Steamboat's VP of Resort Operations talks new terrain, new gondola and new snowmaking a month ahead of the resort's scheduled opening day.
Steamboat Resort is scheduled to open for the season in less than a month, kicking off a season that will see the resort boundary grow to include two new areas, the opening of the second leg of the Wild Blue Gondola and the addition snowmaking equipment in an area that has never had the ability to make snow before.
On Saturday, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. hosted an open house showing off some of the new additions for this season and answering some of the questions about how operations will change this season.
Steamboat Resort’s Vice President of Resort Operations Dave Hunter expanded on the on-mountain improvements, including what skiers and riders can expect from new terrain in Mahogany Ridge and Fish Creek Canyon.
What should skiers and riders expect from Mahogany Ridge and when could that terrain open?
Hunter said Mahogany Ridge is about 2,000 vertical feet of tree skiing and riding that only includes two cleared runs. One run called “Edge of the World” will occasionally be groomed as needed, but not on a nightly basis. The other cleared run is under the lift line and will not be groomed at all.
“The rest of that terrain is all gladed,” Hunter said. “It is for experts only and wherever you drop into Mahogany Ridge, skiers left of skiers right, it will funnel you back to the bottom of the lift.”
As for when it could open, Hunter said it all depends on the amount and quality of snow. He compared the terrain to what is in the Pony Express area and speculated that Mahogany Ridge could open around the same time as Pony. That said, in his seven years at Steamboat, Hunter said Pony has opened as early as Dec. 1 and as late as the end of January.
“Just looking at what Pony takes, Mahogany has very similar aspects as Pony does,” Hunter said. “It depends on what kind of snowpack we get early season. … Stats are stats, but Mother Nature is going to dictate all of this.”
How is the Fish Creek Canyon area different than Mahogany Ridge?
While Mahogany Ridge is considered expert terrain, Hunter emphasized that Fish Creek Canyon is considered extreme and presents skiers and riders with a variety of natural hazards such as cliff bands.
In addition to the way down being extreme, skiers and riders also need to make a 30- to 45-minute hike back out of the Fish Creek area to the bottom of the Mahogany Ridge Express lift.
“Guests just really need to understand what they’re getting into when they drop into that terrain,” Hunter said. “It’s very steep, shoot-style skiing.”
Hunter said there hasn’t been much tree removal at all from the Fish Creek area, though they are allowed to remove dead and down trees. This week, Hunter said there would be some aerial logging to clear a road that would be used by ski patrol to assist any injured skiers in that area.
There will also be marked gates into the Fish Creek Canyon area with a map showing where a skier is dropping in and how they will need to get out of the area. The new Fish Creek Canyon area is within the boundary of the resort.
“(Mahogany Ridge and Fish Creek Canyon) are two totally different experiences,” Hunter said.
How will the addition of the second leg of the Wild Blue Gondola impact congestion at lift lines across the mountain?
When the second leg of Steamboat’s Wild Blue Gondola opens this year, guests will be able to get to the top of the mountain in about 13 minutes, Hunter said. But unlike the Steamboat Gondola, no one will be using Wild Blue to ski laps. Instead, Wild Blue is more about transporting guests from one area of the mountain to the other.
Wild Blue could relieve congestion at other lifts toward the end of the day because more guests will choose to download on Wild Blue, Hunter said.
“You’re not going to see a dramatic difference (in lift lines),” Hunter said. “We’re just changing the way people are getting there. … They are going to spread out just like they do with the Steamboat Gondola.”
What does new snowmaking mean for opening day terrain and how will that equipment be deployed through the season?
New this year is snowmaking equipment in the Sunshine Peak area, which could change how Steamboat Resort is able to offer terrain on opening day, Hunter said.
Steamboat often experiences inversions, where there is colder air at lower elevations trapped below warmer air. When this is happening, it is ideal for existing snowmaking equipment on Christie Peak. But when these inversions don’t happen and the colder air is higher up on the mountain, Hunter said it becomes ideal to make snow in Sunshine.
Depending on the weather, Hunter said it was possible the resort could open without any terrain on Christie and use Wild Blue to get people into Sunshine.
“We have the ability to go up and make snow on Moonlight and Upper and Lower High Noon,” Hunter said. “If we’re able to get that complete and it’s too warm down here to do our normal opening day egress, then we fire Wild Blue up and open with that terrain.”
Hunter said not all the snowmaking was installed this summer, with some planned for Tomahawk needing to wait until next year. Because that area is in an elk calving closure, the resort couldn’t get in there until after July 1. The excavation needed for the new snowmaking isn’t a small task either, Hunter said.
This new snowmaking can be used to supplement Mother Nature all year too, Hunter said.
“Imagine it hasn’t snowed within a week and we’re just skiing and riding on corduroy and for first tracks you show up on West Side and you have talcum powder, perfect man-made snow three or four inches deep,” Hunter said. “With these new snow guns that we’re putting in, that is the kind of product we can put down and that will change the perception of snowmaking.”
How is First Tracks going to work this year?
Hunter said First Tracks this year will load off of the Wild Blue Gondola, which wouldn’t open to the public until 9 a.m. The Steamboat Gondola would still open at 8:30 a.m. as always, with a rope on Spur Run. This will make it difficult for anyone to get to the Sunshine area before 9:13 a.m., Hunter said, referencing the time it takes to ride Wild Blue to the top.
“You will unload right where you want to be and we don’t open this to the General Public until 9 a.m. to protect that experience,” Hunter said.