In a high desert state at low latitude the art of snowmaking becomes a saving grace allowing a ski area to provide a consistent ski season and product for our guests and employees. The process of snowmaking piggybacks on the natural processes of nature utilizing air and water plus favorable temperatures to provide a quality product for everyone’s enjoyment.
When all three items are present we can make enough snow overnight to cover a one mile stretch of Route 66 – all four lanes! Snowmakers working at night are busier than Santa’s elves!
In nature there first must be moisture in the atmosphere. This moisture condenses and when the weight of the moisture “gets too heavy” for the capacity of the air to keep it in space, it falls to the ground. If the air above the ground is cold enough the moisture falls as snow. Snowmaking shortcuts this process by eliminating the evaporation stage whereby water is forced through a “snowgun” and is bombarded with highly pressurized air. The compressed air fractures the water into very small particles as it moves through the gun sending them into the atmosphere where, with a favorable temperature, they freeze and fall back down as snow.
Therefore, this snow is not artificial in any sense of the word – it is snow, just made by machines and man.
The miracle of snowmaking is dependent on one factor of nature, humidity, to produce a quality product. In general, and in layman’s terms, the more humid the air the lower the temp has to be to make snow, and when humidity is low temperatures can be higher – right at freezing, 32 degrees, or even slightly above. Nature has its art but snowmakers are artists as well. Snowbowl, however, is blessed with low overnight temperatures and low humidity.
Click here to zoom in on Snowmaking Coverage 2012-13
Depending on the type of guns, air/water or airless, a ski area utilizes and what type of snow is required for the time of year, snowmakers can work the controls to produce a wetter heavier product or a drier lighter product. Powder may be the most fun to ski but it is not optimal for a base which requires a wetter heavier product.
Snowmaking typically begins in November, made over bare ground, and establishes the base and initial skiing surfaces until natural snow falls and provides sufficient cover. Snowmaking will also be used to touch up thin spots as they occur.
The Snowbowl utilizes airless guns which are more expensive but are more in line with the National Ski Areas Association’s Sustainability program because they require fewer pipes to operate and less electricity. Consistent snowfall has an additional benefit of providing moisture to the forest which will lessen the threat of forest fires during dry periods.