Pictures of Blue Knob's snowmaking ponds
August 15, 2005
Here are a few pictures (taken July 17 and 19, 2005) of the snowmaking ponds at Blue Knob. The link is: http://community.webshots.com/album/401249160neQZoP
In my opinion, the new snowmaking lake (under construction) does not appear to be a well planned professional project. I asked BK State Park and the construction contractor where the water is going to come from, both stated that they simply weren't sure where the water is going to come from or if there will be enough water. I believe that this new lake is likely to fail, which would be a huge waste and abuse of PA State Park land.
Mountain Masher: I appreciate your passion for the environment but DCSki is not a forum you can use to continually criticize Blue Knob. I have no way to verify whether the statements you are making are accurate or not.
If you are going to make claims such as the ones in your message -- that you spoke to the "construction contractor" and they said they weren't sure if there would be enough water or where it would come from, I would like to know the specific name of the contractor or State Park official you spoke to. What is their name? Are they willing to state it on the record? If so, that's newsworthy. If not, it's potential slander. Maybe you just spoke with a bulldozer operator who has no knowledge of the overall plan. How would we know? As others (some with practical engineering experience in this area) have pointed out, it seems inconceivable that Blue Knob would be spending tons of money building a new, ineffective lake.
In one of your linked photos, you include the caption "what appears to be meaningless digging, just uphill from lake basin." Meaningless digging? Why on earth would a contractor be performing meaningless digging? Did you ask the contractor whether that digging was meaningless? Do you have practical experience building ponds and dams to know that the digging is meaningless? Will some expert state that the digging is meaningless on the record?
I'm sorry if I'm being harsh, but I want DCSki to be an objective source of information and not a place for any one individual to promote a personal agenda. If a resort is doing something good or bad, I'm happy to report the facts, but only if I can independently verify it and get experts to go on the record.
I've cautioned you on this in the past. And please don't use my message as an invitation to reiterate all of your points. We've heard them. If you want to follow up on this discussion, please send me an e-mail. I don't have a problem with you linking to photos you've taken -- we all find the photos interesting -- but my concern is the accusatory statements you continuously make that we have no way of verifying.
Scott, I might add that BEFORE posting the pictures of the ponds at Blue Knob, I e-mailed them to several knowledgeable people for comment, including: my brother who is an AIA architect and owns an architecture firm in Harrisonburg, VA and is an active skier/masters racer (my brother has done architecture work for ski areas, including Massanutten and Bryce), a friend who is a reputable environmentalist (with the Sierra Club) from Johnstown, PA and who (sometime ago) wrote an editorial on the new Blue Knob lake in the Johnstown paper, the Tribune Democrat and a friend who owns a bulldozing/earth-moving company in VA.
Regarding my statement (in the caption below one of my pictures) about the digging, remember the KEY word here is "appears". In effect, all I'm saying is that the digging (in that area above the pond basin) APPEARS to be meaningless to (me). Also, I tried to qualify several statements in my post above. In the space of a rather short paragraph, I was careful to use the following phrases and words: "In my opinion", "I believe", "likely" and "appear".
Aside from the environment, my post is important (to skiing) because it pertains to how much water BK may (or may not have) for snowmaking this winter. At present, BK has (as shown in my pictures) one snowmaking pond that is dry, one pond that is 2/3 full and one large pond that is under construction.
I am sorry but I have to say something about the "dry" pond that you claim it to be. In the picture, there is a waterpump pumping out the water out of the pond.
Not true SeaRide. What appears to be a waterpump (to pump water out of the nearly dry pond) is actually a water-fountain pump. This pump is used to make the pond look more attractive in the Summer (provided there's water in it) and is used to help keep the surface of the pond from freezing completely over in the Winter. If you look at the surface of the large pond (Lake Tahoe) at the top of 7-Springs, you will see many water-fountains operated by such pumps. NO water is being (or has been) pumped out of the BK pond shown in the picture.
First off thanks for the pictures as always I enjoy seeing what our local ski areas are up to and the effort to provide those pictures is very appreciated. However I have to wonder about some of the statements you have made on in the comments of these pictures. One statement you make is that the dam appears to be constructed entirely of lose shale. I find it hard to believe that BK would spend so much money on this lake only to make the dam out of lose rock that wouldn't hold any water. I am no expert on dam construction but I do know earthen dams are made from many different layers. If I remember correctly they use some kind of clay or the water impermeable layer in the middle and then loser rocks and soil for the outer layers of the dam to provide strength. From you pictures I can see that you can only see the outer most parts of the dam so how do you know that it is constructed entirely of shale. In fact your first pic shows another layer of the dam that has partially been placed over the shale. As for the "meaningless digging" above the dam I would think this could be accounted for by several scenarios. Isn't it possible that they use the materials there in the construction of the lake? Also they would have to install some water pipes above the dam to take the water up the mountain.
