Whether or not you believe in global warming and climate change, here are some facts to consider:
We don’t know with certainty what the future will bring, but that doesn’t mean you do nothing. Just the opposite. Develop a well-thought-out and logical plan for your resort.
Intelligent snowmaking investments will continue to help stabilize your mountain resort business. Adapting strategies and practices in anticipation of less natural snow, and less snowmaking time under the condition of higher snowmaking temperatures coming in smaller windows, will force your team to improve. The goal is to improve your energy intensity or the energy used per cubic foot of product produced.
As the famous scientist Pascal claimed, “…given the possible outcomes, the upside of being prepared and ready for a fearsome event surely beats the alternative.”
Weather volatility is here and is not going away, and our ability to forecast the weather remains difficult for more than about seven days out. Your continuing investment in snowmaking and working with companies like SMI that have experienced, talented people and products can only help improve your chances for success.
So, what can you do to improve snowmaking? Consider the following:
In general, snow quality is defined by snow density or percentage water content. Density is mass per volume in kg/m³ or #/ ft³. Water content is measured per snow depth or volume of melt water within a given volume. Here are some density examples:
|5||50%||Wet slushy snow|
|4||42-50%||Base snow, wet in marginal|
|3||35-42%||Good skiable snow|
|2||25-35%||Light and dry, snowballs flake off|
|1||25%||Very dry, can’t make a snowball|
Snow quality definitely impacts snow volume, while nucleation and water droplet mixing, hang time and cure time also affect the snowmaking process. As you know, there is a big difference in cost and productivity at 29°F (-1.5°C) and 0°F (-18°C). We suggest you discuss snow quality on a regular basis throughout the time of snow production. Understand the costs and capabilities within your snowmaking system and snow gun fleet for making dry snow or base snow at different wet bulb conditions.
One of the areas that we all need to be reminded about is that more water through a snow gun does not directly result in more snow on the ground. Over the past few winters SMI has been testing new nucleation technologies and nozzle types and positions. We have tested in conditions between 29°F (-1.5°C) and -2°F (-19°C) with water temperatures of 34-35°F (2°C) and frozen water content between 24% and 55%. More than 100 tests have been completed.
Low and Moderate Energy Towers
In addition, we encourage resorts to consider snowgun performance and snow quality under multiple conditions such as: in mild years, typical years, cold years, and under good wind and bad wind conditions.
As you can see, there are many factors that go into the snow gun selection process. We want you to educate yourself on as many parts of snowmaking as you can to help make a better-informed decision.
Understand existing snowgun flow rates at 28°F, 24°F and 20°F wet bulb, and do not just believe the manufacturers. Go out and measure water and air flows with flowmeters. And check snow quality and snow density. What happens if conditions move up or down 2°F?
Mounts for snow guns matter. Generally, the taller the tower, the better the production – up to about 40 feet in height. Any taller and the support mechanisms become quite significant. Wind impact is also a big consideration above 40 feet.
Air flow rates have a direct cost correlation to energy costs so define air volume closely.
What is the range of performance for your snowgun fleet?
These are some areas for your team to focus on as the snow guns utilized remain the biggest predictor for costs.
As you evaluate snowmaking at your resort, focus on the variables you can control.
1. Where to Start? Define your operating costs:
2. Work Through Start Up Scenarios:
3. Evaluate Existing Snow Gun Fleet:
4. Evaluate Snow gun Options. (See “Snow Gun Choices” in previous section)
5. Fixed Position Versus Portable. Moving from portable snow guns to fixed position snow guns can result in huge savings on primary trails. When you consider set up time, burying snow guns, digging out snow guns and the time to take down and put away or park, these costs and difficult work environment are a real challenge. The labor and lost snowmaking time generally justify a fixed snow gun on primary trails.
Now it certainly depends on winds, trail, priority, existing infrastructure, snow volume per snow gun and other factors to help determine if fixed position snow guns will be effective. SMI has many manual customers that can start 150 fan snow guns in less than an hour with five snowmakers. The key is they are towers with the cords, hoses and orientation ready to go. Add automation and they can be started even faster.
Some larger resorts with ground air guns on sleds or tripods may make three ribbons on a 200’ wide trail. In other words, they set up on the far 1/3 of the trail and make snow, then move all 50 guns over 60 feet to hit the middle third and so on. Why not just add tower fans that throw the entire width?
6. Grooming Costs. Are you using lowE towers or small throw air snow guns with little throw on 200’+ wide trails? So the snow is basically positioned in a big butterfly pile 20’ to 70’ from the snow gun. So grooming times are huge to push it across the trail to get to full width. So instead of 30 hours cat time to open, it may take 90 hours. At $100/ hour that is $6,000. Using oscillating tower fans will cut time down dramatically.
7. Automation Levels. The majority of snowmaking snowgun automation is with fixed position snow guns. Consider the height of the tower and the convenience of access for service and maintenance. Automation factors to consider are many and include starting, adjusting and stopping/draining. Is the start full open or throttling with pressure control? Does the adjustment involve valves and pressure control? Does the snow gun shutdown and drain on fault or power loss? Is there intelligence at the snow gun? Can it run without communications or a link to the master computer? What is the flow range of the snow gun at your resort? What type of communications are used? Hardwire, fiber optic and radio modems are commonly used today in snowmaking.