Cue the Snowguns
Author thumbnail By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor

Snowguns hiss in the chilly air,
Crafting winter’s blanket, oh so fair.
Mountains dress in sparkling white,
Under the moon’s soft, silvery light.

The sound of snowguns began ringing out across the Mid-Atlantic region in recent days, as post-Thanksgiving temperatures dipped below freezing. With the nighttime mercury dropping into the 20s in the coming days, the symphony of snowguns should continue as local resorts prepare for their season openings.

Early-morning snowmaking at Pennsylvania’s Seven Springs Resort on November 25, 2023. Photo provided by Seven Springs Resort.
A snowmaker on duty at Jack Frost / Big Boulder. Photo provided by Jack Frost / Big Boulder.

Snowmaking is a crucial technology for Mid-Atlantic resorts, which don’t always benefit from natural snowfall. To simulate Mother Nature, snowmaking relies on a few key ingredients: water, compressed air, low temperatures, and low humidity.

An extensive network of pipes and pumps moves water from holding ponds to the mountain, which is then fed into two main types of snow guns: fan guns and air-water guns. Fan guns have a large fan that blows water droplets into the air, allowing them to freeze before landing. Older-style air-water guns use a combination of water and compressed air; the compressed air is mixed with the water as it exits the gun, causing a sudden drop in temperature as the air expands, freezing the water droplets.

In recent years, Mid-Atlantic resorts have invested millions of dollars upgrading their snowmaking systems. They have replaced less energy efficient guns with state-of-the-art guns capable of producing vast amounts of snow with a much smaller appetite for electricity. These new guns are also completely automated, allowing subtle changes to be made remotely from a central station based on real-time weather conditions at each gun’s location.

A TechnoAlpin T40 gun fires at Whitetail Resort on November 25. The energy-efficient, automated fan gun is controlled by a central computer. Photo provided by Whitetail Resort.
Whitetail has a mix of state-of-the-art automated guns and old-school air-water guns. The air-water guns can be placed in hard-to-reach areas, but require manual adjustments. Photo provided by Whitetail Resort.

The majority of ski resorts in the Mid-Atlantic region have now fired up their snowmaking systems, and plan to make snow whenever conditions permit. While most areas have not yet announced firm opening dates, several are looking to open at the beginning of December. West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort has announced a tentative opening date of December 1, 2023, while North Carolina’s Beech Mountain Resort is eyeing December 2 for its season opening. If nighttime temperatures remain low in early December, a cascade of resorts should open in the coming weeks.

Roundtop Mountain Resort began laying down snow just after Thanksgiving. Photo provided by Roundtop Mountain Resort.
Snowmaking at Liberty Mountain Resort. Photo provided by Liberty Mountain Resort.
About M. Scott Smith

M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.

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