In a perfect world, snow would fall only on the picturesque ski slopes of Vail, CO. However, like any other ski resort, Vail has always had to deal with snow that falls in less convenient locations.

In 2004, the city of Vail took a bold step toward melting a large part of their snow removal problems away. The town began a five-year, multi-phase project that would include the installation of a public radiant snow-melt system in the downtown section known as Vail Village. As of Dec. 2006, approximately 98,000 sq. ft. of the downtown area had been installed with a ZurnPEX Snow and Ice Melt system (SIMS), including pedestrian walk areas, and street areas used by delivery, bus, and some limited local traffic. When all is complete, approximately 150,000 sq. ft. of the downtown area will be installed with the SIMS system.

To Melt or Not to Melt

Some radiant snowmelt projects are a no-brainer, (i.e. helicopter landing pads or hospital entry ways), but clearly the Vail project was on a different scale than this. City officials had to do a lot of analysis to determine if such a large radiant system would be worthwhile. Several issues factored into their decision:
  • Snow removal had become a very bothersome issue for several reasons, not the least of which was where to put all the snow that was removed using snow plows. Also, noisy snow plows in the wee hours of the morning was not exactly endearing Vail Village to all the tourists resting up for another day on the slopes;
  • An operational cost analysis prior to the project showed that a radiant snowmelt system would cost about the same as mechanical snow removal, while eliminating the mess and hassle. This includes the use of de-icing materials such as sand and salt, which is damaging to vehicles and gets tracked into retail stores and restaurants; <>
  • The project happened to coincide with a major downtown makeover that would involve repaving of the streets anyway;
  • The town also was considering the installation of decorative pavers in the downtown area and there was concern that snowblades would damage these pavers;
  • Although Vail had always made every effort to keep the streets and walkways safe, there was a minor concern over issues.
Ultimately, these were the basis for Vail’s decision to install the SIMS System.

Zurn PEX cross-linked polyethylene tubing was specified for this project, not only for its strength, durability, and long life expectancy, but also for its extended protection from the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) exposure. The formulation that is used to produce Zurn PEX tubing includes optimal levels of antioxidant and ultraviolet stabilizers to enhance its resistance to UV degradation.

This feature was extremely important for the Vail Village Project, where the installations are taking place during the spring through fall “off seasons” over a 5-year period, and most likely would be subjecting the Zurn PEX tubing to fairly long periods of direct sunlight exposure before being covered with the finishing brick pavers.

No Mess, No Fuss

As of Dec. 2006 approximately 147,000 linear feet (or almost 28 miles) of ZurnPex 5/8” barrier tubing was installed under the streets and sidewalks of Vail Village. ZurnPEX fittings and a heating manifold system were also used for the project. The actual heat for the radiant system is generated by seven 4-million Btu boilers, which are installed in a mechanical room located in a parking structure in the downtown area.

During snowmelt season, the system runs in idle mode until the control system senses both temperature and moisture and snow melting goes into action. This keeps fuel consumption to a minimum.

According to Scott Bluhm, streetscape project coordinator for the Vail Public Works Department, the system has been very well received by both merchants and the general public.

“There has been less noise in early mornings due to [snow] removal equipment, remarked Bluehm. “And there has been less sand and grime tracked into the businesses.”

This is not a small thing for the upscale town of Vail, where each day thousands of tourists descend on the downtown, looking for recreation thatdoesn’tinvolve snow. Over the last few years Vail has invested considerably in revitalizing the area to attract more tourists. While the snowmelt system is but one part of this multi-phase project, avoiding the noise, mess, and congestion caused by conventional snow removal can only help area merchants prosper.

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