Debate over cloud seeding continues

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ASPEN, Colo. (AP) When a small storm front rolled through the Central Rockies last week, Vail Resorts fired up five of its 14 cloud-seeding machines while the Aspen Skiing Co. stuck with its usual practice of hoping for snow.

After the skies cleared the next day, Aspen's ski areas had received 1 inch of new snow while Vail Mountain had 3 new inches.

Nobody can say whether the cloud-seeding operation contributed to Vail's higher total, but Vail is not the only resort operator trying to augment natural snowfall in Colorado.

Beaver Creek, Telluride and Durango Mountain Resort as well as several water conservancy districts regularly ''seed'' clouds in hopes of squeezing additional snow from them.

''It's somewhat of a leap of faith,'' said Joe Macy, manager of governmental affairs for Vail Resorts. ''And we've been doing it here for 23 years.''

Vail Resorts spends about $130,000 per year on cloud seeding. Macy said it would be much more expensive to conduct scientific research to determine whether seeding works.

'The Aspen Skiing Co. seeded clouds from 1990 to 1994, but the results were inconclusive, said Mike Kaplan, vice president for mountain operations.

Telluride resort officials said last year, cloud-seeding operations resulted in a snowpack with 25 percent more water content on the slopes than on adjacent peaks.

Cloud-seeding operations inject silver iodide, a compound made of silver nitrate and sodium iodide mixed with acetone, into a propane flame. The silver iodide is crystallized by the flame and then rises into the bottom of passing clouds. Proponents believe when weather conditions are right, water collects around the crystals and then falls to the earth as snow.

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