It’s that time of the year again. Yep – people are already getting excited about the 2016 Presidential election. Er – scratch that. One person was getting excited – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – urging Hillary Clinton to run for President. I think we should all run for cover, or better yet turn our attention to the ski season which – for Winter Park – starts in 2 days’ time.
There’s been a lot of hype this year, or rather hope, that we’ll have a banner year for snow. That’s because the last two years have been well below average and because we’ve had plenty of cold temperatures and some sporadic snowfall in October and because everyone is now an expert, talking about “weather patterns” and “I can feel it in my bones” and “I haven’t a clue what I’m talking about – just making wild unsubstantiated guesses because my job depends on it”.
Winter Park may open in 2 days’ time, but Arapaho Basin (which was the first – on October 13th), Loveland, Copper, Keystone and Breckenridge are already open. It’s all about headlines – whether you’re open, whether you have snow, what’s new and whether Lindsey Vonn is in town. Honestly, I hear and see more about Lindsey Vonn these days than I do about Tiger Woods.
In order to open as early as possible, resorts need a combination of two things: decent snow-making equipment and sub-zero temperatures – preferably continuously for weeks on end. Copper – which opened November 1st and gets substantially less snow than Winter Park on average annually – started their snow making on October 1st. Winter Park started October 18th. And I’ve heard many locals already comment on the fact that when they drive past the ski area, there are not the “piles” of man-made snow to the sides of the visible trails that they’re used to seeing this close to opening day.
According to the Media section of Winter Park’s website, snowmaking capability exists on 27 trails, some 313.1 acres and over 10% of the resort’s total skiable acres of 3,081. Come Wednesday, allegedly only a handful of trails will be open, and by a handful, read 5 or less.
Where is this leading, I hear you ask? Well, I got a snippet of information yesterday from the wife of someone who works on the mountain, bemoaning how far behind the times Winter Park is when it comes to snow-making. For behind the times, I think he meant pre-historic, and he compared Winter Park to a number of other Colorado resorts, Copper being one of them.
If you don’t know already, two years ago, Copper Mountain and the US Ski Team signed a 20-year deal, granting the US Ski Team exclusive terrain designated as the “US Ski Team’s Speed Center.” The trail is approximately 2 miles long with a vertical drop of 2,300 feet. It’s the only early season, full-length downhill training run in the world. The key requirement of the partnership hinged on the trail being available by November 1st annually for world cup training to commence.
To accomplish this, Copper Mountain installed 87 automated HKD Impulse snowguns with KLIK technology. The snowguns cover over 45 acres of terrain and are controlled from a central computer located in Copper’s snowmaking plant, or a handheld device. The operator simply sets the trail to Automatic, and as temperatures are reached, the guns start automatically and constantly adjust based on temperature. This guarantees that each gun is flowing as much water as possible, at any given temperature, and producing the desired snow quality. The operator has independent control of all 87 snowguns.
Not only is facility home to the U.S. Ski Team, but U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) club programs have the ability to utilize the venue until it reopens for public skiing in mid-December.
The U.S. Ski Team Speed Center officially opened Friday November 1st, the same day the resort opened to the general public and with the most snow coverage since opening the elite training facility in 2011. As “luck” would have it, over a foot of snow overnight prevented gate training on Friday. “This is the best coverage we’ve had at this time of year at Copper for as far back as I can remember,” Chip White, head U.S. women’s speed coach, said on Friday. “We weren’t able to train today, but the plan is to get the fresh snow packed down to a hard training surface in order to run super G on Saturday.”
“You couldn’t ask for better preparation for the World Cup and Olympic season,” said Alice McKennis, a member of the U.S. Women’s speed team. “It’s pretty unique for us to be able to have such a long run to train on so early in the year. Normally, we’re pretty limited to how much we can send it. But this is full two minute downhill.”
Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn got in her first downhill training of the season Wednesday. “Downhill was awesome today,” Vonn said. “It was really fun. It’s a little bit windy up there, but the snow was great. And it’s a full-length downhill, so it doesn’t get much better than that.” Not it doesn’t Lindsey, no it doesn’t.
So, perhaps Winter Park ought to take a leaf out of Copper’s book, invest in better snow-making equipment, start making snow earlier (when the “others” have started), make the headlines for being open and get a superstar or two to say how great things are. Apparently, Hillary skis!