There have been a lot of rumors floating around about snowmaking at Squaw. I’ve heard most of them and believe it or not they weren’t even started by Unofficial. Water cooler conversations, office gossip, chairlift chatter, locker room low downs, from pubs to ski shops, everyone seems to have some inkling that Squaw is running out of water to make snow. But good for us it’s just not accurate.
It’s no wonder everbody’s got their powder straps in a bunch. This winter is as dry as a whistle for much of the lower 48 (Tahoe in particular) and waking up every morning to check the 10 day forecast has been about as encouraging as a stroll to the horizon.
All the other Junuary drudgery aside, a little good news is that the rumors about Squaw running out of water and shutting down until it snows are only rumors. Squaw still has water and temps at night have remained cold enough to make snow daily at the base of the mountain.
The pond that supplies water for the lower mountain snowmaking operations is on the golf course just below the Resort at Squaw Creek chairlift. It’s also the same pond used to feed a portion of the golf course sprinkler systems. Squaw does not use the Searchlight pond for snowmaking, and the Gold Coast pond is used to supply water to the upper mountain snowmaking and non-potable water for the Gold Coast Lodge. The Gold Coast reservoir is also connected to the lower mountain system and could be used to make snow there if needed.
There are some leaks in the dam at the Gold Coast Pond. It will need to be replaced, probably next summer. The installation of a new pump and some maintenance on the dam at the upper mountain Gold Coast pond were partly responsible for some rumors about snowmaking water issues, but Squaw hasn’t even used water from that reservoir for snowmaking yet this year.
There are a couple of large tanks buried below the snowmaking pump facility located near the old Red Dog chairlift base. Water is pumped from the golf course pond into these tanks and then distributed to the snowmaking guns. After they finish blowing snow in the morning, water is pumped from 1 of 4 wells owned by the ski resort to replenish water levels in the golf course pond. The available water for snowmaking is actually limited by the rate at which water can be pumped from the aquifer to replace the water used from the golf course pond.
The level in the pond is certainly lower right now than it would be during Spring and early Summer. It is a good time to go collect a stash of golf balls at the moment, but Squaw is not on the verge of shutting down their snowmaking operations. There was a period in early December during which Squaw did not operate %100 of their snow guns because they were not able to pump water fast enough from their wells to replace water used from the Golf Course pond. I’m not going to get into a conversation about well drawdown in an unconfined aquifer, but a lot of things can effect pump rates and recharge.
Squaw has used roughly 28,400,000 gallons of water for snow making to date this season, about 14,000,000 more than last year. They’ve done a great job of maintaining a decent snowpack on the runs that are open considering the circumstances.
To make snow you need a wet bulb temperature of about 26° F in order to seed crystallization. After that you can run the guns into somewhat higher temperatures because the pressures and velocities within the snow gun can create a bit of a climate bubble even after the ambient temps warm up. That’s part of the reason why guns are started early in the morning when it’s coldest, but can then run for a while even after the sun comes out and it warms up a bit.
With the inversion temperatures we’ve seen in recent weeks it’s been on the bubble at the base but too warm to make snow higher up. I’m pretty sure Wednesday was a record high for Truckee in January at 63° F. Squaw is currently looking to start making some snow on the Mountain Run now that temps are dropping somewhat and we still don’t see any big dumps in the extended forecast.
I haven’t had a chance to check the monitoring wells in the valley so I can’t speak much to the levels of the aquifer, but it would be interesting to see how the additional snowmaking relates to the water consumption of the valley at large. Sadly, I’ll bet there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of water used for snowmaking and the amount of showers and toilet flushes in Squaw right now. Hopefully, once it snows they’ll shut down the snow guns and use that water for the important things at a ski resort, like wet T-shirt contests and post apre hot tub flushes… and village development planning.