Friday, May 25, 2007

Sun Valley Co. looks to enhance the value of Dollar

Expanded runs, additional snowmaking to be completed for upcoming ski season

Express Staff Writer

It appears a Dollar is still worth something. As one of North America's original lift-assisted ski areas, Dollar Mountain represents tradition, nostalgia and, now, cutting edge technology.

On Thursday, May 24, the Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission approved design-review applications filed by Sun Valley Co. to expand the mountain's ski runs and install more snowmaking.

Beginning in June, the company will begin widening and re-contouring ski runs on the front of Dollar Mountain and on Elkhorn Face. The company will also erect additional Safyr snowmaking guns, made by York Snow, that are made possible by new, quieter technology. The project is slated for completion by the 2007-2008 ski season.

That is all in addition to two new high-speed, detachable Doppelmayr quad lifts that are already under construction and are also scheduled for use this ski season.

Dollar, more so that its neighbor, Bald Mountain, has homes in relative close proximity on two sides. The new snow gun technology is significantly quieter than the guns used on Baldy, allowing snowmaking to expand closer to the neighborhoods, the Sun Valley planning and zoning staff concluded.

York Safyr snow guns are similar to the size and appearance of the guns currently on Dollar and Baldy, but use a five-horsepower, on-board, compressor to spray water with less required air mixing. Snow guns on Baldy rely on a central compressor that forces air across the mountain in pipes.

On Dollar, the snow will deposit below gun nozzles where it will then be transported and groomed as needed. Baldy's guns can send the snow over a greater distance and deposit is across the mountain.

Sun Valley Community Development Director Mark Hofman took noise measurements on Thursday that support York Snow's claims. The noise level directly under the snow gun read 75 decibels. Moving roughly 50 yards away from the gun the noise level fell to 65 decibels, a level just above that of a normal conversation. At roughly 100 yards the decibel level falls to 50.

The expansion of runs on Dollar Face includes blasting, rock removal and couture grading to allow for more frequent grooming operations in the area known as Forbidden Fruit, Sheephearders and No Name.

In its applications, Sun Valley Co. described the proposed blasting as "limited." Much of the rock blasted during the re-contouring process will be used as filler in other areas on the mountain, keeping the excavation project close to neutral. In 2006, the company graded a similar amount of terrain when it re-contoured Sepp's Run on Dollar, removing roughly 5200 square feet of rock.

The company described last year blasting as "fairly noiseless," due to the fact that it was subterranean, a process that the company stated "doesn't even raise dust."

Snowmaking and ski run modifications are slated for Elkhorn on Elkhorn Lane, Elkhorn Bowl, Arrowhead, and Joint Venture. Similar to the areas to be renovated on Dollar, those runs are used for ski operations only when substantial natural snowfall occurs.

Blasting there is expected to be minimal, and earth removed will be used as filler to grade existing runs. Snow guns could come as close as 100 feet to homes located in the Indian Springs subdivision, Hofman said.

The water for additional snowmaking will come from the Sun Valley Water and Sewer District. The commission discussed the use of reclaimed water for snowmaking, an option that is not currently available but could be as infrastructure improvements are made to the district as part of the recent $4.357 million bond approval. The commission did not grant its approval contingent upon reclaimed water use.

Following the necessary groundwork, Sun Valley Co. will re-vegetate the graded areas with native plants and grasses.

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