TELLURIDE – In a perfect world, all 280 acres of terrain at the Telluride Ski Resort with access to manmade snow would be open by Christmas. But with an antiquated water delivery system, power-hogging snow guns and the fact that Telluride is located in drought- and warm-temperature prone Southwestern Colorado, doing so is almost always impossible.
The ski area, thanks to the mind and work of Telluride Ski and Golf Company’s Director of Snowmaking Brandon Green, has taken some momentous steps this year toward reaching that goal by completing a huge snowmaking infrastructure upgrade which, combined with new snowmaking technology, will enable Telluride to open more runs earlier in the year.
Over the summer, crews replaced decrepit pipe and laid 16,000 feet of steel pipe in the ground as a start to building the foundation of the ski area’s snowmaking future. All of the pipe was painstakingly buried four feet underground, a foot below the frost line. On some portions of the system where wetlands existed, crews bored a hole for the new pipeline without having to touch the surface.
The antiquated pipe that delivered snowmaking water to guns on the Mountain Village side of the ski area often froze, burst and caused snowmaking delays while crews dug holes to fix the breakage.
“A lot of that pipe had been in there since 1980,” Green said last week. “It was thin walled to begin with and we were constantly chasing down leaks during the winter. We would have to drag an excavator and dig a hole. It was a big waste of time.”
The old pipe system also contained a lot of dead ends and one-way legs that were detrimental. If there was a breakage in one part of the line, the entire system would often have to be shut down until it was repaired.
“Getting this system up to speed is really big for us,” Telski Owner Chuck Horning said.
While the new, stronger pipe will eliminate down time due to breakage, the new pipe was laid in a loop system so that if a pipe does burst, the new system can still operate with the help of nearby shutoff valves.
“If something breaks on one spot,” Green said, “we can keep it running operationally and we will be able to maintain it with zero down time, which is ultimately my goal.”
The new pipe infrastructure also has the ability to bring water at a higher pressure, which is needed for the 71 new low energy Snow Logic snowmaking guns the ski area invested in over the past two years.
The problem with the ski area’s old pipe infrastructure, with its old and loud snowmaking guns, is that they required a lot of compressed air to operate. With a limited and expensive supply of air, according to Green, to be running snowmaking operations at full capacity (using all available water in the system) temperatures would have to drop to around 12 or 13 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Here in Southwest Colorado, you get that maybe 10 nights out of the season, 12 tops,” Green said. “With these new water guns spread out and having a fleet of them, I can run at maximum water pretty much at any temperature below 26 degrees. When I first turned this thing on, I had the system up to water capacity and was only running an eighth of the air we would be running with the old system. These new guns use what’s readily available in a cheaper way. They are not only efficient but really quiet.”
What it all boils down to, Green said, is that the new pipes and Snow Logic guns will allow his crews to get terrain open in a more timely fashion. And once there’s adequate snow coming off Lift 4 and the top of the Gondola, he’ll be able to move some of the fan guns over to the Telluride side of the ski area sooner.
“All the new work that has been done here allows us to get out of this area and onto other terrain faster,” Green said. “As soon as we wrap up around Gorrono, we’ll get over to See Forever and Lookout.”
“We try to get access to Telluride by Christmas Day,” Jeff Proteau, vice president of mountain operations and planning, said. “This year it will be pre-Christmas for sure just because we were able to complete other areas.”
Proteau added that early season riders and skiers will get new access from the Gondola’s Station St. Sophia to Mountain Village on Butterfly, which has usually been occupied by a NASTAR course.
“It will be a wide open, premiere groomed run,” Proteau said, adding that it will be a big change from pervious seasons where skiers and riders would have to walk from the Gondola to the Village Bypass.”
“We are really working on making a better skiing experience between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Horning said. “Snowmaking is a big challenge and this has been one of our big undertakings. One of the core things to this winter economy is having adequate snowmaking capabilities to insure against those drought years the old timers still talk about. Brandon took over leadership of that department a year ago. He went out and looked at the best of the industry and brought in the best technology he could find.”
Green said the work that’s been completed on the mountain’s snowmaking infrastructure will undoubtedly make a difference and that skiers and riders familiar with the ski area will see drastic improvements, even in warm and dry early season conditions. There is more work to be done, he said, including an expensive project to bring more water into the system from Oak Street .
“Before we can get into that phase, we needed to go ahead and improve the rest of the infrastructure,” Green said.