Open space officials are researching snowmaking operations for local cross-country skiing trails, as a result of this late-coming winter.
Scarcity of snow left nearly all of the local cross-country skiing trails closed until recent storms filled them in, and led to the cancellation or delay of cross-country races and events.
While Mother Nature appears to have saved this winter for Nordic enthusiasts, city of Aspen trails coordinator Austin Weiss is now gathering information on snowmaking capability for local trails. He is researching how the department could produce man-made cover in future snowless winters.
“Typically it’s something you see in the Northeast, where the weather is a little more fickle than it usually is here,” he explained. “But we want to see what our options are.”
Howie Mallory, member of both the city and county open space boards, urged both government entities to look into developing snowmaking for cross-country trails.
“I never thought about it too much before,” Mallory said at a city board meeting last week. “What would it take to do it?”
Access and rights to use local water would be a primary concern for the initiative, as well as the cost, which hasn’t yet been estimated.
“It’s a water issue and a money issue,” city open space board member Phillip Jeffries said last week.
He suggested that Nordic supporters’ time would be better spent by lobbying the U.S. Forest Service to allow Nordic grooming along Richmond Ridge, behind Aspen Mountain. Snowmaking would not typically be necessary at that 11,000-foot-plus altitude.
In the high elevation ski resorts of the west, snowmaking has almost exclusively been used for downhill skiing. This winter, before January’s storms provided natural cover on the local mountains, snowmaking and snow moving on groomed downhill trails allowed plentiful acreage to be opened on the Aspen Skiing Co.’s hills, despite the lack of snow.
Meanwhile, most of the 60-plus miles of local Nordic trails remained closed until nature provided cover for them in recent weeks. Only about three miles of trails around Aspen High School stayed open through the dry spell.
Most notably, the popular Nordic trails around the Aspen Golf Club — served by a rental and retail store in the on-site Aspen Nordic Center — didn’t have enough snow to keep open. The Nordic center in Snowmass Village, which rents equipment at the Snowmass Club golf course, closed altogether for a period. The Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers’ Town to Town Race from Aspen to Basalt was canceled last weekend, and the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club bonfire dinner, scheduled for Jan. 7, was postponed until Feb. 18.
Preparing a plan for snowmaking on Nordic trails, Mallory argued, could protect against such future losses of local recreational amenities, events and commerce.
The only significant regional example Weiss could recall of Nordic trail snowmaking was at the Soldier Hollow cross-country resort in Utah, before it hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.