Aspen Skiing Co. expects normal snowmaking operations this season despite #drought


From The Aspen Daily News (Chad Abraham):

Despite an unprecedented water restriction amid the ongoing drought affecting much of Colorado and the West, officials with the city of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Co. said the dry conditions should not impact the company’s ability to make snow at its four resorts…

SkiCo uses municipal water for snowmaking on Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands from the city’s 3-million-gallon reservoir up Castle Creek, water from Maroon Creek for Buttermilk, and water stored in Ziegler Reservoir for the Snowmass Ski Area. And communication between the city and the SkiCo is key, particularly now amid the drought.

Margaret Medellin, the city of Aspen’s portfolio utilities manager, said Friday that Thomas Reservoir doesn’t afford much storage for the city’s needs, and the municipality relies largely on direct flows from Maroon and Castle creeks. Still, “there are a lot of reasons why snowmaking is a water use that can be done even during this dry period,” she said.

That includes snowmaking mostly happening during November and early December, when water demand has lessened because of fewer residents, second-home owners and visitors; along with fewer times nowadays with temperatures suitable for making flakes.

In summertime, the largest use of city water, as much as 86 percent at times, goes to irrigation, but now “irrigation systems are starting to shut down, and we’re seeing the demand on the system dropping,” she said…

She also said that snowmaking overall is a pretty small use — annually less than 8 percent — of the city water supply.

“Having said that, we do constantly monitor our creeks,” Medellin said. “If SkiCo wanted to make snow, and it’s too close to in-stream flow [requirements], we’d communicate with them that they wouldn’t be able to make snow…

Katie Ertl, SkiCo’s senior vice president of mountain operations, said the drought and city water restrictions have “been on our minds,” and led to a recent, in-company meeting.

She agreed the health of the streams is paramount and echoed Medellin: “We’re putting snow on the hill when not a lot of water is being used.

“We recognize that we have a bit of time before now and then, and we’re hoping for the possibility of natural snow,” Ertl said. “We knew this conversation was going to come up with Stage 2 water restrictions. We’re paying attention to what the city requirements may be and will work in conjunction with them for Aspen Mountain and Highlands.”

She said SkiCo, being the valley’s largest employer and driver of tourism, will also consult with other businesses and interest groups about water use for snowmaking…

Ertl and Medellin both said that 70 to 80 percent of the man-made snow ends up back in the watershed during runoff, rather than being lost to evaporation.

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