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Snowmaking & Water Rights

Blue River at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge Colorado

December 7, 2012

There have been some recent questions and comments regarding the use of water for snowmaking at Breckenridge Ski Resort, raised by a recent article in the Summit Daily. We’d like to take this opportunity to outline some facts and address some points made in the article.

The Blue River in Breckenridge is currently experiencing above-ground modest flows. We recognize that the historically low snowpack from last season, unusually dry weather this year, and the history of the Blue River itself are currently working together to create unusual conditions in the Blue.

Before the ski resort was founded in Breckenridge, the Blue River often saw low flows. As a result of the river being dredged up by  miners here in town, the river bed was disturbed and often caused the water table to drop beneath the porous riverbed. The river does not disappear when this happens, but continues to flow underground, coming back up above ground before draining eventually into Lake Dillon. Prior to Breck ever having snowmaking, it was not uncommon for the entire length of the river through town to visibly dry up in winter. In reality as the flow decreased in winter, the water simply disappeared from view deep into the dredge rock below before re-emerging.

The Town of Breckenridge, through their Blue River Reclamation Project, made significant improvements to the Blue River stream bed. One of these improvements was to install a liner under the river from the Maggie Pond to Ski Hill Road, keeping the water in the river channel and preventing it from just disappearing into the dredge rock. Areas North of Ski Hill Road have not had lining installed on the riverbed, and are thus still subject to the water table dropping beneath the riverbed.

 In order to ensure a successful winter tourism season, we owe it to our stakeholders to provide our guests a quality, consistent snow surface during the early ski season and thus, need to make snow. The Breckenridge Ski Resort is constantly monitoring streamflows at the Maggie Pond dam and the Highway 9 bridge gauge to make sure we are not impacting minimum stream flows which have been established to protect the Blue River. Our company has put significant effort and multiple resources into our water rights over the years, and we work directly with Troy Wineland, water commissioner for District 36 of the Blue River Basin, to ensure constant compliance to water regulations and to make sure the best interests of our community are being met while still being able to provide a quality guest experience on the mountain, which helps our community thrive. If you are interested in more information on stream flows in the Blue or any other river in the state, please visit the Colorado Division of Water Resources website .

Currently all of the water that the Breckenridge Snowmaking department is using comes from releases out of Goose Pasture Tarn. We release more water than is used for snowmaking, and if we weren’t, the Blue River would be running at an even lower level. It’s also important to note that at least 80% of the water we use to make snow returns to the Blue River and drainage basin as run-off in the Spring.

Breckenridge and our parent company, Vail Resorts, consider the environment to be one of our most important stakeholders (without a healthy ecosystem, mountain, and community we don't have anything), our environmental policies are incredibly stringent and our initiatives are designed to make a big, positive impact.

The truly most effective energy efficiencies we can make are our significant investment in low-energy snowguns. We have partnered with Xcel Energy, Holy Cross Energy and the Colorado Energy Office to help conduct the most extensive energy efficiency studies in the ski industry and implement best practices in snowmaking at our Colorado resorts.

Over the last several years, Vail Resorts has invested more than $4 million to upgrade the energy efficiency of our snowmaking systems in Colorado and save over 6 million kWh per year. We have more than 600 low-energy snowguns at our Colorado resorts as low-energy snowguns can make the same amount of snow using 20-40 percent less energy depending on weather.

Learn more about our dedication to the environment and sustainability at vailresortsecho.com

 -Breckenridge Ski Resort

Fish and Wildlife Habitat Protection

The BreckConnect Gondola was built in a manner to minimize impacts during construction, the Breckenridge Snowmaking department installed a fish ladder to improve fish habitat in Maggie Pond, and Breckenridge is developing a Mountain Drainage Plan to proactively improve water quality and prevent sediment loading from run-off.

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