Heated 'Voodoo Chute' gets lukewarm start

Mammoth’s foray into heating its streets got its first test late last month.

A thermal sheet under Lakeview Boulevard at Lake Mary Road—the notorious “Voodoo Chute”—clicked into action, with mixed results.

The snowfall, from a wet storm that began on Thursday, Nov. 29, and stretched into the following Sunday, dropped several inches of glop onto the steep, one-block incline.

Public Works Director Ray Jarvis said the heated street did not achieve a full meltdown of the surface, but it was not because of the mechanics. He said if there was a problem at all, the public works crew did not crank the heat high enough.

“It uses practically no energy,” he said of the propane-driven heating mechanism. “And as you know, we built it to tap into geothermal heat that is right below it.”

Anyone who has tried navigating the steep intersection of Lakeview Boulevard and Lake Mary Road has had issues with it in the winter, when ice causes accidents, blown nerves and, last year, a broken fence protecting the Lakes Basin Path.

The heated stretch came about from $200,000 in state money, along with a $20,000 match in the town’s Measure U funds, Jarvis said.

Jarvis’ crew began work last summer building the heated stretch of street—Mammoth’s first-ever experiment to heat a street—that ultimately will take advantage of the geothermal heat resources that lie directly underneath the road.

“This year, the heat will come from propane at first,” Jarvis said, “but we’ll be able to retrofit it easily to geothermal. 

“It’s a great project, and I think our residents and visitors will appreciate the difference.”