SNOW Making

SNOW Making

Just how important is snowmaking? A simple question that elicits an answer that puts everything else in per spective.


According to Brad Moretz of Appalachian Ski Mountain, snowmaking is the lifeblood of the ski industry in North America. Photo by Mark Mitchell “Snowmaking is the lifeblood of the skiing industry in North America,” Brad Moretz of Appalachian Ski Mountain quickly answers with a smile. “Not just in the Southeast, but even in Colorado, British Columbia or Vermont. Anyone who is in the ski industry for the long run knows how mandatory snowmaking is to survive.”SNOW Making

To supplement an average snowfall of 60 inches, North Carolina’s Ski Areas’ state-of-the-art snowmaking capabilities provide 100 percent slope coverage. When temperatures fall below freezing, the slopes take advantage of these opportunities to make snow.

Snowmaking in North Carolina is key to creating fantastic slope conditions. The art of snowmaking involves creating a mixture of air and water under pressure and spraying it out of a snow gun. The mixture then turns to snow and falls to the ground. Temperature, humidity and wind are monitored to produce the most optimum skiing conditions.

Those three conditions are the factors we consider when making snow,” Moretz said. “We also take into account the number of people on the slope as well. Obviously, we don’t like to get people wet. Our goal each year is to not make snow during skiing hours from Christmas to the end of the season.”

Hours of snowmaking per season range from 600 to 1500, depending on the weather and the specific ski area. Some locations go as far as stockpiling snow in key slope areas. When the weather turns warm or even to rain, these large piles of snow are strategically spread over decreasing snow base areas.

Even when Mother Nature cooperates and natural snow falls at the slopes, there are many advantages to the snowmaking aspect.

“Natural snow is more like window dressing,” Moretz said. “It’s festive and pretty, but it melts 10 times faster than machine-made snow. Natural snow also blows away quicker and packs down more. A better snow surface on the slopes is machine-made snow. “Natural snow also has a negative effect because of road conditions. People worry about getting out on the road and that includes a ski slope’s staff.”

Moretz added that machine-made snow, which is more of a granular flake, holds up better because of a protein additive incorporated.

While Moretz remarked that Appalachian Ski Mountain averages around 600 hours of snowmaking in a typical season, he also broke down the numbers in terms of how much snow is made during these hours.

“If the temperature is 18 degrees, we can convert more than one million gallons of water to snow on a long, cold night of snowmaking,” said Moretz. “The key is temperature and humidity. You really need the temperatures to be in the 20s to make substantial snow. If the humidity is low, you can make more.”

According to Moretz, snowmaking not only helps a slope maintain a solid base of 12 to 18 inches of base, but also makes grooming a better proposition.

“Machine-made snow is easier to groom,” Moretz said. “Grooming involves putting a good skiing surface on the slope. Grooming to a ski slope is like a Zamboni to an ice skating rink. We groom our slopes at least twice a day, paying particular attention to the lift areas.”

A grooming machine has a 15-foot tiller on the back that grinds and churns the snow to create a corduroy-like surface. This surface has grooves and ridges that provide an easier skiing surface.

While all slopes attempt to not make snow during skiing hours, sometimes it is a necessity. Here are a few tips for skiing during snowmaking operation.

Dress properly for the weather. Generally it is 32 degrees or below during snowmaking operation.

Wear goggles to protect your eyes from precipitation.

A scarf or some other form of face protection may be helpful.

Avoid skiing too close to the snow guns. The snow farther away from the snow gun is often better.

Ski with caution whenever visibility becomes poor.

Always contact the slopes ahead of time for slope and weather conditions.

As with all ski businesses, making the snowmaking process better, which makes for a more enjoyable time on the slopes, is always a top goal.

“Every year,” said Moretz, “we are always trying to improve our snowmaking system.”

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