Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Making Snow: How is it done?

We haven’t seen precipitation around here in weeks and the forecast doesn’t call for snow any time soon.   There’s a pesky high pressure area in the Pacific which is pushing storm systems off to the North, leaving us with a snowpack 10 percent of average.  Now that the Christmas holidays have started, Ski Resorts have to rely on their snow making equipment.   So how do they make snow anyway?
Air/Water Snow Gun
 Air temperature:
Low temperatures are best for making snow.   26 degrees and below are optimal.  . Humidity is also an important factor in determining when to get started with snow making.  Dry air is better.  If it gets too windy, snowmaking is less effective.
Water:
It takes a lot of it to produce skiable terrain.  The infrastructure for collecting, storing, and pumping it is huge.  Hopefully, what water is collected from runoff in the spring is used again in the winter. 
Once the water is pumped to the top of the mountain, it has to be cooled to the mid 30’s for use in the circulation pipes that go to the snow guns.
Compressed Air:
Large air compressors pressurize air that is piped to the snow guns through miles of underground pipes.
Snow Guns:
There are several sizes and types of snow guns that operate in the same fashion.  The water and air are forced through the gun under pressure to produce water droplets which freeze when they meet the ambient air.  The frozen water droplets (snowflakes) fall to the ground.  Once on the ground, the surface is made skiable with snow grooming equipment.
Airless guns are also an option.  Expensive to buy, but they don’t require compressed air to operate.  Airless guns require electricity for their fan motors.  Typically resorts use a combination of air and airless guns.

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