LYNDON — The Lyndon Outing Club unveiled plans for a $1.1 million snowmaking system at the Village Trustees’ meeting on Monday.
Under the proposal, 17 snow guns would provide top to bottom coverage of the primary “Face” ski trail.
It would be paid for through a combination of private donations and state and federal dollars, and the cost could drop as low as $870,000 through the use of second-hand parts and volunteer labor, according to LOC officials.
Snowmaking would reduce the outing club’s dependence on sporadic natural snow, and allow the community ski hill to maintain operations in spite of rising temperatures.
It would also enable the outing club to expand its season from limited operations (just eight days in 2022) to a full 14-week season from mid-December through mid-March, according to LOC officials.
Mark Kwiecienski, a member of the LOC snowmaking committee, pitched it as a way to revitalize the 85-year-old, town-owned facility.
“It’s like having a car that needs a new transmission. It’s just sitting there. That’s what the Outing Club has been. It needs a new transmission to reinvigorate it so everybody can use it again,” he said.
David Williams, who also sits on the snowmaking committee, touted the project’s social, economic and cultural significance.
“We just think it will be such a benefit to the community,” he said.
It will be the outing club’s third attempt to install snowmaking, after failed efforts in the 1990s and 2010s.
The project must clear several permitting and financial hurdles before it can proceed.
The Village Trustees represented the first step in that process.
The Village Trustees must authorize municipal water use for the project.
Viewing the project for the first time on Monday, they had a lot to consider.
Plans call for a newly-built pump station to draw 1.5 million gallons from the municipal water system at a rate of 250 gallons per minute.
It would feed the 17-gun system, which would fire for 96 hours straight in ideal temperatures, in order to cover the “Face” ski trail with a strip of snow measuring two feet deep and 100 feet wide.
The trustees were generally supportive of the project but requested more information on its water system impacts.
Village Administrator Justin Smith and water system manager Roger Sheldon said snowmaking would pull from the water system during the time of year with the highest demand (when schools are in session).
While the infrastructure is sufficient, they said, snowmaking could have unforeseen consequences on the water system’s capacity, storage, recovery, fire flow, and ability to support future development.
“It doesn’t mean it’s not doable, I’m just saying it’s not as simple as everybody thinks it is,” Smith said, adding at another point, “You can’t just run to maximum and have nothing left for the future.”
The Outing Club suggested ways to mitigate impacts on the water system.
First, Williams offered to build a holding pond on his abutting land, in order to reduce the need for municipal water.
Second, Williams and Kwiecienski expressed willingness to adjust snowmaking operations (run time, duration, water consumption) to have the least impact on the water system.
“Maybe we can only take 70,000 gallons on a night. We can still work on that,” Kwiecienski said. “We can work with what the capacity is. We want to be good stewards.”
The outing club received permission from the Select Board in December to explore the snowmaking project.
Over the past six months, the 15-member LOC snowmaking committee developed a proposal in consultation with Jim Cochran, general manager for Cochran’s Ski Area, and HKD Snowmakers, makers of energy-efficient snowmaking technology.
Complete details can be viewed at shonyoparksnow.org
As part of the proposal, they came up with a fundraising strategy.
In addition to private donations, volunteer labor, donated materials, and government grants, the outing club is seeking approximately $290,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, or one-third of project costs.
However, it’s unclear if that request will be met.
The town and village will receive a combined $1.35 million in ARPA funds. Since March, an advisory committee had been collecting public input and developing recommendations for the Select Board and Village Trustees, who will have the final say.
The advisory committee has discussed how to divide the funds, with some suggesting the money be awarded in 10% increments, or roughly $135,000 each.
Outing club representatives on Monday argued for a higher amount.
“We think we should get more,” said Williams, noting strong public support for the project. “There’s a lot of people in the area that are really behind this.”
Trustee Susan Mills, who serves on the ARPA advisory committee, said no decisions have been made.
“Nothing is set in stone yet,” she said.
If the proposal moves forward it would be a multi-year process requiring local and state permits, along with substantial grant-writing and fundraising efforts.
Once installed, snowmaking operations would cost approximately $24,400 annually for water, electricity, labor and maintenance, according to the LOC.
That would come out to 64 cents per skier hour, assuming an average of 30 skiers an hour over the course of a 115-day season, according to the LOC.
To offset snowmaking costs, the outing club would expect a bump in single-day and season lift tickets, as well as increased usage by local school programs such as Lyndon Institute, St. Johnsbury Academy, Riverside School, and Lyndon Town School.
If the Phase 1 snowmaking plan is successful, the outing club could someday proceed with a Phase 2 snowmaking plan, which would consist of a second line of snow guns along the central Bunny Hop and Zitz Mark trails.
Concerns about snow are nothing new at the Lyndon Outing Club.
The ski area has struggled with a lack of natural snow since it was founded, according to the New England Ski History website.
Rising global temperatures have worsened the problem and caused shorter, warmer winters.
Vermont’s average annual temperature has increased nearly two degrees since 1900, according to a University of Vermont study, and the state’s average winter temperature has risen more than five degrees, according to non-profit research organization Climate Central.
LOC was established in 1937 by a group of local skiers and has hosted many events and competitions, and was once home to a competition ski jump.
Perched on Shonyo Hill, the LOC has a vertical drop of 433 feet, 10 marked trails, and 32 acres of skiable area. It is serviced by a 1,200-foot T-bar lift and a 300-foot rope tow.