Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Resort says, ‘Let it snow’

Sun Valley Co. revs up new snowmaking guns on Baldy

Express Staff Writer

Snowmaking guns start to establish a base Monday morning above the River Run Lodge, near the bottom of Bald Mountain. Photo by Roland Lane

With the goal of snowy ski slopes by Thanksgiving, Sun Valley Co. fired up its snowmaking guns on Bald and Dollar mountains Monday and Tuesday.     
    The company plans to open portions of Baldy and, temperature permitting, Dollar, by late next month.
    “It depends on weather, but we would love to have Quarter Dollar and Magic Carpet runs open [for Thanksgiving],” said company spokesman Jack Sibbach, speaking about Dollar Mountain.
    Unlike Baldy, Dollar’s snowmaking relies on a manual system that was set up in 2006.
    At the minimum, Bald Mountain should have Lower River Run, Mid River Run, Roundhouse Slope and Upper College runs open by Nov. 27, Sibbach said. But, of course, it all depends on Mother Nature.
    Sun Valley Co. has the largest computerized snowmaking system in North America, with 555 guns on Baldy alone and a complex technological system controlling the bulk of snow production. However, even with one of the world’s finest snowmaking systems, the weather must cooperate.
    “Temperature is always a concern when you’re in this business of making snow,” Sibbach said, also citing humidity and wind as factors.
    This year, Sun Valley is taking 47 new snowmaking guns for a test run on Baldy. Equipped with efficient and energy-saving technology, most are dispersed throughout the runs planned to be open first.
    “We hope this is the start of a process that replaces more guns every year,” Sibbach said, saying the company will test cost efficiency and energy use this pilot year.
While residents might have seen some traces of snow on either mountain prior to Monday, Sibbach said the company has been testing the guns out throughout the summer. However, Monday marked the first day of snowmaking leading up to the winter recreation season.
    Manmade snow is made through pressurized air mixing with water. The quality of snow is dependent on local air pressure and air and water temperature, Bald Mountain’s head snowmaker Cory Allen said last year.  
    “So, when the gun turns on, it’s passing water and it’s passing air,” Allen said. “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.”
    Sibbach said the new guns unveiled this year use less air and, therefore, less energy, to make a more efficient snow product.
    For both new and old guns, cold temperatures at night are crucial to success, Sibbach said.
    Sun Valley Resort is scheduled to open for skiing and snowboarding on Thanksgiving Day.

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