By David Schissler
( January 2015) When I ride a lift, little makes me happier than looking down at acres and acres of packed powder. In truth, as consumers we’ve come to demand a soft surface yet snowmaking has become one of the more taken for granted aspects of riding. Sure, we all know water is forced into cold air and viola, you have machine made snow. That’s partly true but it’s an oversimplification.
Ken Mack is the Snowmaking Manager at Loon Mountain Resort in Lincoln, NH. He recently conducted a guided tour of Loon’s extensive snowmaking plant for a group of NASJA writers. Here are some interesting facts about the Loon snowmaking operation: Loon uses between 240 and 280 million gallons of water per season. Their consumption is monitored by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. Much of the water extracted is returned to the aquifer as snow melt. The resort’s water system can pump 10,000 gallons a minute. There are 4 pumping stations on the mountain drawing water from three sources: a pond near the center of Lincoln, a brook on the mountain, and the local river, the Pemigewasset. The water is pumped through 60 miles of pipe, some two feet in diameter. The air system can compress and deliver 35,000 cubic feet per minute and maintains a constant operational pressure of 90 psi. The result, under the right conditions, is snow as fine and dry as talc. What natural conditions allow the making of the most and best quality snow? An air temp of 10 degrees and no humidity is ideal.
Loon has snowmaking on 322 of 370 acres covering 99% of the trails. They make 1,180 acre feet of snow a season. That’s 1,180 acres with snow one foot deep or the equivalent of a little more than 3 feet on every trail! How do they do it? With well over 620 HKD Impulse snow guns from HKD Snowmakers in Natick, MA. They’re no small investment costing between $3,500 and $4,500 each. On season, Loon has a dedicated, professional snow making crew of 35. At any given time eight are on the job 24/7. Ken Mack says, “There’s always something to fix”.
How does the new technology improve the entire process? Perhaps the most beneficial aspect is the energy savings. Loon is now making 45% more snow with 33% less energy. Now that’s efficiency. Other benefits include reduced labor costs. Ken Mack says, “A conventional gun takes one snow maker about 5 minutes to set-up. The new HKD KLIK hydrants take only 30 seconds”. With dozens and dozens of guns 70 feet apart along a trail, that’s a huge time and labor saving advantage. Since the hydrants are so easy to operate training and labor costs are also lower. Faster start ups and shut downs are key too because they create smaller windows of opportunity to make snow. It enables the system to be more nimble when reacting to temperature fluctuations and energy reduction windows.
Added safety is another benefit. Today, snowmakers are less vulnerable to injury. Most guns are now in a fixed position eliminating the need to drag them around manually or with a snowmobile. The old fashioned fire hoses that connect the water source to the gun are frozen, heavy, and under pressure. Bumps, bruises, broken fingers and broken legs can result from battling a hose. The newer generation of equipment has a shorter hose connected directly to the water source. There’s no longer any need to move hoses or guns. The twist of a lever is all it takes.
Automation is likely the future of snowmaking. Ken says some mountains in the mid Atlantic states have it today. The day is coming when one man can sit in a control room and interact with each individual gun at will to monitor and adjust output as temps and humidity dictate.
The next time you’re skiing or boarding and the trail is white but the woods are brown, or the snow is great even though it rained then froze a couple of days earlier, think about what it took to make that happen and thank a snowmaker.