It’s a cold morning at Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area without a single cloud in the sky, but that doesn’t keep snow from piling up on the slopes. That’s thanks to a brand new SMI Super Polecat snow gun, blowing thousands of gallons of water into the freezing air.
“Since November First, we have used 800,000 gallons of water through the snowguns . . . so that’s enough to cover one acre of ground with a foot of snow,” says Director of Mountain Operations at Bogus Basin, Nate Shake.
According to Shake, an anonymous donation doubled the mountain’s snowmaking capacity this winter – from two snow guns to four.
But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the managers say they need, and what other Idaho resorts have, like Tamarack.
Brad Larsen took over as Tamarack’s general manager in May and turned on the snowmakers in October. The resort has 14 portable snow guns.
Larsen says Tamarack will turn 35 million gallons of water into snow this season – covering about a quarter of the resort’s ski runs.
“Tamarack could survive without it,” Larsen says, “but we’d be forced with a shorter season and that season is shrinking regardless due to changes we are seeing in our climate, so I think ski resorts in general without snowmaking systems are really in danger.”
Bogus recently launched a feasibility study that found out of 29 comparable resorts, it's the only one that doesn’t have full snowmaking capabilities. Right now, Bogus uses its snow guns for the tubing hill and the beginner lift.
According to Bogus Basin’s operations director, there are plans in the works for a full snowmaking system that would cover 120 acres of the mountain.
But those plans come with significant challenges.
For one, there’s the expense. Building the infrastructure for that large of a system would cost around $6.5 million, and revenues at Bogus Basin aren’t exactly high right now. According to Nate Shake, Bogus has seen a noticeable drop in season pass sales.
“A good year for season pass sales at Bogus is 20,000 passes plus. We sold 11,000 passes in our pre-season pass sale this year,” says Shake.
Then there’s the water. For the kind of snow coverage managers hope for, Bogus would need 10 million gallons, and a place to store it. Water rights could be an issue. Shake said he’ll have to take a closer look at that.
As for the storage, Bogus has less than three percent of what it needs.
“We run through our 250,000-gallon water supply, then we have to shut down so that we can make sure we have enough water to, you know, use the restrooms on the mountain,” Shake says.
Right now, Bogus Basin’s snowpack is well above normal, which is good news for the mountain. Shake says it’ll be a long process, but the plan is to get started this summer.
Though the snowpack looks promising as of right now, hydrologist Ron Abramovich with the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Boise says it’s too early to tell if Bogus will have a good snow year.
He says this year’s El Nino weather pattern could go either way for Bogus – bringing lots of strong storms, or not many at all.
Being a season pass holder at Bogus himself, Abramovich has this advice for his fellow skiers.
“More of our storms are coming in fewer, but bigger intensities. So if I were you, I wouldn’t wait for the second storm. I’d go skiing after the first storm hits us.”
But Shake doesn’t want to count on those storms. He admits finding the money to build a snowmaking system will be difficult, but he says it has to be a priority to keep the mountain viable.
“Late openings and marginal snow conditions definitely affect our season pass holders and our season pass sales, which is 80 percent of our revenues for the year, so we need to be able to give those folks a sustainable product and snowmaking will do that.”
For more local news, follow the KBSX newsroom on Twitter @KBSX915
Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio