Howelsen Hill gears up for Opening Day this weekend; heavy snow in forecast for next week
Though warm temperatures have not been favorable for snowmaking, Howelsen Hill Ski Area is still slated to open Saturday with about 18 inches of manufactured snow spread around the front-facing side of the hill.
Because Howelsen staff has not been able to make as much snow as what’s typical by Opening Day, due to warm temperatures and lack of natural snow, only the poma lift and magic carpet will be operating Saturday. The poma will stop at the first exit on the hill.
Howelsen Ski and Rodeo Supervisor Robbie Shine said staff opted to cover the magic carpet area in snow so those who are learning to ski or snowboard may do so on beginner terrain.
“Maybe we can get to second exit if we get some good snowmaking and are able to get our snowcat up there, but it’s pretty minimal just given temperatures and length of snowmaking time available,” Shine said. “The last three years, we’ve been open top to bottom two days after Thanksgiving, so we’re behind, but hopefully we get good temperatures and natural snow and we can catch up.”
Mike Weissbluth, a local meteorologist and author of SnowAlarm.com, said Howelsen and Steamboat Resort may be in luck, as a few snow storms are projected to reach Steamboat Springs next week.
This weekend will likely be the last of warm and dry temperatures, Weissbluth said, with snow expected Monday through Tuesday. Another storm, which Weissbluth said could be stronger, is likely to arrive Thursday and Friday.
“The series of storms will likely add up to something significant, certainly more than 6 inches by the time we’re done with it, and it could be quite a bit higher,” Weissbluth said.
Like Steamboat Resort, Howelsen pulls its water for snowmaking from the Yampa River, through a pipe running under the Ninth Street pedestrian bridge. That pipe feeds water from the river to a vault near the Howelsen Hill parking lot. Staff then run the water through snowmaking guns to cover the entire hill with snow.
Shine said more than 80% of runoff from Howelsen makes it back into the Yampa River because its proximity to the ski area.
“It’s not melting and going back into the landscape or feeding the trees, but making snow is a great way to store snow and water volume in the high country,” Shine said. “It’s definitely not a wasteful use of water.”
Still, not having enough snow by Opening Day means the hill’s new triple chairlift won’t be operational until next week at the earliest, according to Shine. The new lift will run occupants up the hill in about three and a half minutes, which is more than half the time it took its predecessor. Once it begins operations, staff will run the new lift seven days a week.
Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said she hopes the new lift will bring increased revenue to the city-funded hill.
“We’re feeling optimistic and positive about this,” Cosby said. “We’re definitely seeing an increase in pass sales from this time last year.”
Steamboat Springs City Council has long had a goal of making Howelsen more revenue neutral, as the city currently spends $1,273,593 on the hill each year from its general fund budget.
“We expanded our hours, we expanded the days that we’re open and we’re feeling good about it,” Cosby said.
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