Maintaining and operating a ski resort is an expensive venture and the best ways to ensure that one remains popular and profitable is by having the longest ski season possible. However, how long the season lasts is in part dictated by climate and geography. After all, what good is a ski resort without any snow?
For a great deal of resorts, one solution comes in the form of a snow cannon – an impressive piece of machinery that can artificially create snow to improve its cover and extend the ski season.
While first patented in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the 1970s when the snow cannon started seeing significant commercial use. Earlier models were cumbersome machines that fired out crude ice pellets, but the technology has got increasingly sophisticated over the years. Today, snow cannons can be high capacity, automated machines, fan guns or snow lances. Many mix the water with a nucleating agent to encourage the formation of ice crystals even at relatively high temperatures.
Although an artificial snow machine might distribute snow in different ways, the basic principle of creating it is much the same: a combination of air and water is used to form snow. Using a river or a reservoir as a water supply, an electric pump will send the water up a pipeline to a snow machine. Then, an air compressor feeds a mixture of water and compressed air through nozzles to form snow crystals. These crystals are then propelled out by a huge fan, which then further cool in the air to form snow.
With the issue of climate change lurking in the background, more and more resorts are having to use artificially-created snow. According to a recent article from The Guardian, man-made snow production in Switzerland grew from less than 10 per cent of the piste area in 2000, to 36 per cent in 2010. In Austria, this reached 62% per cent in the same period and in Boulder, Colorado, around 98 per cent of resorts are reliant on what can be created by artificial snow machines.
The Roundtop Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania is one such US resort where snow isn’t guaranteed. Although small, they have five vertical turbine pumps that can pump up to 4,000 gallons of water a minute, along with 10 air compressors that can produce up to 30,750 cfm of air. After running through an air cooler and nine miles of pipes, the air and water are sent over 350 snowmaking hydrants across the resort, to which the snow fan guns can be connected. This ensures that the resort remains useable for as long as possible.