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getting ready for snow at copper mountain.


The I-70 corridor," says Jim Spenst, vice president of operations at Copper Mountain, "is the most competitive place for skiing on the face of the earth." Such an environment demands that planning and preparation for the following ski season begin the day Copper Mountain closes in the spring.

This year, capital expenditures at the resort will be about $10 million, covering everything from the completion of a new village at the bottom of the mountain to equipment and fuel. Copper maintains 350 pieces of equipment, including dump trucks, snow cats, bulldozers and snowmobiles. All that machinery consumes 160,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 80,000 gallons of gasoline per year.

At the height of the ski season, Copper Mountain employs 1,800 workers. During the off-season, that number drops to 1,000, including 19 people in the maintenance shops; a team of four to set up snowmaking equipment; and 26 employees to repair, inspect and do the electrical work on 23 chair lifts.

Copper has 2,433 skiable acres on its 7,900-acre lease hold in the White River National Forest. Snowmaking commences on 380 acres of terrain in October, well before opening, scheduled for Nov. 4 this year. About 28 to 30 crew members work at snowmaking, while the grooming crew works two shifts a day to move the snow where it's needed or wanted.

"For the November 1999 World Cup race we had some of the very best snow in the United States," says Spenst. Of course, because the first third of the last year's ski season saw a spectacular lack of snow along the I-70 corridor, the science of snowmaking made a successful World Cup race possible.

Copper Mountain is laced with irrigation and compressed air pipes. Halfway up the mountain is a warehouse-sized building that houses all the controls necessary to make quality snow. Just outside the building are a couple of 1,200-horsepower, industrial-sized air compressors, used to move air through hoses around the mountain. There are air and water hydrants all over the mountain.

Water and air are not simply mixed to make snow, "The water temperature has to be just so, and the air also has to be the right temperature," says Spenst. Most of the water used for snowmaking is drawn from water rights on Ten Mile Creek. Stored in a holding reservoir at the base of the mountain, it is pumped up to the level where snow is made. "The pumping friction heats the water," says Spenst, "So we have to use chillers to cool it down.

"The snow surface is our product," he adds, "the reason people come to the mountain in the first place." Her should know. Spenst, entering his 27th winter as a Copper employee, skis 100 to 130 days a year.

Of course, there's more to a ski area than snow. Copper's ski lifts sport some 27 miles, or 142,000 feet, of cable. "Cable stretches when used," says Spenst. Crews spend time replacing cable as necessary and need to inspect every inch of it for breaks. Preparing for the season also involves cutting trees, pulling stumps, grading the wheel assemblies on lift towers, repairing motors, constructing signs and burning the slash that remains from cut trees, either after the first snow or when air conditions are right.

Copper Mountain, which does about $60 million in business per year, is owned by Intrawest Corp., based in Vancouver, British Columbia. The company owns a number of ski and golf resorts in Canada and the United States as well as a stake in Compagnie des Alpes in Europe, the largest ski company in the world in terms of skier visits.
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Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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