Laying pipe with heavy equipment. A hot engine can quickly spark a blaze. Credit: Deer Valley

Fires continue to rage throughout the western states. It’s an annual phenomenon: drought, dry grass, tinder-dry forests killed by bark beetles. Lightning strikes. Human carelessness. Just one spark can set an entire mountain ablaze.

For Deer Valley, it’s a normal summer. Hikers and mountain bikers enjoy the trails, and they dine outdoors on the patios. Aspen leaves ripple in the cool mountain breezes. Everything is right.

But the threat of wildfire is always there. And Deer Valley is prepared to fight back.

The resort keeps its extensive snowmaking system operational and ready throughout the entire off-season. Water for the system comes from the 20 million gallon reservoir high up on the mountain, and gravity feeds the network of snowmaking pipes that span the vast resort.

In addition, every mountain vehicle carries fire-suppression equipment. An errant spark from construction, maintenance or welding could start a catastrophic blaze.

Deer Valley is prepared to be its own first line of defense.

“But we’re not trained or prepared for a full wildfire battle. We’re back up for the professionals,” said Steve Graff, Deer Valley’s Director of Mountain Operations.

“We work closely with the Park City Fire Department. They have access to the mountain, they know the gate codes, and they know water is available for their attack,” he said.

Being ready to squelch a fire sounds straight forward, but there are intricacies.

If snow melt doesn’t fill the 20 million gallon reservoir, water is pumped uphill to fill it so it’s ready.

“And, every summer we work on the snowmaking system,” said Graff. “We make capital improvements, we repair hydrants, and we systematically replace pipes. That means some pipes are drained and temporarily out of service. Crucial weekly staff meetings inform everyone where water is available that week and where it is not—just in case.

Winter comes once a year, but “We start working on next season the day we close,” said Graff, and that includes preparing for the worst case scenario: wildfire.

He added: All ski areas do so much work behind the scenes and during the off-season that skiers never know about and never see. But it’s a testament to the dedication and hard work of everyone in the ski industry.

To read more from Harriet click here for her stories on SkiUtah.

One Comment

  1. Harriet
    You wrote on a fascinating topic I had never thought about.

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