In 1976, Winter Park became one of Colorado’s first resorts to use snowmaking. The tool is credited with saving the resort during one of the driest winters ever seen in the region. Winter Park’s snowmaking infrastructure now covers 300 acres across the resort.
Bob Dart and his team run their snowmaking operations from the second week in October until the end of December. 28 degrees Fahrenheit is the magic number that allows their guns to make water into snow. Dart’s eight employees, many of whom boast 20 years of seniority, work 24-7 shifts during peak snowmaking times to earn their season pass.
“Our goal is to make snow as quickly as possible and have enough coverage to last all season in the high traffic areas.” –Bob Dart, Winter Park Mountain Maintenance Director
Winter Park’s total water consumption last year was 72 million gallons or around 220 acre feet of water. Most of this is pumped from the Vasquez Canal and returned to the canal when it melts at the end of the season. Through a series of agreements, including the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Winter Park has an annual allotment of 550 acre-feet of water from Denver Water to use for snowmaking as long as all return flows can be returned to or recaptured by Denver Water’s collection system. This water is primarily reservoir yield from the Clinton Reservoir. Dart explains, “As long as I have three inches of water in the canals, we can pump at least 1000 gallons/minute.” 20% of the water is lost to evaporation but for the most part, the system is closed- what they take they return. The only situation in which Winter Park cannot use its full allotment of water for snowmaking, is in the event that Green Mountain and Dillon Reservoirs do not fill.
The primary concern for the resort right now, and an issue Bill Baum, General Counsel for Intrawest Colorado (which manages Winter Park), has spent countless hours addressing, is that of the Federal Ski Area Water Rights Directive. This Directive, issued in 2011, required ski areas applying for a permit to utilize Forest Service land, to assign or convey water rights to the Forest Service. The Directive conflicts with Colorado’s Prior Appropriation system as it requires that private water rights be handed over to the federal government without just compensation. Since these water rights are proven so crucial to maintaining the recreational and economic benefits of skiing in Colorado, this is an important and ongoing issue.
Supported by the Colorado Water Congress, Colorado State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg is sponsoring a 2015 bill (SB15-064), which would develop certain protections for ski area water rights against these federal taking claims. The bill was drafted and is primarily represented by the Boulder-based water law firm Porzak, Browning and Bushong LLP. To learn more about SB15-064 please CLICK HERE.
This post was written as a summary of the tour and presentations during the Colorado Water Congress Professional Outreach Netowrking and Development (POND) Committee’s 2015 Ski Day at Winter Park. For more information on the Colorado Water Congress and its upcoming events, please visit: www.cowatercongress.org.