Our View: Thankful for man-made snow
November 25, 2009
Man-made snow may not be the first thing that comes to mind when residents of the Yampa Valley gather with family and friends this week to give thanks for all that they have. Nor, probably, should it be.
However, we were reminded this week that there is ample reason to thank Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s snowmaking, lift maintenance, slope maintenance and grooming crews (as well as staff we've failed to mention) for the many hours of work that go into getting the mountain ready to ski for the November holiday.
The people who work on the mountain have been out on frigid nights recently, and we're aware that snowmaking, in particular, is a rugged job.
In an interview with the Steamboat Today a year ago, Steamboat Snowmaking Manager Steve West recalled: "There have been times when we've had guys come in from outside and we've had to hit them with broom handles to break the ice so they can take their coats off."
The heavy equipment operators who drive the Bombardier snow grooming cats are protected from the elements in their heated cabs. However, they are often required to operate in the dark on steep slopes and in wind-driven snow.
There was an era in the history of Steamboat Ski Area when opening the lifts for the Thanksgiving holiday was never even contemplated. Throughout much of the 1970s, the ski area hoped to open on the weekend closest to Dec. 1.
It wasn't until the 1980s that the ski area took aim at a Thanksgiving opening, motivating a modest number of vacationers and second-home owners to consider a four-day weekend on the slopes in Steamboat.
It was all made possible in 1981 by the ski area's installation of its first snowmaking system. The initial project cost $4.5 million and followed some lean early Decembers in terms of natural snowfall.
The first system was capable of covering 160 acres of terrain. Today, the expanded system covers 400 acres, stretching from the top of the mountain to the bottom.
Snowmaking not only allows an early ski area opening, but also helps to ensure good coverage at the base of the mountain in the last weeks of ski season.
Before snowmaking season this year, Steamboat added 11 new tower snow guns that produce more man-made snow and use less energy to do it. They span the base area, covering trails such as Stampede, Lil' Rodeo, Preview, See Me, See Ya, Voo Doo and Vogue.
We also were reminded this year that the people who work to ready the ski area for November skiing take pride in their product.
Snowmaking veteran Scott Livingston uses his degree in computer mapping from the University of Wyoming to succeed at the complex balancing act of coordinating snowmaking pumps and compressors to make operations more efficient.
Livingston was named Snowmaker of the Year by Colorado Ski Country USA in April.
Similarly, the Rocky Mountain Lift Association named Steamboat lift mechanic Frank Fidler, who has a master's of science degree from West Virginia University, mechanic of the year in May.
A Ski Corp. slope maintenance mechanic, Joe Ciufo, earned the Tim Crouse Memorial Award for outstanding work last spring from the national Ski Area Vehicle Maintenance Institute.
All of us would prefer skiing packed powder to man-made snow. However, a late November ski area opening puts people to work and turkey on the table.
And that's something to be thankful for.