A wave of warm weather will likely prevent snow production at the Howelsen Hill ski area for a week or more; however, teams from the Town of Steamboat Springs and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club put in hard working hours preparing the historic ski trail for winter.
If you take a closer look, the dark green plastic covered ski jumps are a little different. Above the plastic, which allows athletes to use the jumps in the summer, is a thick blue nylon mesh. The nets are anchored to the jump with nylon straps which hide under the plastic material all summer. During a busy day, volunteers, coaches and athletes set the nets on the HS 75 and HS 45 jumps and secure them.
The net gives snow, artificial or natural, a place to hang on rather than sliding on the slippery surface. A safety wall on the westernmost jump has also been removed, allowing crews to build small jumps for young athletes on the hill next to the jumps.
With the nets in place, athletes cannot jump until the snow falls, and the jumps and in-runs are packed and ready for the winter jump. Maybe it could be in a month.
“We’re trying to find that sweet spot and reduce the amount of time we can’t jump,” said Todd Wilson, SSWSC Nordic Combined Program Director. “The time between our last plastic jumps and our first snow jumps, we try to reduce the gap as much as possible. Once the athletes don’t play their sport for a month, three, four weeks, it’s more difficult. Then it’s a slower build-up. Like anything athletic, once you don’t do it regularly you start to lose it.
There’s also an all-new HS8 in the works alongside the Magic Carpet. For years the smaller jump had been built with snow, but it took days of snowfall to build up the volume needed to build the entrance runway and airstrip. Now the perfect outline has been built with dirt, so it only takes a few inches of wet, packed snow to complete the jump.
Next spring, the springboard will be covered with the same plastic as the large springboards open all year round, allowing young athletes to train during the summer.
Once snow cannons or a storm blanket the jump, volunteers or a winch cat – a groomer attached to a winch at the top of the hill – will pack the snow to create a solid surface for the jumpers to land on. There is a 2 × 6 panel along the safety wall 18 inches from the surface of the plastic.
“It’s like building a sidewalk. We pack wet snow and (even) remove it perfectly, hopefully before it sets in, ”Wilson said. “Then it sets in and you have a nice hard surface for the rest of the year. “
On Friday, a trio of Nordic combined coaches gathered to take down the sprinkler system that wets plastic before it is used in the summer and stack the removed safety panels. Another job is to work with the city to set up snow cannons in ideal locations, so that when the weather permits snowmaking can continue without a hitch.
A lot of little things
Part-time municipal staff will start work on November 1, but the year-round staff have been working hard to get everything ready. Howelsen Hill Ski Area Supervisor Robbie Shine and Employee Ben Glassmeyer have installed snowmaking equipment in high priority areas, which they are helping to determine with the SSWSC.
Before officially making snow, the system is rinsed and tested.
“The standing water that is in the pipes, it will be rust colored water,” said Brad Setter, Howelsen Hill and rodeo manager. “We don’t want rust-colored snow so we dump them all. “
The Face is the highest priority for snow coverage, but other great locations are the Nordic tracks in the lift loading and unloading areas, the rodeo grounds, the jump complex and the base area.
Mainly, they form large piles near the base and then push the snow where it is needed. Hopefully the natural snow will accumulate before the opening date of November 27th.
The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board performs a preseason inspection on the elevators and the Poma seats are replaced.
“Most years we remove one third to one half of the hangers. This year we took them all off, ”Setter said. “We have rebuilt a lot of them. … We have a new mechanic this year. He took them all out, examined them all, painted them and rebuilt them. “
Staff also performed basic electrical work on the new elevator. So when an electrician comes to finish the job, some of the more tedious work has already been done.
The grass was cut and the trees and shrubs were pruned. Panels have been installed, this work is mainly cosmetic but still takes time and makes the first weeks of winter much milder.
Now all that’s missing is snow.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.