Our View: Too soon to throw in the hot towel

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— It's an ironic fact of life in Steamboat that even as we fervently pray for snow, we struggle with how best to rid our sidewalks and parking lots of the white stuff.

We were disappointed to hear recently that the Urban Renewal Authority Advisory Committee has given up hope for a direct geothermal (naturally hot water) snowmelt system. It would have been put to use on the public promenade being constructed at the base of the ski area. However, a pair of 500-foot-deep test holes didn't turn up sufficient geothermal energy to make the project practical.

We accept the conclusions reached by URAAC and its consulting engineer. But we aren't ready to give up on the potential of alternative energy at our 21st century ski village, and we were pleased this week to hear Project Manager Joe Kracum say that URAAC also is far from tossing in the hot towel.

Kracum said the committee members tasked mechanical engineer Dan Koelliker with conducting a more in-depth cost analysis of an alternative form of geothermal energy - ground-source heat pumps. They likely would need to be augmented with a natural gas boiler.

The engineer, who has worked on snowmelt systems all over Colorado, will also take a close look at Aspen's system of using small snowplows fitted with brushes to remove snow from pedestrian routes at the base of Aspen Mountain. It's possible using plows powered by alternative fuels could be the answer in Steamboat, Kracum said.

The good news about the new promenade is that it borders the ski slopes, so there is no need to remove snow in dump trucks as we do elsewhere at the base area and around town. If it comes down to it, we can simply brush the snow onto the ski trails.

Kracum recently returned from a conference on federal programs to develop geothermal energy on public lands. He said it might turn out that the solution at the base of Mount Werner could prove to be less site-specific, such as one that reduces net energy consumption on a regional basis.

As we strive to launch our ski area base into a new era, we hope URAAC and neighboring developers in the private sector will continue to pursue energy-saving alternatives for our resort community.

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