Sunday Profile: Snowmaking with Sunlight’s Mike Baumli
It all started back in 1984 when Mike Baumli took a “hiatus” from college and went to work over the winter making snow for Keystone Resort.
“I’d been trying to figure out what I was going to do for a living so I could make enough money to live in the mountains, because that’s where I always wanted to live,” Baumli said.
Now, 35 years later he’s still living the Rocky Mountain dream, working as mountain manager and lead snowmaker at Sunlight Mountain Resort outside of Glenwood Springs.
Baumli grew up in the Denver suburb of Lakewood, but his roots run deep in the Roaring Fork and Crystal River valleys.
His father is from Carbondale, his grandfather grew up in Basalt, and his grandmother was born in the old mining town of Crystal, above Marble.
“Because I had these ties to the valley, this is really where I wanted to be,” Baumli said.
That first job at Keystone turned into a dozen years of on-the-job training to be a ski resort snowmaker. During that time, Baumli also had the opportunity to make snow for ski resorts in Japan for two seasons.
Through the years, he has also had snowmaking stints at Eldora ski area near Nederland, west of Boulder, and for four years he was snowmaking manager at Aspen Mountain.
“I don’t regret it at all,” Baumli says of his decision to dedicate his life to the mountain resort lifestyle, and a successful career to boot. “It’s definitely led to a lot of great opportunities.”
Baumli eventually landed in Glenwood Springs in 2004 after another hiatus running his own property management and cleaning business in the Roaring Fork Valley. That same winter, he joined Sunlight’s Ski Patrol team, and has since worked his way up the ranks to his current position.
SKI BUM AT HEART
Those few years in the property management business reminded Baumli, now age 57, how much he enjoyed being on the mountain making snow and skiing.
A soccer player in high school, Baumli found his love for skiing during those couple of years in college.
He was hooked.
“I’ve met a lot of great friends in the business, and it’s been a great experience,” Baumli said. …
“I think it’s that camaraderie I like the most. The best thing is when we can write comment cards about staff members who’ve done something exceptional,” he added. “Giving those ’at-a-boys, that’s the best part of the job.”
Baumli’s wife, Darla Baumli, is a longtime employee of the Garfield County Library District; currently working as the district’s circulation coordinator. They have two children, a son who’s 29, and a 17-year-old daughter at Glenwood Springs High School.
When the family isn’t skiing at Sunlight or doing other things in and around Glenwood Springs, they can usually be found up in the mountain hamlet of Marble, where Baumli’s family owns property.
He’s on the church board at the Marble Community Church and involves himself in the many outdoor recreation activities the upper Crystal Valley has to offer.
“We like to hang out in Marble as much as we can, because it’s so peaceful,” he said.
He also took the opportunity to thank his wife, Darla, for allowing him to live and work the ski biz lifestyle he enjoys.
In addition to heading up snowmaking operations at Sunlight, as mountain manager he also oversees the Ski Patrol, grooming operations and trails management during the ski season.
COLORADO’S TOP SNOWMAKER
For his years of dedication and skills, Baumli was named the 2019 Snowmaker of the Year by Colorado Ski Country USA at the conclusion of the 2018-19 ski season.
“Mike brings an extensive knowledge of all aspects of mountain operations,” Sunlight General Manager Tom Hays said.
“His knowledge and skills as a snowmaker are invaluable to us, and he is always focused on the future and how we can make more and better snow and do it more economically.”
Ross Terry is assistant general manager at Sunlight and was Baumli’s predecessor as lead snowmaker. The experience he brought to Sunlight raised the bar for the ski area’s snowmaking efforts, Terry said.
“It takes a quite a bit of effort to pull this off,” he said. “I’ve always described snowmaking as hours upon hours of boredom, separated by moments of sheer terror.”
Hays said Baumli has been instrumental in simplifying Sunlight’s snowmaking system, along with helping design and construct new lines, hydrants and two new retention ponds.
The extra storage capacity nearly tripled the amount of water available for Sunlight to make snow, to more than 3 million gallons.
That investment helped Sunlight open three weeks earlier than planned last season and — if the weather would cooperate — an earlier-than-planned opening could be possible this season, too.
“When I first started, we used a lot more compressed air than we do now,” Baumli said. “We can run seven snow guns now for the one gun we used to run on that same amount of air.”
The older guns also flowed about 50% more water than the more-efficient SV14 guns Sunlight now uses.
New nozzle designs also make for more optimal snow particle size, “and we’re able to make snow at higher temperatures if we want to.”
Because of Sunlight’s limited water rights, the resort usually waits until the temperature dips below 20 degrees Fahrenheit before turning on the snow guns, Baumli said.
“We only have a finite amount of water, so we have to maximize that,” he said. “There are just a bunch of things that you have to balance to make it all work. But it’s a lot of fun.”
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