For the record I think this lake is a great improvement for BK. This will address the main problem BK has had with their skiing. The biggest problem BK has is its lack of snowmaking. This causes them to be one of the last resorts to open up their terrain and the icy conditions BK is famous for. I am wondering if anyone knows how much BK snowmaking capacity will increase as a result of the new lake. Will this lake pump water straight to the guns or will it be used as a holding pond that just transfers water to the other lakes as they need it.
I would think even if the lakes leak some water BK could fill this big lake a few months before the season and have a substantial increase in snowmaking water available at the top of the mountain. If we assume one of the reasons BK takes so long to open terrain is its limited water supply then I think the new lake will allow them to make more snow earlyier in the season. If BK only has enough water to say open the upper mountain before they run out and then they have to wait to build up a water supply again before they can open up more terrain then the new lake would have the ability to store more water and as a result open more terrain early in the season. I don't know if that is the current scenario BK has I am just working off of MM assertion that the water supply can not support the three lakes.
Also in the empty lake it looks to me like there is a pump to take water out not a pump for a fountain. I say this because I can see there is a hose leading up and out of the lake. Also I can find no sign of a fountain head in the lake. If the lake just dried up then I would think we would be able to see the fountain head.
Thanks shearer519, I'm glad that you appreciated the pictures. But, trust me, the pump shown in the picture (of the nearly dry pond) IS a fountain (and water aeration) pump, NOT a pump to drain the pond. The pump and fountain nozzle (which is very small) are designed to float upward as the pond level rises (note the objects in the photo that resemble tiny inner-tubes) or descend downward as the pond level goes down. If you look carefully at the picture, you'll also see a cable (or boom) that extends upward from the fountain pump (to the left at an angle) to the mast. This boom is in place to stabilize the pump as it goes up and down with fluxuations in water levels. And, if you look further to the left, you'll notice an electricial cable (that's combined with a small aeration hose) that leads upward out of the pond. If this apparatus was an electrical water DRAINAGE pump (most pumps for this type of application are gasoline powered), you'd see a much larger hose (which would be the water drainage hose) and a SEPARATE electrical cord leading away from the pump. Just show anyone (who's familiar with water (trash) pumps) the aforementioned picture, and they'll tell you that it's not a water drainage pump in the picture. So, my thinking is as follows: since water hasn't been pumped out of the pond this spring and summer, the picture illustrates how poorly the ground (at or near the top of BK) holds water. But, if you still don't want to believe my description of what the pump is used for, so be it.
As far as the lake under construction goes, I could make plenty of additional of technical comments on various aspects of the construction; however, at this point I've probably said enough. But, let me say this, I've watched them build the new lake from day one, and the dam and rim appear to be comprised of the lose shale and dirt that were dug out to create the basin (to my knowledge, no rock, dirt or clay have been brought in, as is often done with a pond of that size). I'll leave the most of the future comments to other DCSki members. However, in conclusion, l'll make this prediction: BK's new snowmaking lake will never hold a significant amount of water, and therefore, will not be an improvement to the snowmaking situation there. Keep in mind that it's just my 2 cents worth; let's hope that I'm wrong.
I'm sure they did some research before they just started digging away...
Just show anyone (who's familiar with water (trash) pumps)
It's a fountain, not a trash pump.
From my observation of the photographs, I would say as a civil engineer, that the 1st photo shows the pond dam, then remaining photos of soil piles are nothing more than soil stockpiles from the pond excavation. I also saw survey stakes in the photos indicating that a suveyor has staked out the grading plan for the pond meaning that there is a plan for the pond. Thirdly, there is always a pump used during pond construction to keep the area of construction dewatered, thus what you are seeing is a trash pump, not fountain. I would also say from the photos that the dam looks engineered. not just some random pile of dirt that the Masher contends it is. In my opinion, that mound of rocky soil is probably going to disappear or be spread out outside the pond. If the pond has insufficient drainage area or groundwater to maintain a wet pool, then water would have to be directed to the pond via diversion swales or if provided from a local surface water source such as a stream, by pumping. However, you need to get a permit to withdraw water from a stream. Once the pond is full and used for snowmaking, snowmelt could also be used to maintain a wet pool. I would also like to say that the Park Service employees (and certainly an architect) probably have little understanding with the engineering involved in the pond construction.
