When skiers and riders in Summit County woke up to an unexpected powder bonus day in early December, few of them realized that the fresh fluff may have been enhanced by five new cloud-seeding generators installed recently to boost snowfall at Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin.
The three resorts pitched in $75,000 this year to set up and operate the new stations, and so far, it seems to be working. All the Summit County areas were able to open plenty of terrain with good snow cover in time for Thanksgiving.
"Our precipitation is about 125 percent above average so far this season," said Breckenridge weather watcher Rick Bly, who has been tallying snowfall and rain totals for the National Weather Service for several decades now. "I'm sure it has value. The thing I've noticed the last few years is that, when we get moisture, it's copious but not as frequent. If that's the pattern, then seeding could be effective," Bly said.
"For whatever reason, Vail has always seemed to do better. If cloud-seeding is the reason, then I welcome it here," said long-time Frisco skier Tom Castrigno, who runs a mobile chef and catering service for visiting tourists. (http://amobilechef.com/) "This last storm cycle wasn't predicted to do much. It didn't look like there was a whole lot of moisture, so if we can squeeze it out, that's great."
Cloud seeding is nothing new. Water districts across the West have long been attempting to increase their yields, and Vail has been at for more than 30 years. A recent study of Vail's efforts suggest that cloud seeding has consistently increased snowfall by about 15 percent. That research encouraged the Summit County areas to get into the game this season, and also is part of Colorado's wider efforts to increase snowfall regionally.
Winter Park has also been involved in seeding the past few years, and this season, a pair of new high-elevation generators that can seed the clouds more effectively could come into play when weather conditions are right. The Colorado Water Conservation Board oversees the program and helps water districts with grant funding that comes from oil and gas drilling — not from general taxpayer revenues.
The state's focus is to try and encourage the installation of the best equipment possible, and to use good science to steer the program, said Joe Busto, head of Colorado Water Conservation Board’s weather modification program.
Cloud-seeding works on the simple concept of adding more particles to the atmosphere. The silver iodide works well because its structure is conducive to snow crystal formation. Durango-based Western Weather Consultants operates the equipment and placed the new generators strategically around Summit County to take advantage of different weather patterns.
“We see this as a great opportunity to collaborate with Denver Water to enhance the snowpack for both our guests and the community. We plan to work closely with both Denver Water and Western Weather throughout the winter to try to analyze and understand the effectiveness of this program,” said Breckenridge ski resort spokesperson Kristen Petitt.