Skiing under manufactured moonlight
January 30, 2014
As Steamboat Ski Resort's new nighttime skiing operation is being hailed as a success, Winter Park Resort, which is owned and operated by the same company Intrawest, is beginning to explore options for installing its own nighttime skiing operation.
While installing lights at Winter Park Resort could provide a unique experience to residents and guests to the area, the process of deciding whether to install lights on the slopes of Winter Park Resort is still in its infancy and depends on a number of factors, according to Steve Hurlbert, communications and public relations manager for Winter Park Resort.
While implementing a night skiing operation at Winter Park Resort could provide a new way for skiers and riders to enjoy the mountain and could increase the after-hours traffic at the resort's village, the resort would have to jump through a number of environmental hoops to begin the process, while at the same time satisfying homeowners at the resort.
Whether the resort chooses to pursue a nighttime skiing operation depends largely on the success of the night skiing operation at Steamboat.
Steamboat implemented its night skiing operation earlier in 2013 in hopes of fueling the nightlife at its newly renovated base area, and has so far the operation has done just that, according to Loryn Kasten, spokeswoman for Steamboat Resort.
"Night skiing and riding has been a great success for us," Kasten said. "It extends the day and gives children and teenagers something to do in the late hours."
Night skiing at Steamboat, while providing an opportunity for the younger members of a family to get out and have fun after the sun sets, also frees up the parents to enjoy the nightlife that can be found at the resort's base area.
Other resorts in the area have found success through night skiing operations including Ski Granby Ranch.
"It's a unique experience, especially for guests from out of town," said Wenda Huseman, vice president of marketing and sales for Ski Granby Ranch. "It is something that is on their bucket list when they come skiing here."
Huseman reports that kids are some of the heaviest users of the night skiing operation at Ski Granby Ranch as well as teenagers and adults who want to either get some extra hours in on the slopes or ski with family after the sun goes down.
Another dedicated crowd to the night skiing operation is the terrain park crowd who enjoys sliding rails and catching air after hours at the resort.
Steamboat was able to install the lights without jumping through as many hoops as would be required of Winter Park Resort, due to Steamboat lights being located on private property versus U.S. Forest Service land.
If Winter Park Resort were to install lights on its slopes, it would need to complete an environmental impact study in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service to ensure the lights wouldn't negatively impact the area. The forest service would then need to approve the study in order for the lighting system to enter into the next phase of consideration.
One reason homeowners in Steamboat approved of the installation of the lighting system was due to lights that offer a high level of snow illumination as well as have low impact on the surrounding environment and its inhabitants.
A new kind of light
The lights that were installed at Steamboat, called Snow-Bright lights, are a new kind of light that is unique to snow illumination. The lights use magnetic-induction to produce a lower intensity glow that shines through snow instead of reflecting off of the surface of the snow.
Snow-Bright lights were developed by Ultra-Tech, a fairly new company that has found a number of ways to improve lighting systems both on and off snow.
Philip Gotthelf, managing director for Ultra-Tech, is a former ski instructor from the East Coast who first had the idea to research and create a lighting system built specifically to illuminate snow after he was stranded for hours on a mountain because lights went out while he was night skiing.
Gotthelf says the advantages of his lighting system over conventional lighting systems are numerous, with some of the top reasons being they are more sustainable than traditional lighting systems, they are more environmentally friendly, and they are dark-sky compliant.
One of the biggest selling factors for the lights at Steamboat resort was their low level of light pollution. Though Steamboat installed nearly 400 of the lights on its slopes, you can still see the moon and the stars and the lights of the town, even while skiing under the lights.
Because the lighting system is designed to actually penetrate and illuminate the snow, the light does not bounce off of the snow's surface, drastically reducing light pollution.
Gotthelf says it's an odd experience to ski under the lights because it makes the snow appear to glow.
The lights were built around the ideology that most ski resorts are located on forest lands where animals and the environment are important factors to be considered.
"When it was a work-in-progress, every time we were ready to release the lights we found another environmental issue," Gotthelf said.
The light's final design turned out to be far superior to traditional lighting systems in terms of environmental friendliness for a number of reasons.
The low intensity of the light is compared to the strength of a full moon, therefore doesn't harm nocturnal animal's vision. The lights also operate completely silent and don't have the hum or high-pitched whine that other lighting systems have.
However one of the largest advantages to the lights is their energy saving design, which can save up to 80 to 85 percent of energy costs compared to traditional lighting systems, according to Gotthelf.
The lights are only 300 watts, compared to the 1,000 watt lights that are normally used for night skiing operations.
The lights also last much longer than other lighting systems and have an estimated life of 100,000 hours. Because the lights last so long before needing to be replaced, electric providers will sometimes provide a rebate when the lights are installed, making the installation more affordable for resorts.
Lighting up Winter Park Resort
From initial discussions with Winter Park Resort, Gotthelf said, it seemed the resort wanted to go more aggressively than Steamboat has.
He said the resort wanted to explore installing lights to light up everything from green runs to black runs, and even discussed wanting to illuminate a freestyle bump course to allow for late-night trainings.
The lights would be ideal for lighting up a mogul run, according to Gotthelf, due to the fact that the lighting system penetrates the snow, in essence, illuminating the front and the back of the mogul and leaving less of a shadow.
Though while Gotthelf has met with Winter Park Resort, resort officials maintain they are far from implementing the lighting system.
"There is a lot of information that still has to be gathered," Hurlbert said. "There are a lot of hoops to jump through and a lot of logistics we would have to figure out."
The consideration to install a lighting system is "preliminary at best," Hurlbert said.
Reid Tulley can be reached 970-887-3334