Snowmaking crews at the Steamboat Ski Area are waiting for a cold front to come through later this week before they can return to blowing manmade snow onto trails such as Betwixt and Between.
Doug Allen's crews logged their first two nights of snowmaking for the new season Friday and Saturday. Allen is the ski area's director of mountain operations.
"They were very pleased with what they accomplished," ski area spokesman Mike Lane said. "It was very, very productive."
When Sunday arrived with overcast skies, temperatures did not get low enough overnight to permit snowmaking to resume. However, the crews felt the snow they made the preceding two nights would hold up during daytime temperatures.
"They armored up the piles so they won't melt," Lane said.
The warm autumn temperatures delayed the onset of snowmaking by 10 days this year, compared with 2002.
As usual, the first ski runs to get attention are on the north side of the mountain where they receive as much shade as possible. Trails such as the lower half of upper Vagabond, Betwixt and Between, Right-o-Way and Giggle Gulch also are strategically chosen to ensure intermediate skiers will be able to ride the gondola and ski to the base of the mountain from Thunderhead on opening day.
In 2002, snowmaking began Oct. 12 and before the month was over, the ski area had 11 inches of snow at mid-mountain. The first meaningful snowstorm of 2002 arrived Oct. 28. An additional 20 inches fell Nov. 15, and several days later, resort officials announced the ski area would open Nov. 22, five days ahead of schedule.
Steamboat's first snowmaking system was installed in 1981, not long after a lean snow year. Over the past 22 years, the snowmaking system at Steamboat has grown to cover 438 acres. That represents 15 percent of the resort's 2,939 total skiable acres.
The ski area obtained decreed water rights of 8 cubic feet per second out of the Yampa River in 1981, which equates to 3,600 gallons per minute, or 16 acre feet.
The ski area obtained another 8 cfs in 1995 to be held in reserve for 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. West's job is to tell snowmaking crews how much water and pressure the pumps can deliver to a specific snow gun at any given time.
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