Thursday, December 22, 2011

Do No Harm

First, do no harm... It's a long way from Hippocrates' Classical Athens to Captain James Tiberius Kirk's 23rd Century United Federation of Planets and The Prime Directive. Whether the founding of Western Democracy, or one of it's most fully realized Science Fiction futures, the Principal endures. As it should.

The quality of early season ski trails isn't a life and death issue the way medicine or a balky warp drive can be, but those trails are My Universe, and they do seem perilously frail, given the forecast outlook and skier interest.

This season's quiescent start to the water year is unlike any season I've experienced in my 30 years on My Mountain. KCRA3's Chief Meteorologist, Mark Finan cited the record books for his 11 O'clock News Tuesday night. Mark said in the past 100 years, 19 winters started in similar fashion. Of those 19, three finally finished above normal precipitation-wise.

From my memory, I would cite the 1990/1991 Season as most like this one. Californians will remember that winter for it's "March Miracle". The season ended with about normal precip after a slow start. I have a feeling that it was the 90/91 winter that was responsible for finally bringing snowmaking to Northern California.

So here we are tonight...My Mountain is running half of it's chairs, and one fourth of it's trails...all on 100% Man-Made Snow. The AFD's say clear weather for the foreseeable future. One side effect of the entrenched blocking high off the Pacific Coast are the Temperature Inversions plaguing the Tahoe Sierra snowmaking crews. Which brings us to last night.

I pulled into the shop parking lot at the usual hour. The compressor farm was running and there was a breeze coming from the East. I donned my slicker for the walk to the shop. This was an improvement over Sunday's shift...No wind Sunday=Inversion Layer=No Snowmaking Temps.

Snowmaking was marginal at midnight. Warmish for snowmaking, the fans and guns weren't pumping much water, hence not a lot of snow was being made. As the night continued, the breeze died down, and temps slowly rose from bottom to top (classic inversion profile) until my 2-Way crackled. Jeweler wanted my advice.

We met 10 minutes later. Jeweler was looking a little tortured, his shift was turning from bad to worse. He wanted an ally to help him justify the Shutdown Call. He made his case, and ran through his laundry list of increasing negatives. I stopped him before the bitter end. "Don't make rain" I told him. "Right" replied Jeweler. We discussed the options, and I reminded him of the Prime Directive, and said we can't afford to make a mistake we that can't recover from on that shift... making rain would be that worst case mistake. Crestfallen but slightly vindicated, Jeweler transmitted the decision to his crew and rumbled into the night.

Two and a half hours after the snowmakers went home, the east winds began to freshen and the temps plummeted into the teens. As I tiptoed about the trails, I ran through the inventory of my shifts since I started back on Friday night.

Thanks to the coordinated attack of our snowmakers and groomers, I'd watched the conditions improve every night until last night. Skier Visits are holding steady at around 1000/day. 1000 happy sliders is a lot of sharp edges scraping away our precious piste. Throw in some stiff east winds and that snowpack can shrink daily. At least we held our ground last night...we didn't improve from the previous night, but we forestalled any degradation.

So that in a nutshell is our mission for the rest of the year. Hold the line...improve wherever possible...don't make any unfixable errors, and those 1000 will tell their friends about the amazing conditions at My Mountain, and 1000 scrapers daily will come and enjoy our wares.

Looking as I always do at the remote sensors, there will be great temps tonight. The winds are up, hopefully they'll stay low enough to ward off the inversion and allow us to capitalize on what the Reno AFD says will be a couple of cold dry days.

We should do fine as long as the well doesn't run dry...but that's a story for another night

1 comment:

  1. Technology amazes me! Who would ever think of skiing on "man made snow"? Can it even be called snow as there are no real snowflakes with their individual characters fluttering down from the atmosphere? Does "man made" frozen h2o have the same characteristics as snowflakes?

    It's been 50 years since "technology" was used to connect continent to continent via a transatlantic cable. In 50 years the technology for communication has increased exponentially. Or has rambled out of control.

    Amazing what we can do with a click of a button or a swoosh of a finger.

    Would you have ever been inspired to write a column if your didn't have the convenience of the computer or the internet? What would our world be like without these tools?

    And, in only 15 years, we have gone from using e-mail to facing or twitting to communicate. E-mail has become obsolete for most communication transactions. Just like writing a letter.

    Wow! I guess the three generations of forgetfullness is now.