Well I hope they are following the rules and doing things above board. On some level I definately agree with Mtn masher on several points - it would be good of they left the forest alone for a while if for no other reason than to improve its appearance!
Having a degree in ski area management and also snowmaking manager at Sugarbush VT(and JAY peak before that) before moving back south. The biggest problem 90% of the time is there is simply not enough water available to supply these "monster Systems" now being used. We could literally run the streams dry at sugarbush if we wanted and that was before all the huge upgrades. Alot of times this is a multi year, stepped project than most would see. For instance i know of a few resorts that were in the same boat and were able to talk the state and gov officials into creating a holding pond or lake because they see that as less obstructive than draining a native trout stream or doing major contruction in a stream to add a new pumphouse. These ponds are filler ponds 90%of the time. the streams that flow into them usually could not supply enough water during actual pumping. However the pond fills during the down time (non snowmaking weather) and allow the ponds to be sucked down during times of snowmaking.
If this doesn't work they will ask the state for the next step, a different stream or water source. In my history with snowmaking you take EVERYTHING you can get from the state even if it isnt the ideal thing at the time because EVERYTHING is so hard to get.
What always pissed me off were Gapers wanting to complain about the system or the impact on hte environment then complain that they only have 4 slopes open. Well you cant have both.
POwPOW - do they generally try to recapture their melt off?
PowPow- Is there some rule of thumb for how many millions of gallons of water it takes to cover a ski area? For instance- how much it would take to cover 100 acres in a foot of snow or something like that. It's probably dependent on the climate, but is there any general rule about it?
No place i have ever heard of reclaims runnoff. If it is warm enough to have runnoff then the streams that supply your holding ponds will be raging enough to fill them on thier own. At Jay if the weather was really wacky like a long cold spell where we drained the pond down substantially then we would still pump up to the pond during down time to refill quicker.
some calculations for snowmaking
3.2 Gallons = 1 FT of Snow
1 Gallon = 8.342#
1 FT Water = 7.48 Gallons
1 Acre = 43,560 FT
1 Acre Foot of Snow = 139,322 Gallons of Water
3.2 Gallons of water to make 7.48 Gallons of snow. That's just over 2:1. Is that the "fluffiest" snow can be made by man? No wonder people prefer the real stuff.
That's not much different than the snizzle we kept getting this winter in B-burg. But wow... to cover 100 acres of terrain with a foot of snow (a very, very thin base down here) you need 13.9 million gallons of water. If I wasn't at work, I'd do the conversion into cubic feet to figure out the size of the holding pond you'd need for that. Then there's compression pumps, and the piping systems... this is the world's most complicated plumbing system is what it is!
Thats all the easy stuff though. The hard stuff is getting a bunch of guys to show up to work at midnight and not hiding out smoking weed all night in the valve houses, Then there are the 3 am phone calls from Les Otten (prev. owner ASC) wanting to know why we werent able to open 3 more slopes overnight when the temps only got down to 28 degrees.After you push it all night, systems,people,etc to make as much as possible you had 10 min to scale back your kw power usage by 9am to avoid fines and charges from vermont power during mandated low usage periods. Now i am remembering why i left the industry.
The one winter I worked at a ski area, snowmaking was my favorite job. Cool, down to earth guys, gloves freezing to water pipes pumping 1200 psi, barreling down the mountain on a snowmobile at 40 mph or more, sliding on trash bags down the steepest slope to "check on the equipment," etc. Way, way better than working the food line, I tell ya.
OK, so as much as I hate to bring this one up again I am. The wife was out of town this weekend and I thought some good old male bonding was in store for me and the dog so we headed to blue knob for some hiking. I've never been there before but I've been dying to try it out and I figured a good pre-season scope out was in store following all the controversy over the place.
Let me start by saying what I expected. I love Snowshoe because of the awesome views from the top and the excitement of driving up the windy road to the summit. I just love that experience. This being said, I expected Blue Knob to have that going for it but without the commercialization of it. Timberline as an upside down resort was what I was invisioning I guess so I was pretty psyched about it.
