A snowmaking system would have generated more than $1 million in additional revenue for Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area last season, general manager Brad Wilson said.
It’s winters like those that make spending more than $5 million on the system the non-profit ski area is installing right now seem more like a necessity than a luxury. Last season, Bogus didn’t open till Dec. 26, was forced to close for four days because of deteriorating conditions — its first mid-season closure in 41 years — and experienced poor conditions for much of January.
“Our goal is to be open by the middle of December every year so we have a week or so before the Christmas/New Year’s holidays to get all the employees ready to go,” Wilson said. “Really the reason for the snowmaking is we can’t afford to miss that holiday.”
Here are some questions and answers about the new snowmaking system. Wilson provided us a tour of the construction last week.
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Q: Where is Bogus Basin getting the water?
A: Bogus officials looked into snowmaking in the 1990s, Wilson said, but it was determined that there wasn’t enough water available through wells. Shortly after he got the job in 2015, Wilson was approached by avid skier and Boise-based water rights attorney Chris Bromley with a solution: Take the water out of Bogus Creek, which is the route the ski area’s melted snow takes to, eventually, the Payette River. The creek is in a culvert through the base area.
Water rights are still available for the Payette River. That’s not the case for the Boise River, which is where the snowmelt goes from the Pine Creek area on the back side of Bogus Basin.
Bromley and a water engineer placed a measuring device on Bogus Creek that showed water was available.
“There’s always water flowing — you can see it, you can hear it,” Bromley said. “That was the idea — that there is water, but you’re not going to find it in a well.”
Bogus Basin can primarily collect water from Nov. 16 to March 31 through an agreement with a senior water user. But it also can take water in the spring when flows are strong and has a limited water right the rest of the year, Bromley said.
Q: How is the water stored?
A: Crews are building a reservoir on the southern end of Bogus Basin’s one square mile of private property, just north of the Eastside hiking/biking trail. There’s also a pump house under construction at the bottom of the Stadium trail in the Nordic system.
The reservoir will hold 13 million gallons of water (or 42 acre feet) with a liner and dirt dam to retain the water. Bogus Creek will run around the reservoir, with water diverted into the reservoir as needed and available. The reservoir is expected to lose 4.7 acre feet to evaporation during the offseason but Bogus has the right to enough water to keep it topped off, Wilson said. Bogus Creek runs year-round.
Shafer Butte produces an estimated 500 acre feet of runoff per year, so there should be plenty of water for the ski area’s needs, Wilson said.
But don’t expect “Bogus Basin Lake” to become the next feature of the recreation area. It has incredibly steep, 50-foot walls and will be fenced off.
Q: Where will the snow go?
A: Bogus Basin, which funded this project primarily through a fund-raising campaign, has collected a fleet of 24 snowguns. Hydrants, which have a water faucet and power supply, have been placed about 300 feet apart along the Upper Ridge and Lower Ridge runs on the Deer Point portion of the ski area; along Coach’s Corner, the beginner run; along Silver Queen and Lulu on the Morning Star section; throughout the base area extending to the base of Showcase lift; and at the tubing hill.
About 3 1/2 miles of pipe feeds water into the system, with two 400-horsepower pumps doing the pushing. That’s enough water supply to make snow on one run at a time. All 24 guns can run at once and then be moved to another location. The guns also can be operated hundreds of feet from the hydrants, which will allow Bogus to make snow in some other locations — such as the Bowl — after the primary runs are open.
The plan is to focus on getting Coach’s Corner, the base area and the tubing hill open by Thanksgiving. The snowguns then would move to Deer Point and Morning Star. Machine-made snow also can be utilized in some areas where the staff knows the snow tends to wear off during the season to provide a longer-lasting base.
Q: When will snowmaking start?
A: That’s tricky this year because there has to be enough precipitation to at least partially fill the reservoir. But in general, Bogus will be ready to start making snow at the beginning of November.
Q: How is the snow distributed?
A: The snowguns will be used to create long piles, 10 to 15 feet high, called “snow whales” — in shady spots when possible. The snow will be stored that way until it’s time to open.
“It limits the surface area of the snow, so you have a huge volume with little surface area,” Wilson said. “... When you’re ready to open, you bring the snowcats and push that out like frosting on a cake. ... You get a shell on it and then you open it up and it’s this beautiful packed, powder snow in the middle.”
Q: How long will it take to get a run open?
A: It will take about 50 hours of snowmaking to open Ridge top to bottom. Snowmaking depends on the right combination of cold temperatures and humidity, which usually occurs at night — particularly early in the season. So Ridge probably is a three- to five-day project.
The Bogus system is automated. The snowguns can be programmed to turn on when conditions are right and turn off when the window has closed.
“Typically we’ll be making snow eight to 10 hours a night,” Wilson said.
Q: In an average year, when should Bogus open?
A: Last year, Bogus could have had top-to-bottom skiing the first weekend in December, Wilson said. The goal is mid-December.
Q: Will the snowmaking system be expanded?
A: It’s built for expansion but there’s no timetable for that. The system has room for two more water pumps, which would allow for making snow on two trails at a time. The expansion would include purchasing 24 more snowguns with hydrants on the Showcase run on Deer Point and likely another run on Morning Star.
The project likely would cost less than half of this one, but Bogus has other needs. A new Morning Star chairlift is the most common customer request, Wilson said.
There is a limit to how much the system can expand, too. Bogus Creek won’t refill the reservoir in winter as fast as Bogus Basin is drawing from it.
Q: How much water will Bogus Basin use?
A: Most of the water used for snowmaking will go back into the reservoir or the Payette River system. However, about 15-20 percent of the water used for snowmaking is lost to evaporation, Wilson said.
“What Bogus is doing through snowmaking is actually enhancing the watershed by putting snow up on the hill that will melt off during the spring and summer at a time that downstream irrigators can actually use it,” Bromley said. “The water Bogus is capturing is water that was not going to be used by anybody.”
A big summer for Bogus
Bogus Basin will generate about $1 million in revenue from the 2018 summer, Wilson said, to make it the ski area’s first profitable summer. Labor Day was the busiest weekend of the summer.
He hopes to add an aerial adventure course in the trees across Bogus Basin Road from the base area as soon as next summer. A zipline course is in the planning stages but is at least a couple years away, he said.