The Rise Continues
March 5, 2022
Article by: Stacey Zavadil
Granby Ranch will never lose its intimacy, but it ain’t no mom and pop. Rapid improvements of amenities, grooming, and snowmaking—as well as long awaited terrain expansions— are making Granby Ranch one of the most well appointed small ski areas in North America.
This is how snowmaking used to work: The most seasoned snowmaker on the hill would walk out onto the slope at two in the morning and stand under the snow guns with his arms out like he was conjuring a yeti. If the blasting snow stuck to his coat, the mix was too wet. If the pellets bounced violently like styrofoam he was starving the gun of water and wasting energy. Staying in the goldilocks zone that delivered the man-made equivalent of durable packed powder demanded constant fiddling and countless wasted hours trying to catch perfect weather.
Now enter snowmaking at Granby Ranch in the winter of 2022. A new, fully automated system installed on both mountains means that each stick gun (the ones up on poles) and fan gun (self evident) now act as their own weather stations, constantly feeding data to a central computer that adjusts the flow of water and air to each nozzle (and there are scores of nozzles) based on true ambient temperature and humidity in real time. All this happens while delivering a 30 percent increase in efficiency, which is good for the environment. The system, which will only expand in coming years, allows Granby Ranch’s snowmaking team to produce more and better snow when the weather allows. It’s the future of snowmaking at the mega resorts, but it’s happening here too.
“In the business,” says Taylor Ogilvie, CEO of TechnoAlpin USA, the company that installed the system (snowmaking was an American invention by the way) “we call this a smooth curve. As the cold air moves in the snow producers [guns] are always operating at maximum efficiency given the weather, but as conditions improve the system ramps up. Because of this, the customer is getting better snow quality.”
Most people have no idea how much planning an all-encompassing initiative like this takes. But ultimately it’s about delivering quality experiences. —Jace Wirth
That’s just one example of how Granby Ranch, while certainly not an international destination, is punching well above its weight class on the resort operations front. The snowmaking is but one box checked by Granby Ranch Rising, the resort-wide initiative announced in 2021 that promises to expand and improve upon every facet of the Granby Ranch experience. The idea behind Granby Ranch Rising is that intimate doesn’t have to mean quaint. Meaning that just because the mountain is short on vertical doesn’t mean Granby Ranch skiers need to arc turns on surfaces that would make 1986 blush, … or kick around in a dusty base in summer, or have a tough time finding a multi-use trail for the toddlers to pilot their balance bikes, or even get a decent lunch.
“Granby Ranch Rising might sound formal,” says general manager Jace Wirth who is overseeing its implementation. “And behind the scenes it is. Most people have no idea how much planning an all-encompassing initiative like this takes. But ultimately it’s about delivering quality experiences no matter how mundane—wayfinding—or aspirational—powder skiing—while keeping true to who we are. I saw a concrete example of the plan coming together earlier in January. Skiers were out ripping powder that fell on a freshly groomed base of machine made snow—but there were no lift lines … at all. That’s the new Granby Ranch.”
The “freshly groomed” line isn’t a throwaway. For winter 22, Granby Ranch invested in a Prinoth Bison X winch cat to help keep the slopes buffed. Originally designed for sculpting intricate terrain parks at the big resorts, the Bison X is now the standard for versatility and quality in a snowcat. Throw a winch on it, and it’s the most versatile grooming machine ever made. Winch cats are that utilitarian. Once reserved for the steepest terrain where an untethered cat risked out of control slides, the winch cat’s greater value is in maintaining snow quality all over the hill. As skiers carve or slide turns, they’re pushing snow downhill with each edge set. Over time much of that snow ends up at the bottom of the slope. The snow that remains up high can only get tilled so many times before it loses its ability to bond. That’s when you get that dreaded “white ice” that seems to get skied off by 10:30am.
With a winch cat on the scene, though, Granby Ranch now has the ability to push much of that snow that settled down low, back up the hill where it can help form a new base. “We call that process ‘resurfacing,’“ says Walter Piekarz, VP of Sales with Prinoth. “A free cat can climb most slopes, but it can’t push much snow uphill all that well. There’s no end of functionality to a Bison X with a winch.”
That list includes building and maintaining Granby Ranch’s new competition venues on West Mountain. Whether on the tether or off, the Bison X features more maneuverable blades and tillers that make short work of building freestyle and race courses. And the machine will be essential in keeping the training venues of the recently announced Bode Miller Academy (see story in this issue) in shape for the adaptive, freestyle, and alpine competitors that will eventually call Granby Ranch home.
The Academy and the venues are also part of Granby Ranch Rising: “You don’t need a massive amount of terrain or vertical feet to build a great competition venue,” says Chris Cushing, Principal of SE Group, the global resort planner that’s envisioning and mapping the venues. “With Granby’s cold temperatures and the steady pitch on West Mountain, the bumps, slalom, and GS skiing will be all the kids need. A fast surface lift will help them burn laps. They could probably even run a kid’s downhill race. Seven-hundred and fifty vertical feet is enough for that.”
Those are a few of the coming-soon highlights. But Granby Ranch Rising continues. Just added to that master plan? An expansion dubbed South Glade that will set a lift partway up the hill between the two historic peaks and service gentle, adventurous terrain that’s been called Blue Sky Basin for skiers who are just getting a feel for off-trail skiing.
“Granby Ranch Rising is a strategic initiative that encompasses many facets,” says Andy Wirth who heads the management group behind the moves. “The snowmaking and the snowcats have been a huge and immediate benefit. But improvements like these are continuing. And the aesthetic improvements to the base area that will follow this spring will make folks smile too. That’s the near-term stuff. In the long-term, as we round out the concept master plan we’ll be moving ahead at a fast, but unhurried pace. We want to do everything we can to improve the experience, but keep it as friendly and approachable as any place in the Rockies. Every discussion begins or ends with that point. An intimate and friendly atmosphere is central to the spirit and ethos of Granby Ranch.”
This story appears in Granby Ranch’s winter mini-magazine edition. For more information or to get a print copy, please email eloveland (@) granbyranch.com.