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Purgatory Resort boosts snowmaking operations

New fan guns replacing less efficient equipment
A snowmaking crew member checks snow guns at Purgatory Resort on Thursday. Crews are working through cold nights and mornings making snow as the resort prepares for a scheduled Nov. 21 opening.

Purgatory Resort has bolstered its snowmaking this year with the addition of six fan guns that more than double the amount of artificial snow that can be produced compared with older snowmaking devices.

Twelve fan guns are now in operation at Purgatory, in addition to the use of older models of land guns, said Purgatory General Manger Dave Rathbun.

The resort, which is scheduled to open Nov. 21, covers 250 acres of terrain with snowmaking.

Fan guns, which can run from $35,000 to $45,000 each, can produce snow from about 100 gallons of water per minute compared with land guns that could produce snow from about 20 to 40 gallons of water per minute, Rathbun said.

Sam Williams, director of mountain operations at Purgatory Resort, boards a snowcat to groom trails Thursday morning at the ski resort. The mountain received 20 inches of snow from storms in early November, and crews are busy making snow on 250 acres.

“It’s not been a super cold start to the year, but it’s been cold enough. And with that added firepower, we’re looking great,” Rathbun said. “We had a three-day stretch during the cold snap when we were able to pump more water in 72 hours and made more snow than we ever have before.”

The fan guns have nozzles covering about 3½ feet in diameter to produce snow, compared with land guns that have nozzles covering about 8 inches in diameter, Rathbun said.

Fan guns also have their own on-board air compressor compared with the land guns that had to be connected by pipes to a compressor station near U.S. Highway 550, Rathbun said.

“These new fan guns – where all you’re doing is putting the water through them and they don’t require the compressed air coming from over a mile away through a steel pipe – are so much more efficient,” he said.

On Friday, San Juan Basin Public Health gave approval to Purgatory’s plan to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan is now under review by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Sam Williams, director of mountain operations at Purgatory Resort, drives a snowcat while grooming snow Thursday morning at the ski resort.

Given Purgatory’s bolstered snowmaking capacity, Rathbun said his biggest concern about welcoming skiers by Nov. 21 wasn’t the warm weather and dearth of snow. Instead, he said, the big concern was whether the resort would receive OKs from local and state health officials in time to open.

As part of an update to its master plan, Rathbun said snowmaking will be examined to see if it can be done more efficiently and if it can cover more terrain.

Snowmaking is underway early Thursday morning at Purgatory Resort. Aided by colder temperatures, snowmaking crews are working nights and mornings on the mountain.

“You enter these master plan processes not with a lot of fixed ideas, but you go assess where you’re at, and where you could be, and then that will guide you in planning for the future,” he said.

Despite the lack of precipitation this year, Rathbun said the resort’s snowmaking pond is expected to provide adequate water for snowmaking.

If a long-term spell of cold weather hits, it might lower the stream flow in Cascade Creek, where the water recharge comes from, Rathbun said. However, any extended cold period would likely be accompanied with snowstorms as well.

Snowmaking crews were busy early Thursday at Purgatory Resort.

When the spring melt arrives, Rathbun said studies show 80% of water used to make the artificial snow will be released as runoff.

“All we’re doing is storing the water in the form of snow,” he said. “Frankly, having that water stored instead of just running through the system all season long when people like ranchers and farmers can’t use it, is a benefit.”

parmijo@durangoherald.com

Snowmaking is underway early Thursday morning at Purgatory Resort. Aided by colder temperatures, snowmaking crews are working nights and mornings on the mountain.
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