Steamboat Springs Snowmaking operations have begun in earnest at the Steamboat Ski Area even though the aspen trees are still golden.
Ski Area spokesman Mike Lane confirmed Monday that snowmaking crews fired up the first gun at 11 p.m. Saturday. Lane said the crews were able to run the guns for 23 hours and made piles of snow on several ski trials upper Vagabond, Betwixt, Between, Eagles Nest, Lower Giggle Gulch and Right-O-Way.
The weather will determine how much snow the snowmakers can pump out the rest of this week.
"The weather pattern for the rest of the week looks like there will be an inversion, so snowmaking activity will be down on the lower mountain," Lane said. That might mean snowmaking at the very base of the mountain on the north side of Headwall and on Preview.
Oct. 12 isn't an unusually early date to begin snowmaking, Lane said. However, the unusually mild weather that persisted into November last fall kept crews idle far later than usual. Crews didn't get a particularly early start in 2000 either. The guns operated for the first time on Oct. 26 that year.
Steamboat's first snowmaking system was installed in 1981 and has grown to cover 438 of the resort's total skiable 2,939 acres. The ski area obtained decreed water rights of eight cubic feet per second out of the Yampa River in 1981, which equates to 3,600 gallons per minute, or 16 acre-feet. That is the most the snowmaking pumps can handle.
The ski area obtained another 8 cfs in 1995. That water is being held in reserve to meet future needs. Steamboat also has rights to 125 acre-feet of water about 32 million gallons in Yamcolo and Stagecoach reservoirs.
"We typically use 90 million gallons each winter," Lane said. "Some years it's as low as 80 million and some years it's 100 million."
The manmade snow Steamboat blows onto its slopes serves as a form of water storage. Hydrologists estimate that after evaporation takes its toll, about 80 percent of the water returns to the river in the spring.
Snowmaking manager Lance Miles has been with the ski area for more than 15 years.
Dave Tegtmeyer is the system technician and Steve West is the control manager who lets the snowmaking crews know how much water and pressure the pumps can deliver to a snow gun at any given time.