Exact meaning of "Snowmaking"
June 13, 2005
Since the forums are so slow this summer...I have a question...Tline says they have 94% or 95% snowmaking...But on non snowy weeks or even months for that matter, I have never seen 94% of the trails open...
I know winterplace has 100% snowmaking...and they have 100% of their trails open mostly all season...So why cant Tline or CV live up to their 90 something percent snowmaking capibility...
I cant remember...but i know i havent seen snow guns on The Drop...or any of the Double Blacks (except OTW)...
So when they say 90 something % snowmaking...what exactly do they mean...90% or so of the trails should have snowmaking? Or should have snowmaking capibilities...They could say The Drop has snowmaking...but they would have to move the guns...So does this factor into the percent they advertise?
When a resort refers to % snowmaking, they are usually referring to either the acreage or trail count (out of total trails) that are able to have artificial snow applied.
Some resorts have less than 100% snowmaking coverage because there is no way to place guns on certain trails -- either because there are no pipes on the trail, or a neighboring trail with pipes is too far away. These trails rely entirely on natural snow cover.
But if a resort says they have 90% snowmaking capability, that doesn't mean they can cover 90% of their trails with snow at the same time. There's coverage/capability and then there's capacity. A resort might have snowmaking capability on 100% of its trails, but its compressors and water pumps may only be able to feed snowguns on 30% of the trails at any given time. Of course, some trails require more snowmaking power than others -- such as long, tall, and steep trails. And some snowguns/snowfans are more or less efficient than others.
There are economics involved, too. Even resorts with enormous snowmaking capacity rarely run all of the guns they can at the same time. That costs a lot of money. And resorts tend to focus on opening a few trails with solid coverage before they move on to other trails. At Whitetail, for example, early-season efforts are focused on trails such as Angel Drop. Many of Whitetail's trails now have tower-mounted airless fans, but they supplement that with traditional, mobile ground-based guns. Those guns can be moved to adjoining trails by running the hoses through the trees. By focusing all of their snowpower on a few trails, they can open a good selection of trails with very strong bases early in the season. If they were to spread snowmaking across more trails, the trails would build up their bases slower and it would take longer to open them.
In recent years, there have also been some water shortages in the mid-Atlantic region due to droughts. This has also limited how many snowguns resorts can run at the same time.
So there's a lot of variables at play. But when you hear the term % snowmaking, that merely indicates how many trails are capable of having snow made artificially. Subtract that percent from 100 and you know how many trails rely totally on natural snowcover. The percent doesn't indicate how many trails can be covered with snow at the same time -- that can only be answered by a combination of factors such as the types of trails being covered, the power of the snowmaking machinery and infrastructure, an adequate supply of water, the resort's goals in terms of which trails they want to open, etc.
Another interesting point is that ski areas can sometimes make snow on "natural" snow runs. When I worked at Wachusett in Massachusetts, there was one run near the summit that had no snowmaking coverage, but the next run over did. What they used to do was take a snowgun, extend the connector hoses as far as they could (about 100 feet) both down the natural snow trail and up it, and then blow two huge piles of snow which the groomers would then level across the length of the run.
The run was at most a quarter mile long, but it was a locals' favorite and the ski area was forbidden from installing snowmaking on it, so this was their way of getting around it. It was, it should be noted, the last run they would put snow on every winter, covering the larger and higher capacity main runs first.