Ruby Hill Rail Yard opens in Denver on warm winter day
By Alison Noon
The Denver Post
Denver was 55 degrees and dry, but skiers and snowboarders shredded down snow on an urban hillside Saturday at the opening day of Ruby Hill Rail Yard.
Snow has appeared magically south of downtown Denver before the eyes of young snow-sports enthusiasts nearly every year since the city and its mountain resort partners began providing it there, free of charge, in 2007.
For about two weeks this month, volunteers monitored machinery around the clock that transformed nearly 1 million gallons of city water into an acre of snow about 3 feet deep.
Winter Park donates and teaches rail yard volunteers how to operate the slope’s snowmaking equipment. It condenses water molecules pumped from a fire hydrant and blows white, fluffy flakes from two snow guns.
“You just turn on the machines, and they make all the snow,” said Curtis Osborne, who has worked the machines or groomed snow every year the rail yard has opened. Warm winters kept the yard closed in 2010 and 2012, he said.
Skyler Ruggles, on-site manager at the rail yard, said snowmaking works only with temperatures below 30 degrees.
“Anything above that and you’re pretty much pumping mist out of the guns,” Ruggles said. “Anything below that and you’re pumping snow.”
Winter Park retrieves its snow guns once the slope is manufactured, Ruggles said, meaning continued warm temperatures in Denver could put an end to the rail yard in three or four weeks.
In the rail yard’s first four years, the closest water source was a fire hydrant on the other side of a parking lot and residential block — in Dianne Dreith’s front yard.
A hydrant was installed at the site of the rail yard when the park underwent renovations in 2011. Before that, Dreith watched from her living room window each year as volunteers attached a long hose to the yellow hydrant and ran it back toward the park along the perimeter of her property.
Water leaked, she said, and froze inches thick in the driveways and yards of people directly downhill on Quivas Street.
“The kids were having fun, so I didn’t want to complain,” Dreith said.
The retiree has lived next to Ruby Hill Park for 35 years and said she gets a kick out of seeing kids learn to ski and snowboard across the street from her house.
Sherry Freedman and Mary Zavada were two of the first parents this year to utilize free ski and snowboard rentals that Christy Sports has provided on weekends at the rail yard for the past five years.
Matt Becker, who manages the rental booth, said he rented 30 skis and boards in the three hours after the booth opened at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Freedman said it was the only affordable option for son Zak, 9, and daughter Avery, 8, to try snow sports.
Ruby Hill lit a fire under Avery, an ambitious first-time skier.
“I want bigger hills,” she said.
Rob Roscini, a volunteer snow groomer at the park and an art teacher in Denver, said the free slope removes any price barrier from skiing and snowboarding.
“I work in a school where the kids would probably never go to the hills unless it was on a school trip,” Roscini said. “But they’re out here doing it.”