Mount Snow's West Lake snowmaking project kicks off

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DOVER >> Grabbing a shovel Friday afternoon, Gov. Peter Shumlin sent Mount Snow's latest snowmaking project into high gear.

"We are seeing more investment in our mountains," Shumlin said. "It all means jobs, out-of-staters coming to Vermont and falling in love, realizing they came to the promised land and wanting to stay here and wanting to raise their families and create more jobs."

The West Lake project is expected to enhance snowmaking operations. The new pond will make it possible to cover more trails with snow earlier in the season.

"The big deal is that this $30 million means this mountain prospers in a climate change environment," said Shumlin. "That is huge for the (Deerfield) Valley."

The project was made possible through the EB-5 program. According to the state, it's a federal investment visa program run by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services with a goal to incentivize investment and create American jobs by setting aside visa green cards for foreign investors putting money into approved projects.

"We think with the completion of the West Lake project, Mount Snow's success will continue for many future generations. This sets us up for a long time," said Dick Deutsch, a Peak Resorts partner. "Having this project done will allow us to store six times the amount of water that we currently store right now."

When the resort opens in mid-November, he said, usually 7 to 10 percent of its trails with snowmaking are open. With the right conditions, the hope is to bump that number up to 50 percent then have 100 percent open by Christmas time.

According to Mount Snow, this upgrade began last summer when 645 new low-energy snow guns were installed. This summer's excavation will lead to the creation of West Lake, a 120 million gallon body of water, which will assist in nearly doubling the output of the snowmaking system.

The property is off Cold Brook Road, and West Lake will be located approximately one mile from the road. An access road currently being used will be replaced with smaller ATV trails for personnel only.

Land clearing at the site began in February. A custom excavator is being used with GPS capabilities, making cutting more efficient. Large machinery was shipped in pieces.

The pond required approximately 370,000 yards of space. And state officials had to make sure its construction would limit damage to wildlife habitat and wetlands. Compared to nearby snowmaking ponds, West Lake will be just slightly smaller.

Different alternatives for improving the resort's water situation were studied over the years. But the West Lake option turned out to be the most sound plan.

"I've been working with Mount Snow for about the last 20 years to come up with a viable solution for meeting the snowmaking water needs at the resort," said chief environmental consultant Jeff Nelson, of the South Burlington office of VHB. "Right now, the resort is served by a system that's insufficient in terms of the water it provides. And it also doesn't meet current day environmental standards as far as protecting natural stream flows."

The project, which involves a new in-take on Cold Brook, a 120 million gallon off-stream reservoir and new pump houses, will allow Mount Snow to secure sufficient water to enable reliable snowmaking operations, Nelson said. Additionally, it will allow for the full restoration of stream flows on the north branch of the Deerfield River.

"We all experienced Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. During the storm, there was some damage done to Cold Brook and this area and Mount Snow really led an effort to work with the Agency of Natural Resources in Vermont and the U.S.A. Corps of Engineers to develop a restoration plan that could be implemented in concert with the construction of this project," Nelson said. "It's been a long road and we're very happy to see the project under construction."

The project entails cutting 30 feet into land where 2 or 3 feet has already been cut out. That material will be moved to restore other areas. Officials also are looking into putting solar panels near a dam being built at the site.

A pump house on Cold Brook Road will withdraw and fill the pond. At the same time, the facility will be able to transfer water to Carinthia, a face of Mount Snow where another pump house is located.

Approximately 10,000 feet of existing 18 inch pipe will be upgraded to 24 inch pipe. Installing it will be the last part of the project, which is expected to take two years altogether. If all goes well, the pond could be substantially completed by October.

The resort will become completely dependent on Cold Brook for its snowmaking. Previously, it relied mostly on Snow Lake while Mirror Lake also supplied some water. The latter body of water is the primary snowmaking source for the Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain.

Swimming at West Lake will not be allowed due to permit conditions.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@benningtonbanner.com or 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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