For some reason, there is a persistent belief in town that the Aspen Skiing Co. cannot begin making snow until Nov. 1.
Not so, said company Vice President of Operations Rich Burkley. Just look up at Aspen Mountain on Thursday. The company can start making snow as early as temperatures allow, Burkley said.
SkiCo fired up 12 snow guns Wednesday evening when temperatures dropped, figuring that the mercury would stay below 30 degrees in shaded, north-facing areas of the mountain through Saturday morning, giving it a good window to get a jump on the winter season’s base on the Lift 1A race course and Little Nell ski run.
“We’re hoping that winter is here,” Burkley said.
Burkley added that the guns are placed so that the snow piles they produce — also known as “whales” — are situated in the shadows where the air is colder.
In this case, water is being “gravity-fed” to the guns from the pond near the Gent’s Ridge chairlift, located uphill from the snow guns, Burkley said. Eventually, the company will buy water in bulk from the city of Aspen for Aspen Mountain snowmaking. It has water rights on Castle Creek for Highlands snowmaking, Maroon Creek for Buttermilk and Snowmass Creek for Snowmass.
Aspen Mountain and Snowmass are scheduled to open for the season on Nov. 22, which is Thanksgiving Day. On the weekend of Nov. 24-25, the world’s best women skiers converge on Lift 1A for a World Cup giant slalom and slalom, so snowmaking efforts will be focused on the race course, where 10 of the 12 guns in operation Thursday were trained.
Snowmaking is a major endeavor in the pre-season and early season across the four SkiCo mountains, which have a total of 274 snow guns. Upwards of 200 million gallons of water is used, which combined with the power required to run the equipment, costs SkiCo “millions of dollars,” Burkley said.
“It’s a very significant investment,” he said.