Snowmaking - how much how fast?
Question for the snowmaking gurus here: are there any possible future innovations that would change the model by which resorts make snowmaking decisions, in a qualitative way? Let's say for the sake of argument that the weather pessimists are right, and we are looking at a future in which sustained periods of cold in the Mid-Atlantic are rare. In this case, the resorts that are best positioned to survive are those that are able and willing to take advantage of short windows of time to make snow. A resort would need to be willing to accept the start-up cost of turning on the snowmaking equipment if, say, an 8 hour window of snowmaking conditions presents itself.
So, is there anything in the future that would allow:
(1) decreased start-up costs
(2) Radical increases in amount of snow made per unit time
At any rate it would be interesting to see how market opportunities created by future warmer winters drive technological innovations.
Assuming unlimited water supply and infrastructure in place, ultimately it will come down to electrical power -- required to drive the compressors (air) and pumps (water).
Pump capacity and Stationary equipment is where it is at...the bigger the stationary equipment the better...pole cats all over the place would be ideal... ....if you have stationary equipment then you can fire the guns up and open up all your terrain with marginal depths(if the pump capacity allows)...then keep blowing as needed...if you have portable equipment then you have to stay on one trail for several days until you blow the entire base needed for the seaon before you move on to another trail, you loose valuable snowmaking time moving equipment around, and by the time you have blown all the terrain after moving all the guns around it might be two months into the season or you might not even have a chance to open all the terrain over the course of a season...one thing is for sure and that is that investments in state of the art snowmaking systems is where it's at and is what is going to seperate the resorts who are serious about the skiing product and those who..well...are not...having to move guns around the mountain to blow snow is just not effecient and does not allow resorts to take advantage of sometimes small temperature windows...having said that...having stationary guns all over the mountain requires quite an investment...but that is the product right???
Good questions WGO. The recent trends in snowmaking have been to increase energy efficiency to decrease costs and to increase automation to decrease labor costs, increase snowmaking efficiency and snow quality. Snowmaking is pretty low tech otherwise. The guts of it is just compressing and chilling air and water, then spraying it into the air and praying. So with respect to #2, capacity is just a function of the capacity of the chillers, compressors, pumps and pipes. With respect to #1, the fan gun technology helps during marginal temp windows because they make their own compressed air. This makes it possible for the decision makers to hedge their bets by not turning on the air compressors/chillers. Of course, that also cuts down snowmaking capacity when they do this.
When I put my technology binoculars on, I see in the future thin film sun blockers (or domes) placed over the trails to shade them (they'd also have to be incredibly strong to resist wind damage), plastic snow flakes, in ground cooling, and on ground insulating cover (either man made or natural - but definitely white so it will not absorb and radiate heat and porous to allow water to drain through it). I'd especially like to see a moss/grass hybrid bred for doing well in poor mountain soil, excels at covering/stabilizing rocks in the soil and turns white in the winter. I'm also wondering if a secondary wind source would help improve snowmaking efficiency in marginal conditions.
It looks like SnowMax (a biological nucleating material added to the water supply to provide a starter for snowflakes to form on) does not significantly increase snowmaking capacity.
Building snowmaking capacity to cover all of a resort's acreage simultaneously is prohibitively expensive for msot resorts. Adding fixed snowmaking guns reduces labor costs for moving gear around. But fixed in place fan guns limits your ability to concentrate snowmaking power on limited terrain when weather windows are short. There are some very difficult trade offs to make when designing and operating snowmaking systems. A computer model that can take in trail design and climate patterns and output optimum snowmaking system designs and operating procedures might be the biggest technological innovation for snowmkaing in the next 10 years.