When it comes to words for snow, the Inuit people of the Arctic have a big vocabulary.
Some of these words are oddly specific. For example, “matsaaruti” means “snow that can be used to ice a sled’s runners. ”
Others are more general, such as “aqilokoq” meaning “softly falling snow.”
Like the Inuit, skiers and snowboarders spend a lot of time in the snow and like the Inuit, skiers and snowboarders have built their own large vocabulary.
Some of the more common North American terms for snow include powder, blower, hard pack, boilerplate, crud, corn, mashed potatoes, slush and manmade.
What is Manmade Snow?
Manmade snow is snow created by a ski resort or ski area using water, air, specialized equipment and electricity.
Manmade snow “helps ski areas open up earlier, stay open later and guarantees the customer better snow conditions and quality throughout the entire season,” explains Dennis Kinsella, North American Sales Manager for DemacLenko, a snowmaking equipment company.
While these benefits apply across the country, there are regional differences between East and West.
In the mountain West, where the winter climate is more consistently cold and snowy, resort snowmakers lay down snow in the autumn in preparation for natural snowfall and to provide early season guests with high quality snow on as much terrain as possible.
“Our snowmaking department is an insurance policy for the resort,” shares Scott Enos, Snowmaking Manager at Utah’s Deer Valley Resort.
“Our opening date is set about two years in advance and it’s our job to ensure that guests who’ve made reservations have quality snow to ski on.”
In the East, snowmaking is a season long proposition.
Since eastern winter temperatures can vary significantly from one day to the next, snowmaking provides coverage in early season and helps to replenish the snowpack into spring.
How Resorts Make Snow
The recipe for making snow sounds simple.
Build a system of hydrants, hoses, pipes and snow guns. Add water and air. Fire up the system, and voilà, here comes the snow.
In reality, making snow is highly scientific, requiring extensive weather monitoring and technical adjustments depending upon the conditions.
Snowmaking is expensive, requiring a lot of water and energy, so resorts seek to make snow as efficiently as possible.
Snowmaking conditions are dependent upon something called wet bulb temperature. Put simply, wet bulb temperature is the air temperature when cooled to saturation or 100% humidity.
Snow can be made at 28 degrees wet bulb Fahrenheit or -2 degrees wet bulb celsius.
And while this is the maximum temperature at which snow can be made, most resorts prefer a lower sweet spot of 15-18 degrees wet bulb Fahrenheit.
“This is the temperature at which our snow guns run at 100% efficiency,” explains Enos.
“It’s cold enough that equipment runs properly and not so cold that the equipment freezes up. Plus, we always have to remember the snowmaking crew. We don’t want their fingers and faces getting too cold.”
There are two primary types of snow guns: fan guns and air/water guns. The needs of the resort, and the daily weather, can determine which type of snow gun is best for the job.
Fan guns can spread snow over a larger area. Depending upon the model, fan guns can throw snow up to 125 to 250 feet away. These snow guns are very useful for laying down early season base, or to cover steep areas which require a deeper base.
Air/water guns spread snow over a smaller area, which can be useful when a resort is building big piles of snow to turn into terrain park features.
According to Dave Lacombe, the Snow Surface Manager at Killington Resort, “We make snow every minute we can throughout the season. In the early season, we max out our system to open the resort and then we continue making snow to keep the quality high.
“Killington has an arsenal of snow guns: different styles and different brands which have different operating characteristics and can be used in different scenarios depending upon current humidity, temperature and wind conditions.
“Our goal is to convert as much water to snow as possible, at any given time.”
The Water Factor
Snowmaking is water intensive. To cover one acre one foot deep with snow takes 200,000 gallons of water.
Water is scarce in the West, so resorts guard their resources carefully, working closing with municipalities and other water providers to use water efficiently. Enos explains that Deer Valley stores water in on-mountain ponds ranging in size from 15.7 million gallons to 20 million gallons.
“When conditions are ideal, at 15 degrees wet bulb Fahrenheit, we can pump 10 million gallons of water in just 24 hours,” according to Enos. “These ponds drain quickly.”
Water is less scarce in the East, but no less valuable, and more extensive snowmaking can mean a huge demand for water.
After expanding their snowmaking capacity in 2013, Vermont’s Okemo Mountain Resort converted a 70 million gallon snowmaking pond to a 155 million gallon reservoir. In a typical year, the resort converts 350 to 450 million gallons of water into snow.
Since 2013, Okemo has expanded the number of snow guns on the mountain to 1,200. Some of these are HKD variable flow snow guns. Snowmaking crew can adjust the water flow through these guns to maximize efficiency at both higher and lower snowmaking temperatures.
“This takes us to the next level,” said Okemo Mountain Resort Snowmaking Manager Ray Kennedy.
“With the efficiencies these snow guns provide, we can maximize our potential, and with ideal snowmaking temperatures we can pump 7,000 to 9,000 gallons of water per minute on day one.
“This puts us in a position to provide our guests with a better skiing and riding experience early in the season and throughout the winter.”
© 2019, braveskimom. All rights reserved. Any use or publication of content, including photos, requires express permission.