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For the week of September 20 through 26, 2000

The largest gets larger

Cozy snowmaking expansion underway


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

The largest computerized snowmaking system in the world is experiencing a growth spurt this fall.

Sun Valley’s assistant mountain manager Peter Stearns explains how the mountain’s snow guns attach to the air and water pipes, which supply them with snow making power. Express photo by Willy Cook

The project, which will add 14 tower-style snow guns to Bald Mountain’s Cozy ski run and add 15 acres to Sun Valley’s snowmaking capabilities, entails installing 79,000 pounds of steel pipe in 40-foot sections over the bottom two-thirds of the run.

When the project’s finished, all of the Warm Springs side of Baldy except for Picabo’s Street, Upper Cozy and Upper Hemingway will have snowmaking.

On Friday morning, a crew worked to weld the pipe sections together at the top of the run while a tractor dug a trench and pulled the lengthy sections of pipe down the mountain into the eight-foot-deep furrow.

Two parallel pipes are being installed, one for air and one for water. The computerized snow gun heads will mix the air and water in various combinations depending on air temperatures and humidity.

"We’re almost done with the very first phase of this project," Sun Valley assistant mountain manager Peter Stearns said Friday as he surveyed the construction site.

When the pipe is installed, Stearns said, crews will then clean and test the lines, add conduit for the computerized snowmaking heads and, finally, construct "valve shelters" out of which stand snow guns. Only then will the pipe trenches be filled.

The start of the snowmaking season is only a month and a half away, but Stearns said finishing touches will be put on the snowmaking guns on Cozy by the time temperatures permit manufacturing flakes for the approaching winter.

Typically, Stearns said, Sun Valley starts making snow on Baldy on Nov. 1, but that depends on what Mother Nature allows. Sometimes, he said, he and his crews will start earlier, and sometimes (last year, for example) temperatures don’t cooperate until late in the season.

"Last year was the worst I’ve seen since I’ve been here," said Stearns, who’s worked for Sun Valley for 20 years.

Last Thanksgiving, Baldy opened with only lower River Run open. Considering that the snowmaking system can blanket 70 to 100 acres of ski runs with an inch of snow in a night, having only Lower River Run open was, indeed, a disappointingly poor start to last year’s season.

Stearns said he likes to try to guarantee that Upper College, Flying Squirrel and Lower Warm Springs, at least, are open by Thanksgiving. That’s about 120 acres of terrain, he said.

The snow guns skiers and snowboarders pass as they cruise down Baldy are only the facade of an enormous system that helps blanket the mountain every winter.

There are over 29 miles of pipe and at least 87 miles of wires beneath the ground on Baldy, Stearns said, and there are five pump stations and three air plants in five buildings around the mountain.

Water is drawn from a well at the River Run base and from Warm Springs Creek at the Warm Springs base. The water is then cooled and pumped around the mountain to various circuits of the snowmaking system.

Not including this year’s expansion on Cozy, Sun Valley has spent over $12.8 million on its computerized snowmaking system since 1989.

 

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