Snowmaking Brings Spring Series To Craftsbury

Audrey ManganJuly 25, 20111

Holding elite level events, whether World Cup races, National Championships or just FIS points competitions, pose numerous challenges for organizers and National Governing Bodies in the US and Canada. Over the course of the summer FasterSkier will examine the various issues at hand. This is the second installment in the series; the first investigated homologation.

Out of necessity, major early and late season races are usually hosted by the few venues in North America that have semi-reliable snow in November and March. While alternating venues between the East and West for events like U.S. Nationals and the SuperTour Finals attempts to give skiers from all parts of the country the opportunity to participate in these races relatively close to home, viable options particularly in the East are often still difficult to get to.

The bid to host this year’s SuperTour Finals, however, wasn’t limited by who has enough natural snow at the end of March. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) confirmed on Thursday that the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom will be holding the event this winter, thanks in large part to its plans to be making snow by November.

A glance back at Spring Series venues over the past several years is enough to reveal how much the majority of the East can be counted on to have adequate snow coverage late in the season. Since 2007, the only two Eastern hosts have been Fort Kent/Madawaska and Presque Isle, ME.

The alternative to Craftsbury for 2012 was again Presque Isle. Before USSA had made the decision, then-Nordic Director John Farra granted that Craftsbury would have been “too much of a risk” without snowmaking. This past season they could have held the Finals in April, but just the year before had to cancel their spring mini-tour in mid-March.

“That’s the northeast for you,” said Farra.

But with work already underway at the Outdoor Center to have snowmaking ready for November, owner Dick Dreissigacker plans to extend the dependable season on both the front and tail end, with the goal of being open at Thanksgiving.

“The early season is actually tougher, which is where snowmaking is going to help a lot—perhaps enabling us to open a month earlier than usual,” said Dreissigacker. And by making snow early on, they will have a solid base to last them late into the spring.

In the model of European ski areas, Dreissigacker also plans to create a reserve pile of snow that can be spread on trails beyond the five kilometers that will be covered by snow guns.

Hosting the final stop on the SuperTour is a big responsibility, but the Outdoor Center has done its homework to ensure that they have enough coverage come March 24.

“We’ve been watching the techniques and methods they use over in Finland and Nova Mesto in Czech, where the World Junior Biathlon Champions were this year. We’ve studied the weather patterns and looked back at the snowfall records for this region,” said Dreissigacker.

They’ve also taken the environmental impact of snowmaking into great consideration, as one of the central missions of Craftsbury since it became a non-profit in 2008 is “to use and teach sustainable practices; and to protect and manage the surrounding land, lake and trails.”

“It doesn’t take nearly as much energy as we thought,” Dreissigacker said. He justifies the energy used to make snow by pointing to the gas that skiers will save by being able to ski closer to home both earlier and later in the season, adding that Craftsbury won’t be using nearly as much energy as a downhill resort would be to cover their trails.

The water required for artificial snow will be pumped from Craftsbury’s 150-acre lake, which Dreissigacker says will be minimally affected—he calculated that less than half an inch of water would come off the surface to cover five kilometers of trail.

Though several ski areas in the northeast have snowmaking capabilities, it takes more than a few kilometers of trail in March to be able to host a SuperTour race. A venue needs a capable organizing committee and the funds for prize money.

Additionally, races scored with International Ski Federation (FIS) points in the U.S. and Canada will have to take place on homologated courses this season, which includes the SuperTour and NorAms. Every summer since Craftsbury changed ownership in 2008, Dreissigacker says they have been widening their trails in preparation for meeting specifications.

“The wood chips are flying as portions of the trail are being widened and smoothed out with the excavator,” he said.

The upside to bringing snowmaking to Craftsbury extends beyond being able to confidently plan on hosting Spring Series. Dreissigacker hopes that opening in November will attract college teams that normally go to Mt. Ste. Anne for their Thanksgiving training camps. They will be able to more confidently host the first Eastern Cup of the season, which last year had to be partly moved to the Ethan Allen Biathlon Range in Jericho.

“I think northern Vermont in general is becoming a great place to Nordic ski,” said Dreissigacker. “Between Trapps, Jay Peak and Craftsbury, it’s a pretty good location to bring events. I’m excited about being able to use the Outdoor Center for more of the year and stretch out the season.”

Audrey Mangan

Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.

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One comment

  • Tim Kelley

    July 27, 2011 at 11:43 am

    FS: This series on the modern day challenges of staging USSA/FIS sanctioned ski races is interesting. But these articles are rather topical and anecdotal. How about some subjective reporting that other Nordic skiing clubs and organizations in North America could use? Like maybe investigate: How much, in general, does snowmaking cost per kilometer to install and operate? What are the ballpark figures per kilometer for getting courses to homologation standards? Once you have snow and an approved course, what is the average cost to put on a Super Tour race?

    Maybe take a few xc ski areas for example, that have never hosted a FIS sanctioned race, and show the estimated costs it would take to get these venues to USSA / FIS race standards. A few emails could probably get the needed information for such an article. For starters, what is the cost per kilometer for Craftsbury’s snowmaking and homologation upgrade?

    Such information would be a benefit for many FS readers that are involved in race organization. It could help them with decision making with their club’s direction on hosting future ski races. And it could lead to discussions of how much of this cost increase is environmental versus bureaucratically driven? How much has the cost of staging an FIS level race increased in the last 10-20 years? And do these additional required expenses to put on ski races help or hurt the sport?

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