Snowmaking at Telluride Ski Resort

I find it a bit disturbing to see the extent to which snow making operations have been deployed and carried out at the Telluride Ski Area. In particular, Milk Run has been recently been pummeled with man made snow as seen above in a photo taken today. For perspective, those gondola cabins are about 6′ x 4′ x 5′ and hold up to eight adults. So, each of those giant mounds of snow are easily 10-20x the size of a gondola cabin. It looks like they’re getting close to mowing everything down with a cat.

I have seen the Telluride ski area promote “green activities”, and at one point (possibly still), they asked for contributions to be directed to energy “offsets” (purchasing of green power which has been generated by solar or wind elsewhere). While being “energy” conscious is certainly an admirable endeavor, it seems somewhat hypocritical in contrast to some of the on mountain activities such as the massive snow making campaigns currently underway. On one hand, the company is clearly engaged in high levels of energy consumption, and on the other we are being asked to “wash their hands” of such activities by purchasing offsets. This sort of practice seems to be akin to a very wealthy individual double parking at will – knowing that all parking tickets could be paid off without blinking an eye.

Getting back to snow making: Milk Run is definitely a sore spot with me. It was essentially hi-jacked from the public to become the official race venue of the ski area. It is now regularly groomed and is often closed to public access to allow exclusive use by competitors to practice or compete.

Milk Run is a very unique run at the Telluride ski resort; reflecting a moderate pitch, a high degree of sun exposure, and located at a relatively low elevation. This combination makes (or used make) for what are known as “hero bumps” in the spring time. Most other bump runs at Telluride are of a much steeper aspect. In the past, a top-to-bottom Milk Run -> Stumper or Riley’s would be a spring time afternoon must. Locals would be doing laps in March. Similarly, this is a great route to “mop up” on a powder day. It was definitely a gamble regarding whether Milk Run would hold enough snow early in the season to open. I think this year would’ve been a toss up (I’ve seen it open with just the center line to skier’s right being covered with skier’s left being grassy). Regardless, ever since the run was turned into a race course, it typically opens by the end of January. I’ve seen it open in early December.

So, in order to insure the official race venue is open, Telski apparently finds it necessary to pump as much man made snow as possible on this run. Fair enough, what’s done is done, but there’s clearly a better alternative: Coonskin. This run is of a very similar pitch & also lacks the double fall-line. More importantly, it suffers much less from direct sun exposure & will hold snow longer. If the Telluride ski resort were adamant about energy conservation practices, they’d move the race venue to Coonskin where it would require a fraction of the snow making effort currently underway on Milk Run. Sure, it would take some planning & approvals from the governing bodies which sanction racing, but I believe it’s a very doable thing. I’m sure the Telluride Freestyle team would LOVE to have the old Milk Run back and setup their old box (which was far less obtrusive than closing the entire run).

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