Howelsen jumpers waiting

Warm temperatures, improvements slow training

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The idea of temperatures climbing into the high 60s during the last week of October usually would have Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Nordic Director Todd Wilson tossing and turning instead of sleeping at night.

But he's been resting well this year.

"It is a big relief that there is no World Cup," Wilson said. "This is the first time in nine years that we have not hosted a World Cup. It's a bummer that we don't get to do it ... but it's kind of like a recess."

A World Cup event on the schedule would ensure that Wilson would not be sleeping restfully.

He said the $375,000 project to improve snowmaking at Howelsen ski area, which is necessary to put plastic on Howelsen's ski jumps, and warm temperatures have halted snowmaking efforts at Howelsen.

"We expect to be completed with this project within the next two weeks," said Howelsen Ski Area Supervisor Jeff Nelson. "Things should move pretty quickly after that because we will be able to make twice as much snow as we used to."

The ability to make snow will depend on clear coldl nights, which the area has yet to see consistently.

"We couldn't be making snow right now even if the temperatures were cold enough," Wilson said. "If we have to be delayed, then this is the perfect year to do it."

The new system will greatly increase the ski area's ability to make early season snow. The old 125-horsepower pump operated at 400 gallons per minute. That's roughly half as fast as the new 400-horsepower pump that will generate up to 800 gallons per minute.

Nelson said there have been many improvements that will allow the ski area to make snow faster and more efficiently.

The ultimate goal is to trim the process of making snow for the area -- which includes the ski jumps, ski slopes and halfpipe -- from three months to one month.

Nelson was hesitant to put a completion date on the improvement project, which is the first phase of an effort to cover the existing K-60 hill in plastic, but it is expected to be finished before Nov. 15. After that date, snowmaking crews will start to produce the manmade snow needed to provide a solid foundation for the jumps at Howelsen -- if Mother Nature cooperates.

Nelson said daytime temperatures under 50 degrees and nighttime temperatures between 15 and 25 degrees are needed to make snow. This fall, that's only happened three times.

Until the temperatures drop, Wilson and most of the jumpers in the club's ability program have no choice but to wait.

Wilson said he hopes the jumps will be ready to go in time for a Junior Olympic Qualifier on Dec. 6 and 7 and expects the jump hills to open before Thanksgiving. Last year, the jumps opened Nov. 20. The earliest date the jumps have opened was Oct. 26.

Nelson said that was a rare year when all the conditions for making snow fell into place.

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