteered to spend three days in a desperate effort to get enough snow on Central Park (now Rudy's Run) to open the ski area. The brigade headed up the slopes with rolls of plastic and shoveled snow out of the trees so it could slide into the ski trail. The strategy paid off.
The ski area opened the gondola and Burgess Creek chairlift in time for Christmas, but skiing still was limited.
The situation remained serious in mid-January, when Curt Weiss helped to turn things around — at least temporarily.
Desperate powder hounds staged a snow rally and bonfire near the base of the ski area, and it was Weiss who won the snow calling contest.
"Everybody was panicked," Weiss recalled. "We had none of the sophistication we have now with snowmaking. The good news was there was a snowstorm already on the way. I won the contest, and it snowed 2 feet the next day."
It wasn't enough.
The ski season limped into February without any fresh powder, and the ski area reluctantly closed Feb. 13 before reopening March 7 with abundant snow.
We may find ourselves praying for more fresh snow this morning. But we'll never find ourselves as desperate as folks were in 1977.
And we can always turn to Weiss in a pinch.
"I still know how to call snow," he said.
Have at it, Curt.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com
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