Warm weather, cool budget

Howelsen Hill faces challenges

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— Jeff Nelson knows it's not easy to fool Mother Nature, but that doesn't mean he hasn't tried.

This year, Nelson, the city's rodeo and ski area supervisor, has been faced with concerns about a tightening budget and another fall season filled with unseasonably warm days and nights.

He said the budget concerns have had less impact than the warm temperatures.

"We chose to wait until Nov.1 to start making snow," Nelson said. "It's not all about the budget. It has more to do with becoming more efficient."

In the past, Nelson said, snowmaking crews have started making snow in October, but unless nighttime temperatures drop below 20 degrees, the machines are not efficient. So this year, crews have taken a different approach.

"We're not saving money. We're not wasting money," Nelson said. "We've been more efficient, and our timing has been better coordinated with the temperatures at night."

Although coaches at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club are eager for authentic conditions, they also understand the challenges of snowmaking.

Several programs have either started or plan to start training on the slopes this week.

Erik Skinner, the Winter Sports Club Freestyle Director, said his skiers already have built a jump and started preparing for the season.

"We've been training here for a week," Skinner said. "Our season is just around the corner, and this is the only way the skiers will be ready in time."

Snowboard Program Director Jon Casson said the snowboarding programs also are planning to start training at the end of the week, and coaches plan to soon set up a few rails and get their athletes back on the snow at Howelsen.

Nordic Program Director Todd Wilson is the first to admit that conditions for getting the jumps open at Howelsen Hill have not been ideal this fall.

But he said he still is optimistic that the HS 100 jump will be ready to use before Thanksgiving.

"We are closing in on it," Wilson said of getting the jumps open. "The city crews have done a great job this fall despite some very big challenges."

Wilson is holding out hope for having the jump ready by next week, but Nelson said it depends more on the temperatures than hope.

"The forecast doesn't look good, but you never know," Nelson said. "Our goal is to get the jumps open as soon as possible every year. But we need some help."

If crews can make enough snow this week, Wilson said he and other volunteers are planning to begin the process of preparing the in-run this weekend. He said he also is waiting for a winch cat - a special groomer used to spread snow on the steep pitches of the ski jumps' out-runs - that is currently being repaired at the city's public works department. He said the groomer is expected to be back and running by the middle of next week.

- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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