Another shot at snowmaking
City revisits snowmaking at Chapman Hill

Although Chapman Hill is currently boasting a modest snowpack, the city has yet to fire up the bullwheel this year. After a bid for design and implementation of a new snowmaking system came in over budget, the city decided to test out other snowmaking options this year. Equipment is expected to become available in coming weeks as the big resorts cease snowmaking operations for the winter. /Photo by David Halterman

by Missy Votel

The City of Durango is taking another run at Chapman Hill. The downtown Durango ski hill, which underwent a snowmaking trial last year, will get yet another test later this month using different snow guns than the ones used last year. Cathy Metz, director of Durango Parks and Recreation Department, said the city decided to take a closer look at snowmaking equipment for a few reasons.

For starters, a request for bid last summer to design and build a permanent snowmaking system resulted in only one proposal, from Westminster’s Smith Environmental and Engineering, which came in at nearly double the $300,000 budgeted for the project. As a result, city staff and the Chapman Hill Improvement Committee decided to go back to the drawing board to try out different snowgun manufacturers before taking another stab at the bid process in the spring. According to Metz, there were still some concerns over noise during a meeting held earlier this fall with neighbors.

“Something we heard from neighbors was that they would like to see the snow made as quickly as possible. If we get a good cold snap for a couple of weeks, it would be preferable to get in and get it done in that time,” she said.

Although last winter’s trial, using a donated Lenko snow gun, was deemed successful, Metz said the city wants to see if there are any better options out there.

“We want to take this time to demo a few more guns and see what works best for this setting and move forward with the right set-up,” she said. “Because we will be blowing snow through the night, we want to make sure it is the quietest and most efficient equipment.”

Other manufacturers being looked at for the upcoming trial include the East Coast-based HKD Snowmakers and Michigan’s Snow Machines, Inc.

Although the city would have liked to conduct the test earlier in the season, it was unable to secure snow guns, which were being leased by the larger resorts. However, typically after the first of the year, resorts stop making snow due to sufficient natural snow, Forest Service regulations or limits on water usage.

“We tried to find guns in November, but with the drought, all the guns were leased out,” said Kirk Rawles, a member of the Chapman hill Improvement Committee and program coordinator for the Durango Winter Sports Foundation. “We’re hoping that this month, a lot of the guns and the sales representatives will be freed up,” he said.

Because of the holidays, Rawles was unsure of when exactly the trial would happen, but said with snow already making for frozen ground at Chapman, it wouldn’t take long to generate sufficient coverage. He also said depending on time and how much snow is made, plans are to get last year’s popular mini terrain park up and running. “There were a lot of kids over here last year after school and on the weekends using the terrain park,” he said. “At one point, we even had the freestyle kids jumping higher up on the hill, too.”

Rawles said Chapman would be an ideal spot to train the Winter Sports Foundation’s athletes. Right now, there are 64 students enrolled in the freestyle program, 45 in the Nordic program and 40 in the alpine program. Rawles, who coaches the freestyle team, said high school freestyle students train five days a week but have to go to Durango Mountain Resort. Although plans are to switch weekday training to Hesperus once it is open for night skiing, he said training facilities at Chapman would be an even better option. “If Chapman is operational and usable, it would be immensely helpful,” he said.

Aside from training athletes, Rawles, who has 5-year-old twins, sees Chapman as filling a need among local families. “The intent is to make if accessible and affordable to anyone, from the ski team to little kids,” he said.

That is a sentiment echoed by Durango Mayor Doug Lyon, a supporter of the revitalization effort for the last few years. He said although the $300,000 earmarked for the snowmaking system in the 2007 Capital Improvements Budget was never used, it will roll over to 2008. “I certainly still support the project, and the money will be available when and if a good plan can be formed,” he said.

Metz said two different bids for proposal – one for design and one for construction – will go out later this spring. She said if all goes as planned, the “nuts and bolts” would go in over the summer and the permanent snow-making system would be operational for the 2008-09 winter season.

“The community is still supportive, and we’re continuing to move forward,” she said.

Both Metz and Lyon noted that the project would never have gotten this far without the help of dedicated volunteers, who have helped navigate the technical waters of snowmaking. “The people behind this are so responsible and careful about getting it right,” said Lyon. “It gives you a lot of confidence in this project going forward.” •



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