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How to Reduce a $1.3 Million Lighting Project to $420,000

A case study: Hogadon Ski Basin

Hogadon Basin in Casper, Wyo., recently built a new $6 million lodge complete with sports bar, modern kitchen, expanded dining area and other amenities. As with many North American snow sports venues, the problem was that everything shut down at about 4 p.m., at sun set, limiting the potential for positive returns. The obvious solution was to install slope lighting and develop a night skiing and riding program.

Friends of Hogadon is a non-profit organization, created in 2014, for the purpose of establishing a new lodge at the Hogadon Basin. Since then, the organization continues to assist in the enhancement and further development of the ski area. Since Hogadon Basin is owned and operated by the Town of Casper, Friends of Hogadon teamed up with the town to raise private money and get the night program funded.

The first step was to price out the lighting project. Since the town had used a major outdoor lighting company for other projects such as school fields and public areas, Friends of Hogadon reached out for a quote which came back at a whopping $1.3 million; a lofty goal to raise for any non-profit organization. The project was a long shot until John Lutz, the project coordinator, decided to reach out to Ultra-Tech Lighting for an alternative lighting proposal.

Lutz had discovered Snow-Bright™ technology manufactured by Ultra-Tech Lighting was specifically designed for lighting snow sports venues and came highly recommended by other ski areas like Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado and Snow King Mountain Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo. As it turns out, Snow-Bright™ fixtures provide more effective light distribution and efficiency than the LED lamps that had been proposed. Equally important, Snow-Bright™ fixtures generate sufficient warmth to shed snow and ice that might accumulate on “cold” LEDs; a major consideration.

After explaining budgetary constraints, Ultra-Tech’s managing director, Philip Gotthelf, scheduled a piggy-back site survey visit to occur while he was visiting Eldora Mountain Resort in Boulder, Colo., for their lighting survey. During his trip to Casper to evaluate the Hogadon Basin Night Skiing & Snowboarding Project in the spring of 2019, Gotthelf, to his surprise, was given pair of snowshoes to walk the entire length of the project to see it firsthand.

Snow-Bright™’s versatility reduced projected lighting expenses by an estimated $400,000 compared with the proposed LEDs that need much larger and taller steel poles to achieve reasonable light dispersion. Another $480,000 was saved by using TorcSill helical piles, recommended by Gotthelf, to install as foundations for the night skiing light poles. With the helical pile foundational designs from TorcSill, the light poles’ height was reduced from 60 to 25 feet. Using shorter poles over a more diverse area was projected to improve the overall light distribution and intensity as well. TorcSill provided all the soil evaluation, engineering and design for Hogadon’s installation. Since there was no need to wire through concrete casings, trenching and electrical costs were greatly reduced.

Having the correct light spectrum to match the reflective properties of snow was a key element since the surface is obviously white. While LED lights may be suitable for illuminating fields of grass or soil, none are specifically matched to snow like Snow-Bright™ technology. This allowed further separation between poles, reducing overall infrastructure. Fewer poles translates to less trenching and wiring, dropping time, material and labor costs.

Coincidentally, Ultra-Tech had specified brand new composite pole technology for replacing streetlight infrastructure in hurricane-prone regions like Puerto Rico, Florida, and the Bahamas where wooden telephone poles and steel poles were literally blown away. The composite poles were half the cost of metal and had the added advantages of extremely high wind and corrosion resistance. Since Hogadon Basin can experience winds exceeding 100 miles per hour, the composite pole, at half the price of steel, provided an ideal solution. Since Friends of Hogadon is a non-profit, they qualified for a five percent cash-back rebate that applies to ski areas with either adaptive sports programs or non-profit status. Hogadon Basin needed 205 fixtures at $770 each for a total of $157,850. The rebate came to $7,892.50, another value toward completing the project within budget.

To get down to the critical $420,000 goal, Lutz worked with Ultra-Tech Lighting to reevaluate the lighting plan. Using buildings as substitutes for poles and changing some pole spacing, the final fixture number was brought down to fall within the available funds. The project was greatly enhanced when Kelly Boyle, owner of City Service Electric, agreed to take on the night skiing project at wholesale, with very little profit made by his company. Additionally, Rocky Mountain Power Company agreed to set the lights using their equipment, which allowed the project to avoid additional installation costs.

Interestingly, Hogadon Basin is considering upgrading chairlifts that would customarily require the use of poured concrete foundations. Helical piles by TorcSill can be used as foundations for lift towers and even buildings. Cost reductions are equally impressive for other infrastructure that can use helical piles for the foundation. This approach offers enormous flexibility since the correct helical piles can accommodate most soil conditions and can be removed, moved and reused.

Hogadon Basin will enjoy its first season with nighttime skiing and riding, lessons, training, competitions and events in the 2019-20 ski season. Conservatively, slope lighting can increase mountain availability by 25 percent. This actually increases labor utilization from lift operations to snow maintenance like grooming and snowmaking. Also, food services can expand to dinners, snacks and beverage service with the added hours of operation. Tapping into night skiing drives revenue. John Lutz and the Friends of Hogadon expanded the potential of Casper, Wyoming’s snow sports venue in a very significant way.

All photos courtesy of John Lutz