Spring Strategy :: Superstar Spring Commitment from Jeff Temple, Director of Mountain Operations
Posted March 6, 2014
If you‘ve been skiing and riding around the resort recently, in particular on the Superstar trail, you may find it hard to believe that the rain we have received in the last ten months is equal to the twelve month total averages for the last five years. After chipping ice off lift towers recently to get chairlifts open, I couldn’t help but reflect on this unique and challenging season.
Cold temperatures came late in October this year, and with our commitment to an early, high quality opening, we brought on all our reserve air compressors to blast the upper mountain areas. Our typical plan is to hold some of these compressors in reserve. Instead, we brought them all online to maximize snowmaking in the upper North Ridge area and the results were excellent.
After consistent November and December rain events, we resurfaced open terrain again and again. Normally we might need 30% of our weekly snowmaking production for quality resurfacing operations, and the rest go for expansion. These weather conditions required 100% of production for resurfacing and depth building.
With the December holidays around the corner and trail counts climbing, we then suffered a significant warm-up and rain event during the holiday week. A decision was made to resurface the trails we had open instead of a “thin” depth expansion. Did we get behind others in the New England trail count that week? You bet, but the quality was top notch and the committed holiday guests had great skiing as a result.
In January the “shuttle boosters”, our diesel air compressors, are typically jettisoned, but we kept them running on Ovation, Downdraft, and Double Dipper. The Superpipe was sacrificed in favor of depth and quality on many other trails around the resort and we were able to open nearly every snowmaking trail.
Also in January, energy prices skyrocketed to be consistently three to five times higher than normal. While many resorts gave up snowmaking, our energy management meetings intensified. To complicate this never before seen challenge, the inflated prices overflowed into “off peak” periods like nights and weekends, when it’s typically cheaper to make snow.
We chose to keep the snowmakers on the job through February with a number of energy management scenarios, although they should have long moved on to their grooming and lift jobs. With energy budgets long surpassed for snowmaking, we began the Superstar build. Throughout each 24-hour period, production was adjusted against chairlift electrical loads and New England power grid pricing. We moved snow guns strategically to build depth in places where snow is historically needed in late spring. With the most depth at 20+ feet on the lower break over, snow was piled at the top of the trail, in the belly below the headwall and along the middle “flats”. With March considered a “summer pricing” month by our energy provider, costs for snowmaking become prohibitive.
So we ski into March with record cold temperatures, lots of snow on Superstar, ice in Texas and a full 500 + more acre feet of snow produced than the resort’s five year average. Despite the more than great efforts of our snowmakers and our commitment to spring, Mother Nature has the final say, but we remain focused on the longest season in the East.
Director of Mountain Operations