In a perfect world, snow would fall only on the picturesque ski slopes of Vail, Colo. However, like any other ski resort, Vail has always had to deal with snow that falls in less convenient locations. In 2004, the city took a bold step toward melting a large part of their snow removal problems away. The town began a five-year, multiphase project that would include the installation of a public radiant snowmelt system in the downtown section known as Vail Village.

As of December 2006, approximately 98,000 square feet of the downtown area had been installed with a Zurn PEX 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 square feet of the downtown area will be installed with the SIMS.

While people flock to Vail for the snow, it can be a menace to downtown retailers and tourists who don’t like the mess or noise of snowplow removal. As of December 2006 approximately 147,000 linear feet of Zurn PEX 5/8-inch barrier tubing was installed under the streets and sidewalks of Vail Village (seen in the photos above and below). An operational cost analysis showed that a radiant snowmelt system in Vail Village would cost roughly the same as mechanical snow removal.


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. 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 were 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 was also considering the installation of decorative pavers in the downtown area and there was concern that snowblades would damage these pavers.

Ultimately, these were the basis for Vail’s decision to install the SIMS.

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.

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 five-year period, and most likely would be subjecting the tubing to fairly long periods of direct sunlight exposure before being covered with the finishing brick pavers.


As of December 2006, approximately 147,000 linear feet (or almost 28 miles) of Zurn PEX 5/8-inch barrier tubing was installed under the streets and sidewalks of Vail Village. Zurn PEX 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, both merchants and the general public have received the system very well. “There has been less noise in early mornings due to [snow] removal equipment,” said Bluhm. “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 that doesn’t involve 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 multiphase project, avoiding the noise, mess, and congestion caused by conventional snow removal can only help area merchants prosper.

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Publication date:10/08/2007