Ski Resort Life

Vail to Double Snowmaking


Vail, CO, Feb. 4–After suffering through two seasons of below-average early season snowfall and a drop in skier numbers, Vail is moving to ensure early season skiing by dramatically upping its snowmaking capacity.

The resort submitted its plans for additional snowmaking to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in January. Under the proposal, Vail would add an additional 369 acres of firepower to provide coverage on trails including Riva Ridge, Northwoods, upper Born Free and Poppyfields.

Vail currently makes snow on 390 of its more than 4,600 acres of terrain. If the snowmaking addition is approved, the total number of acres covered with man-made snow would climb to 759 acres–second only to Keystone’s 859 acres. The proposal also calls for a 120-million-gallon water tank for snowmaking on the ridge between Sundown Bowl and Game Creek Bowl.

Resort officials say the purpose of the proposal is to provide better connections between areas that currently have snowmaking as well as to improve the overall guest experience. With the new snowmaking in place, the ski area could provide top-to-bottom skiing on at least one trail in each lift pod.

USFS officials say the new snowmaking would help get skiers from the front side of the mountain to the newly opened Blue Sky Basin. The ski area partially justified its expansion into Blue Sky Basin (formerly known as Category III) by claiming the area would provide more reliable early season snow. But that terrain is useless unless skiers can get to it.

The USFS hasn’t initiated a review process for the proposals yet, but the public will have a chance to scrutinize the plans and offer comment. Environmental groups say they will examine the proposal for any impacts it might have on the water quality of the Eagle River, which has historically had some pollution problems associated with the abandoned Eagle Mine, near Red Cliff, CO.

Vail has access to all the Eagle River water it needs for snowmaking, provided minimum stream flows are maintained. Several reservoirs, including Black Lake near Vail Pass and the Homestake Reservoir, can be tapped by the resort to maintain required stream flows in the Eagle River.