Mountain trenched with snow in mind

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David Hudspeth, backhoe operator for Slope Maintenance, makes his way down Vogue ski run Thursday. Hudspeth was digging a trench from the top of the hill to rep-lace pipelines that supply air and water to snowmaking guns throughout the ski area.

— It's not the natural champagne powder that has made Steamboat famous, but manmade snow still is key to the season at the Steamboat Ski Area.

During the past two weeks, trucks have delivered more than two miles of pipe and fittings for snowmaking improvements at the ski area. The snowmaking enhancements are part of more than $7 million worth of capital-improvement projects being completed for the 2006-07 ski season.

"It's one of those subtle but also one of the most important investments," said Andy Wirth, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. vice president of sales and marketing. "It's quite a critical part."

Snowmaking is being extended to a new trail that bypasses the steep upper section of Tomahawk ski run and traverses back to the High Noon and Rendezvous Saddle areas.

The snowmaking system covers 438 acres of terrain at the Ski Area with 35 trails, which are accessed by 13 lifts, including the gondola.

Snowmaking is being extended to the upper portions of Tomahawk and High Noon.

On Thursday, David Hudspeth was digging a trench with a backhoe down a 3,000-foot stretch of Vogue.

"When it comes to riding a hoe on the mountain, this guy is one of the best I've ever seen," said David Crisler, director of slope and vehicle maintenance. "There is no room for error."

The existing pipe is being replaced with Austrian-made compressed air and water pipes.

"All ski areas in Colorado put their snowmaking lines in about 25 years ago," Crisler said.

Crisler said some sections, such as parts of the Vogue pipe, were starting to weaken. The pipe leaked last season. "We spent two days working on it and the pipe was so weak," Crisler said.

The new water pipes are lined with concrete and rated to last an average of 50 years, twice as long as the existing pipes.

"Instead of going with a 25-year investment, we've gone with a 50-year investment," Crisler said.

The technology is common in European ski resorts, but is brand new to U.S. resorts, he said.

The old Vogue pipes are being left in the ground and the new piping should not have to be installed for a half century.

"One of the key things is that, environmentally, it's a very responsible way to put pipe in the ground," Wirth said.

The new piping is built to handle pressure, which can reach upwards of 700 pounds per square inch at some points on the mountain.

Crisler and his staff will stay busy, and he said they might be working seven days a week to get the project completed by Thanksgiving. He said they would start laying pipe today.

"It's an awful lot of work," said Crisler, who has worked at the ski area for 37 years. "Everything has to be moved by machine."

- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210 or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com

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