When I got there the place looked like a ghost town which is understandable since its summer and everything going on was at the bottom at the condos. I drove down to the condos to get a drink and then headed back up to the summit to hike around. I got out and walked around the lodge to start off. If a lodge can become this delapidated while still being "managed" then I can only imagine how fast a lodge would turn to crap if abandoned. The deck had boken boards in it, window framing was falling off, and on and on. The place seriously looked like it had been out of business for 10 years. Seriously depressing to say the least. I kind of expected something to be going on up top since they have mountain biking but I guess without shuttle service nobody is going to bike up there.
Me and the pup started heading down what I found out later to be Upper Expressway. Its a blue and looks very much so. We switch over to Upper High Hopes through the woods where we actually find some pretty neat looking marked Mt Bike trails. Again, no shuttle, no bikers. Upper High Hopes was rediculously rocky and had treetops laying to the side of the trail. You could see where they had tried to seed some grass but this certainly isn't the best summer for that so it was just dirt and rock with a little hay mixed in. Definitely not looking good at this point. I'm starting to really doubt I'll ever come back at this point. I look off to Upper Route 66 and its looking much the same but with slightly better attempts at grass growing helping cover the rocks slightly. Again, pretty depressing at this point. We wound around Mambo Alley I think and then Burma Road (I'm not really sure about this since its not marked very good). What I think was Deer Run looked pretty steep for a Blue in this neck of the woods and lower shortway seemed pretty neat although I couldn't really get a good look at it due to the tall weeds. Mine Shaft Glades looked pretty rediculous like expected with plenty of underbrush and rocks. Nothing I'd be excited about doing unless there was plenty of snow...and then it'd probably be awesome, potentially Cherry Bowl esque. Again, it was really hard to get a feel for its pitch due to weeds and such.
We hike over to the mid station and started across the East Wall Traverse. When we got to Extrovert I couldn't believe it. It had a steeper drop in rather than a rolling one so I could see the pitch better than Lower Shortway and boy did it look steep. It seemed much shorter than I expected though. We walked through another Mt. Bike path I found to the right of Extrovert and found a really neat single track Mt Bike feature that someone had made out of a fallen tree and some sticks. They basically took a chainsaw and flattened the top of the fallen tree and then made a slightly banked transition off of it. Pretty neat looking. Anyway, this took us down to where edgeset cut away from extrovert. Now THIS is where Extrovert impressed me. What seemed fairly short from the top now looked like it went on forever. It dropped down steeply to Lower Route 66 where it flattened for the crossing and then looked dropped steeply again to Lower High Hopes and then seemed to just drop off into oblivion...you could then see the runout WAY down there. Pretty impressive looking. The only problem I could see with it was that the cross traffic could limit your enjoyment a bit until you dropped past High Hopes. The soil here was covered in moss which was a little odd. I didn't really see many rocks at all. Now I was starting to get excited again about trying this place out.
We went across Edgeset to the East Wall Glades which again looked iffy but I'm sure enjoyable with a good amount of snow and a good line. From here over to Stemboggen where we climbed back up the bowl. The bowl looked pretty neat but despite the appearance of being grass covered, it was pretty rocky with weeds disguising them. We went up the East Wall Traverse which was a dirt/rock road essentially and up Upper Route 66 which again was rocky.
So, what does this all mean? It means if you thought Timberline had potential out the wazu you ain't seen nothing yet. This place basically has Cherry Bowls all over the place just waiting to be cleaned up. And Extrovert, I can only imagine how great that trail can be. If this place cleaned up the glades, put some top soil back over a couple of the trails, and had 7 springs' snowmaking it'd be without a doubt the best skiing in the mid atlantic. The trails look interesting and not super wide and just straight down the fall line like some places, the views, especially from the top of Extrovert, are spectacular (I can only imagine what its like when its not 90 degrees, 97% humidity, and hazy as L.A.) and you have the anticipating drive to the top
I hope we have a great snow year so the lack of snowmaking and rocks don't play a part in it.
In conclusion, I can't wait to try it out this winter.
Oh, and about the old pond that was dry or drained or whatever, they had a dozer beside of it and had obviously been pushing dirt around inside of it so conclude what you will. An odd thing that I noticed was that they had dug a ditch all around the lip of the pond about 2 feet deep or so. What would that be for I wonder? Its probably obvious but I'm not seeing it.
JR, follow the weather and snow reports this winter, check the forum here for corroboration and get thee to Blue Knob sometime when natural conditions are most cooperative, probably in early February. There's an "edge" to the skiing there that is rather unique for our region.