Snowmaking technician Pierce Delhaute takes a moment to check how one of the snow guns near the top of the Tomahawk ski run is functioning during an early-morning run at Steamboat Ski Area. Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. hopes to complete snowmaking operations for the season sometime this month.

Photo by John F. Russell

Snowmaking technician Pierce Delhaute takes a moment to check how one of the snow guns near the top of the Tomahawk ski run is functioning during an early-morning run at Steamboat Ski Area. Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. hopes to complete snowmaking operations for the season sometime this month.

No issues with snowmaking water supply at Steamboat Ski Area

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— Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. hopes to complete snowmaking operations for the season sometime this month, Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen said Tuesday, but not because it has consumed its available water.

“I don’t know how that rumor got started,” Allen said. “We’ve used 100 million gallons. That compares to the average for the last five years of 93 million gallons, so we’re just slightly above average. There isn’t a maximum amount of water we can use (for the season). We’ll continue making snow for at least another couple of weeks.”

The ski area has relied heavily on snowmaking to provide top-to-bottom skiing this winter. It has what’s known as an “absolute right” to pull 3,300 gallons per minute out of the river, with a conditional right to draw another 3,300 gallons. It has applied to make the second 3,300 gallons an absolute right, as well. One of the prerequisites is that the ski area demonstrate it can put the additional water to use.

On Monday night, while making snow on the upper mountain, the ski area was using 2,000 gallons per minute, the equivalent of a little more than 9 cubic feet per second, Allen said. In ideal conditions, with most of the snow being made at the base of the ski area, the system has been able to use as much as 4,200 gallons per minute.

The additional usage this year represents an increase of about 7.5 percent more than the average consumption for snowmaking operations on Mount Werner.

Allen credited John Fetcher, the late Steamboat Ski Area pioneer and longtime manager of the Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District, with taking the steps three decades ago to ensure the ski area would have adequate water for snowmaking in periods of low snowfall.

“We’re very fortunate among Western ski resorts in terms of water supply,” Allen said. “We’re reaping the benefits of the foresight of John Fetcher.”

A study done in the 1980s concluded that a little more than 80 percent of the water applied to the slopes in the form of manmade snow is returned to the river when it melts in spring. Less than 20 percent of the water is lost to evaporation, Allen said. He suspects that improvements in snowmaking technology in the intervening quarter century have improved the rate of return.

Ski Corp. also keeps an eye on flows in the river to ensure there is sufficient water for endangered species of fish farther downstream in Moffat County and Utah. There is a plan in place to augment flows for the fish in extreme cases, but the need has not arisen in more than 30 years, Allen said. Forty thousand gallons held in reserve in Yamcolo Reservoir back up that plan. The agreement for that water was just renewed for a period of 30 years.

The Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District owns the Stagecoach and Yamcolo reservoirs.

At the end of a Tuesday meeting with the Routt County Board of Commissioners during which Allen and Ski Corp. planner Lance Miles presented the ski area’s draft master plan, Allen said the ski area has made snow this winter in some atypical places but that one of the reasons water consumption hasn’t been significantly higher than in past years is because of a recent period of mild weather that wasn’t ideal for snowmaking.

Miles, who formerly oversaw snowmaking operations for Ski Corp., said the ski area often has made snow into February in past seasons, and he recalled at least one season in which they were making snow into March.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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