Resorts, towns want better face put on snowmaking fears
SUMMIT COUNTY – While Summit County ski areas say they have enough water for snowmaking in spite of drought conditions, not everyone agrees. Water commissioner Scott Hummer said stream flows now are at a level typically seen during the fall, and he believes they’re bound to get worse.
Summit County mayors and resort officials say recent national publicity about the drought’s potential impact on snowmaking threatens winter business, and they aren’t happy about it.
Last month, Hummer delivered the stunning news that there might not be enough water for snowmaking this fall. While there’s plenty of disagreement on the validity of that statement, word about Hummer’s prediction hit the national media.
“The phone started ringing (with people saying), “We hear you’re not going to be able to make snow,'” said Jim Spenst, Copper Mountain’s vice president of operations. “At least from Copper Mountain’s standpoint, we do think we’re going to be able to make snow.”
Members of the Summit Leadership Forum, a group made up of Summit County town, county and ski area officials, talked about the media backlash during a Thursday meeting.
“We need to temper what we’re saying,” Spenst advised the group. “The negative spin we’ve all gotten so far is really huge.”
“Yet we can’t sit around this table and delude ourselves,” said Breckenridge Mayor Sam Mamula. “We don’t want to be cavalier about this issue. It’s like the wildfire thing. You’ve got to put the wildfires out, but you’d rather the rest of the country didn’t know about it.
“At least our stance right now is we will have snowmaking. Our tarn is full.”
Mamula was referring to Goose Pasture Tarn, a pond above the town from which Breckenridge Ski Resort draws some of its snowmaking water.
County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom said the solution isn’t as simple as putting “on a happy face.”
“I don’t think we need to push the panic button,” he said. “At the same time, we have to face reality. We’re in the middle of the worst drought in history. As responsible leaders, we’re supposed to deal with problems.”
Lindstrom believes the answer is to let people know the resorts will make snow, but plans are being made to deal with drought’s impacts.
The problem, said County Commissioner Tom Long, is that so much of the drought’s impact is unpredictable. Ski areas that draw their snowmaking water from streams are required to keep those waterways at minimum levels. If there isn’t enough water in those drainages to begin with, the ski areas won’t be allowed to drain them further.
“The issue really comes in those in-stream flows,” Long said. “It’s just a guess what Mother Nature throws at us. That’s the unknown.”
Summit County is in the third year of a drought, with this year taking the greatest toll by far. Dillon Reservoir is only 62 percent full and falling 2 to 4 inches a day, and fire bans have been in effect almost all summer.
Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com
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