Snow has been falling and the Pennsylvania ski resorts have been taking advantage of the cold temperatures to begin their snowmaking efforts for the 2019/2020 season. In fact, resorts, from the Alleghenies to the Poconos have opened many of their trails and are already bustling with enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders excited to hit the slopes for the first time.
But, what happens if you’re planning a ski trip to your favorite resort and it doesn’t look like Mother Nature is cooperating and there isn’t an inch of snow in the forecast for the foreseeable future? That’s where snowmaking comes in. Ample snow coverage and ongoing snowmaking efforts are key to ensure a long winter of fun on the slopes. And, Pennsylvania has perfected the art of snowmaking. Resorts across the state have the ability to cover the ski and snowboard terrain with high-tech snowmaking systems to ensure the quality and quantity of snow throughout the entire winter season. In fact, many ski areas are able to cover 100% of their terrain with snowmaking. So, while Mother Nature is important to get the snow process started, as long as the temperatures are cold enough, the Pennsylvania ski resorts can take the first snow fall and run with it all winter long even in the absence of natural snow.
Here’s a look at the four key components that go into the art of snowmaking:
The most important ingredient to get the whole snowmaking process started is the right temperature. While you may recall learning in science class that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal snowmaking conditions call for temperatures to be 28 degrees or lower. The second ingredient is humidity. And, when you combine air temperature with humidity you have what is called the wet bulb temperature, which is the most critical indicator for optimal snowmaking. In general, the more the temperature and humidity drop, the greater amount of snow can be made per hour. Finally, wind also plays a factor in the process. Specifically, in whether the snow will fall where it is needed. If the wind conditions aren’t favorable for stationary snowmaking equipment, portable equipment will be brought in to ensure adequate coverage.
2. Compressed Air & Water
Now that the weather conditions are ripe, the real snowmaking fun begins. The process starts with one main ingredient, water. The water used for snowmaking is collected from snowmaking ponds around the ski resorts. It is then pumped through miles of underground piping to snowmaking stations lining the slopes and trails. The snowmaking air comes from large air compressors. Like the water, it is also distributed to the stations through another set of parallel snowmaking pipes. At the station, the air is distributed through a hydrant to the snow gun.
3. Snow Guns
Now that you have the water and air, all that is needed is a snow gun. Snow guns serve as the mixing chamber for the water and compressed air. So, the art of snowmaking involves creating a mixture of air and water under pressure and ultimately spraying it out of a snow gun. Resorts have a fleet of snow guns that vary in their function and location on the mountain, depending on how they create, blow and position the snow.
4. Snowmakers and Groomers
The final component in the snowmaking process is the snowmaking and grooming team. Pennsylvania resorts have a dedicated team of snowmakers and groomers on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure the slopes have the best quality snow coverage. Snowmakers monitor changing weather situations and take advantage of ideal conditions the moment they arrive to maximize efficiency. They also take care of properly distributing the snow guns to evenly cover the trails and make adjustments as necessary. And, even when resorts are not making snow, a grooming fleet monitors the slopes and ensures snow is evenly spread and trails are groomed for optimal skiing.
There you have it, an inside look at how snow is made. There may be a lot that goes into the snowmaking business, but rest assured the 22 Pennsylvania Ski Resorts have it covered. So, leave the weather forecasting to the experts, pack your bags and head to your favorite resort and most importantly, think snow. Visit the Pennsylvania Ski Association website for more information on all of PA’s Ski Area Resorts.