Keeping snow off the slope

Dec. 12, 2002
By Dana Jenick

By Dana Jenick

Imagine driving down a road with a grade ranging from 12-15% in the middle of winter in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

By Dana Jenick

By Dana Jenick

Imagine driving down a road with a grade ranging from 12-15% in the middle of winter in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The town of Snowmass Village is home to Snowmelt Road, and with some creative engineering, getting up or down this road is no problem at all--even in the dead of winter.

Snowmelt Road is one of the most unique roads in Colorado, perhaps even a one of a kind. It is on a steep hillside and serves as a main road connecting people to Snowmass, a ski-in/ski-out resort.

In 1967, paving began on the top section of this road all the way up to where it ends at the Timberline Condos. Five years later the project was completed. The 3,500-ft road was paved using 9 in. of concrete that was placed over more than 14 miles of heat tubing.

Two boiler systems were originally used to heat water, today there are three systems in place. These boilers heat water that heats propylene glycol which is circulated through the tubing to melt snow and ice from the road. The road also is equipped with moisture and temperature sensors.

Two conditions must exist for the system to activate: there must be moisture in the air and the temperature must drop below 34 F. At 8,600 ft of elevation, snow starts to fly in September and usually stops in May. For about nine months, this system melts away over 150 in. of snow and keeps the road clear of ice.

Hunt Walker, the public works director for Snowmass Village explained that "about thirty years later, a reconstruction was needed due to tubing leaks and the corrosion of some of the steel pipe."

A partnership effort began to rebuild the road. Lafarge was selected as the ready-mixed producer, who in turn contacted Holcim Inc. Technical service engineers for advice on mix designs, jointing patterns early in the planning process.

In 1997 the lower section was repaved using a specially designed high-early strength concrete. Due to the steepness of the road, the first lane had to be placed so the trucks could drive on it to pave the second lane.

Phil Long of Lafarge sales and marketing for Colorado’s western slope was involved from the beginning in the planning of the latest upgrades of the road. City officials, the general contractor, Gould Construction, several key subcontractors, engineers and Long met once a month for eight months to plan the paving via preconstruction meetings.

"The old concrete was taken out and reused as sub-grade material," said Long. "The tubing and rebar were removed from the concrete and all of the existing concrete was recycled."

The repaving of this road was such a success, it was submitted to the American Concrete Institute in 1997 for an ACI award and won.

This year, the upper section was completed with a couple of added enhancements. Originally, just the road was designed to melt. The adjoining sidewalks had no melting equipment, so visitors would walk down the road. This obviously presented a number of safety problems, so in the most recent design, the sidewalks on each side were equipped with the heat tubing. In addition, aprons for visitor parking lots were paved with the heating equipment for ease of access.

In the October issue of Ski Magazine, Snowmass Village was ranked as the 4th best ski resort in North America. According to Hunt, "This is a family resort that can be enjoyed any season. A new golf course will make its debut in August 2003 and a new base mountain area is currently in the development review process. With this new development, the town may use the snowmelt technology for the additional roads."

Going downhill and uphill on Snowmelt Road is easy even in the fury of a blizzard. If it snows more than 2 in. per hour, the skiers are happy, but the road has difficulty keeping up with the melting. However, no plows are needed, no salt or sand or any melting chemicals are needed and with the use of concrete the road will last for at least another 30-plus years.

Jenick is a market manager for Holcim Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich.