Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Resort aims for Thanksgiving skiing

Snowmaking systems at Baldy, Dollar help Sun Valley open earlier

Express Staff Writer

13-11-13SnowGuns1RolandLane.jpg Photo by Roland Lane

    After starting to make snow on Oct. 26, Sun Valley Co. expects to open portions of both Bald and Dollar mountains on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28.
    Sun Valley Co. said the No. 1 River Run and No. 5 Lookout Express quad lifts on Baldy will service the Upper College, Lower College, Sunset Strip, 42nd St. and Lower River Run runs, weather permitting.
    On Dollar Mountain, the resort plans to open the Quarter Dollar lift and the Accelerator Carpet. Poverty Flats, Quarter Dollar Bowl and a Progressive Park should be open.
    However, Bald Mountain head snowmaker Cory Allen cautioned that there are no guarantees.
    “The first rule of snowmaking is never predict the weather,” Allen said. “We do the best we can, and we’ve had a great start to snowmaking this year. I feel confident we’ll open on time, but you just never know for sure.”
    Allen said there are typically nine separate 24-hour periods in November in which snow cannot be made. Conversely, he said it usually takes nine very cold days to produce the bulk of the snow.
    Sun Valley Resort operates the largest snowmaking system in North America, with 577 total snow guns on Bald Mountain. About 90 percent of the Bald Mountain snowmaking system is automated, with a sophisticated computer system that allows for the snow guns to produce the maximum amount of snow, while avoiding excessive production.
    Allen said there are many key factors that go into making high-quality manmade snow.
    “The snow is made by a combination of local air temperature, local air pressures within the air reservoirs of our system,” he said. “The snow quality is determined by the quality of snow we’re choosing to make, the local air pressure, the local air temperature and the local water temperature.
    “So, when the gun turns on, it’s passing water and its passing air. Water is typically 120 pounds, and we typically use 120 pounds of air pressure and we’re using the air to explode the water into tiny little droplets. … The longer you can get them to hang in the air, the better the chance it has to fall to the ground and freeze.”
    Allen added that snow can be made at temperatures as high as 38-40 degrees, although in those conditions snow is “incredibly expensive to make.” He said anytime the temperature is below 26 degrees, snow accumulates very well on the ground. Once the temperature gets below 20 degrees and approaches 10, Allen said, “Our system is raging, making a lot of snow and making big piles every night.”
    While Bald Mountain has a state-of-the-art snowmaking system, Dollar Mountain has a manual system that requires much more human labor to maintain the snowmaking process. Allen, who helps with the maintenance of the snowmaking system on Dollar, said the crew that works Dollar Mountain has done an excellent job since the system was set up in 2006.
    Allen said he is proud of the work he does as a snowmaker because of the importance it holds for the local economy.
    “This snowmaking system is such an amazing thing,” he said. “It secures our economy winter after winter. By the time Christmas gets here, hopefully we’ll have three to four feet of natural snow and all four corners of the resort going.”

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