From todays paper:
Drought menaces ski areas' season
By Jason Blevins and Steve Lipsher
Denver Post Staff Writers
Monday, July 29, 2002 - ARAPAHOE BASIN - Arapahoe Basin officials fear they may have no water available in the autumn to run through a new snowmaking system now being built for the state's highest ski area.
"It's pretty plain and simple: If there aren't adequate streamflows . . . we don't make snow," said resort chief Jim Gentling.
The situation at Arapahoe Basin highlights the dilemma facing Colorado's ski resorts during a drought, when even senior water rights might not be worth anything if a stream is completely dry.
Since the disastrously dry winter of 1977-78, when Breckenridge operated for only two months and some resorts didn't open at all, the state's ski areas have invested tens of millions of dollars in snowmaking systems designed to ensure a head start on the season.
But many, such as Arapahoe Basin, depend on naturally flowing streams for the massive artificial snow.
"It's still flowing. But it's July," Gentling said of the north fork of the Snake River, which is trickling past the stream gauge at Keystone at a meager 20 cubic feet per second, a rate typically not seen until October.
To cover a 200-square-foot area with 6 inches of snow requires about 75,000 gallons of water. Large ski areas can gulp 2,000 gallons of water in one minute.
Even tiny Loveland can consume a full pond of water in a single night.
"Last I heard, we have the same water rights we had in the past," said Kevin Wright, spokesman for Loveland ski area. "But I'm still bringing in two gallons a day and storing it in my closet, just in case."
Snowmaking consumes about 109 gallons of water for every skier visit, according to the National Ski Areas Association. That equates to 1.2 billion gallons of water used during the 2001-02 ski season.
Larger resorts, such as Vail and Aspen, have spent decades buying senior water rights to help them through lean years. Even so, water users are required to leave minimal flows in streams, so in extremely dry years, those rights might be worthless "paper water" rather than "wet water."
"We have an adequate amount," said Paul Testwuide, senior vice-president of special projects for Vail Resorts, who was instrumental in developing the Eagle Park Reservoir in Eagle County almost 20 years ago.
"We sweated a lot of blood and tears for this water, and it really was just for a year like this."
Snowmakers at Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas expect to use about 1,080 acre-feet of water for snowmaking in the upcoming season, Testwuide said. The Eagle Park Reservoir, which supplies all of Vail and Beaver Creek's snowmaking water, has 2,400 acre-feet.
In Summit County, resort operators are not panicking - yet.
"We are as concerned as everybody as it has been a dry season," said Copper Mountain Resort spokesman Ben Friedland. "We feel confident we will have water. It's too early at this point to tell how much we're going to have access to."
Just last year, Copper Mountain unveiled its new snowmaking system, which used 14 percent less water and still allowed the resort to become the first in the nation to open.
Like Copper, Keystone relies in part on water stored in reservoirs, so the historic low flows of the Snake River don't cause too much alarm.
"Thankfully, we have a very efficient, state-of-the-art snowmaking system," said resort spokeswoman Dawn Doty.
At Arapahoe Basin, the prospect of no water means the resort may have to rely on Old Man Winter in hopes of a mid-November opening, just as it has in the past 50 years, Gentling said.
In 2001-02, Arapahoe Basin opened late and closed early due to a lack of snow. Skier visits at the resort plummeted 37 percent, the largest drop of any resort in the state.
Gentling said that despite seven years of legal fights to build a snowmaking system, the resort may not be as drastically affected as resorts that have grown accustomed to snowmaking.
Some resorts, however, are turning toward shamanism and other methods to hedge their bets. Both Vail and Durango Mountain Resort, for example, will continue cloud seeding.
"We will ask the local tribe to dance and we will make snow and we will pray for snow. We're going to cover all the bases," said Bob Kunkel, senior vice president at Durango Mountain Resort